Old Harford Town Maritime Center is located in an early 20th century steamboat warehouse at the historic Joppa Wharf site on the Choptank River in West Denton, Maryland. The warehouse has been
nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Center’s location at a nexis of historic river and land trading routes, and modern water and rail trails, makes it an ideal starting point for Choptank River exploration,
historic and archaeological research, and educational activities.
“There are only three such warehouses known to exist today in the Chesapeake region -- one in Virginia and two in Maryland. One is privately owned and located on the James River below Richmond.
Another is located on the Nanticoke River at Vienna. The third steamboat warehouse is the West Denton Warehouse, the subject of this nomination.”
The existing structure is an early twentieth century timber framed warehouse structure which utilized massive trusses to
develop forty foot clear span spaces within the facility. The structure initially served as a warehousing center for the schooner and later, the steamboat trade. Several existing Sanborn Insurance Maps show the evolution of the structure and the adjacent waterfront after the turn of the century.
The setting is a rural riverfront wharf situated along the banks of the upper Choptank River in West Denton, opposite the
Town of Denton, Caroline County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The West Denton area was a commercial maritime center and transportation hub which included wharves, granaries, a flour
roller mill, a shirt factory, canneries, maritime warehousing and related agricultural/maritime industries.
This warehouse and wharf site initially served the riverine sail craft trade and later, the steamboat trade for the upper
Choptank River, the longest river on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Of the scores of such structures which once served the navigable waterways of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay tidewater
region, this structure is one of only two remaining riverfront warehouses identified in Maryland.
The property is significant because it represents an example of one of the Chesapeake Bay’s vanishing maritime historical
resources …a riverfront, wharf and warehouse structure which served the maritime trades since the early nineteenth century. This warehouse represents one of the last surviving structures
in the region of a vast network of such structures which once dotted the tidewater of the Chesapeake Bay region. Wharves and warehouses (such as the West Denton example, located
over thirty miles up a riverine system) represented the nodes of communication and transportation for goods and people to the rest of the tidewater region before a reliable network of roads
and rails were established.
The direct connection of the rivers with the agricultural based economy which thrived along its banks, and their markets
located elsewhere, created a sense of place which melded cultural, economic and personal attributes into a cohesive environment. Thus, the wharves, landings, towns and the
vessels which plied their goods along the rivers provided a powerful, direct connection between place and livelihood.
Steamboat Warehouses and Wharves - A Vanishing Cultural Resource
On average, steamboat landings were located about every mile or less along the Choptank River and Patuxent River and this is
probably true for most if not all the other tidewater rivers of the Chesapeake Bay region. During the tobacco-based colonial era, a few brick warehouses were located at prominent
tidewater landings. None of these survive today. During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, more numerous, local, wooden warehouses were located at many tidewater landings
where goods could be temporarily stored prior to and/or upon docking. These once commonplace structures have suffered from neglect and demolition, as have the wharves themselves,
since the era of the steamboat ended in the 1930s.
There are only three such warehouses known to exist today in the Chesapeake region; one in Virginia and two in Maryland.
One is privately owned and located on the James River below Richmond. Another is located on the Nanticoke River at Vienna. The third steamboat warehouse is the West Denton
Warehouse, the subject of this nomination. A fourth steamboat warehouse of timber construction, was located on the Corsica River in Centreville, Maryland, but it was destroyed
by fire in 1996. The smallcraft shed located at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Navy Point, St. Michael’s, Maryland, is made from recycled siding and timbers from a steamboat
warehouse originally located at nearby Claiborne, Maryland. The present Navy Point structure has little physical similarity to the original Claiborne structure.
Thus, of the hundreds of such structures which once dotted the tidewater of the Chesapeake Bay, only three known examples
survive today. The West Denton example is the largest and best documented example extant.
The current structure is rectangular in shape (40’ W X 160’ L) with the longest dimension parallel to the river (See B&W Photo
#8). It is one of the last standing structures in West Denton which trace their existence to the once thriving riverfront trading activities that occurred along the West Denton
waterfront. The current warehouse structure was constructed in three sections. The earliest section is the 40’x100’ center portion. The north (40’X20’) and south (40’X40’) additions were
added in the 1940’s.
The framing of the structure includes sixteen bays with each bay consisting of heavy timber columns supporting a forty-foot
clear span “king rod” truss. After the additions were added, the warehouse contained two offices, one at each end of the building. The south office was finished with pine wainscoting
painted green and contained a small wing with sliding windows which opened onto the main warehouse floor. The office located at the north end of the structure contains a chimney and wood stove.