Category Archives: Historic Places

Setting Sail from Denton

Stand in the Place: The Age of Sail returns to Denton and the upper Choptank River

Sailing the Choptank was never easy. Even so, schooners, bugeyes, pungies, and skipjacks tied up at Denton from the 1700s till the 1930s.

Now you too can sail with us from Denton down the Choptank to Kings Town on a blustery summer day.

See the full story >>>

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I know your name but can’t recall where we met.

Jumptown? Casho’s Mills? Furman’s Grove? Jadwins Creek?

These were the names of real places in Caroline County 50 or 250 years ago. The places are still there, but many of the place names are lost to memory. Now you can find them again and Stand in the Place.

With one click at Choptank River Heritage Place Names Search, you can find that lost place in:

Continue reading I know your name but can’t recall where we met.

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The town that sprawls across 3 counties, 2 states, and 3 centuries

It’s a bit of a stretch to call Reliance a town.  Officially, it’s an unincorporated community. It’s a place that straddles two states and three counties – Caroline and Dorchester counties in Maryland, and Sussex county in Delaware.

But in its heyday, Reliance was a place to be reckoned with — a hub of local commerce that served local farms and towns by storing and shipping goods between city and farm. Known as Johnson’s Crossroads, it was the starting point for the boundary that carved the new county of Caroline out of Dorchester County in 1774. And it was still making headlines a hundred years later.

Why was Johnson’s Crossroads (Reliance) so important in 1774? A contemporary map of Maryland (1794) offers clues:

Johnson’s Crossroads (red) was marked but unnamed in Griffith’s 1794 map of Maryland

Johnson’s Crossroads was an important junction on a road that linked the ferry crossings over all major branches of the Nanticoke and Choptank Rivers (shown above, north to south):

  • Hunting Creek at Linchester (future Preston)
  • Marshyhope Creek at Federalsburg
  • Nanticoke River at Cannon’s Ferry (now Woodland Ferry)
  • Broad Creek at Bethel DE and Pottsville DE

This road was noteworthy enough for the Maryland colonial legislature to name it as the boundary to divide Dorchester County in order to create the new county of Caroline.

Why did Johnson’s Crossroads appear on the 1796 map at all?

A cluster of stores and houses sprang up at Johnson’s Crossroads where a spur ran from the main road to Harper’s Mill on Gladston’s Branch and a ferry farther downstream on the Marshyhope Creek.

Marshyhope Creek leads to the deeper Nanticoke River. Flatboats and other river craft probably used this water highway to carry European goods from ocean-going vessels anchored on the Nanticoke to merchants at Johnson’s Crossroads who served the surrounding farms and towns. Flatboats in turn carried tobacco and – after the mid-1700s – grain, cattle, and produce from surrounding farms to waiting ships.

What changed? Why didn’t Johnson’s Crossroads grow like Seaford on the Nanticoke, Federalsburg on the Marshyhope, or Denton on the Choptank?

River geography.

The Marshyhope and its branches were not deep enough to sustain trade that grew both in size and complexity in the 1800s. Trade in the new century required financial and distribution infrastructure — banks, warehouses, stores, and towns, that concentrated where the rivers were large enough for large sailing ships and later for steamboats. While Johnson’s Crossroads and even Federalsburg languished, Denton on the Choptank thrived, and nearby Seaford grew for another 100 years, because the Nanticoke was deep enough to carry barges in the industrial age.

By 1875, Johnson’s Crossroads still held one store and a church, with a few residences, a wheelwright’s shop, and Wright’s School just up the road leading to Federalsburg.

1875 map of Caroline Caroline County by Isler

Did Johnson’s Crossroads have one last chance in the 1880s?

By 1882, the Dorchester & Delaware Railroad ran from Cambridge to Seaford (from the deep Choptank to the deep Nanticoke).

1882 map of Maryland by Rand McNally and Company

The new railroad line passed within two miles of the town. Did shopkeepers at Johnson’s Crossroads change its name to Reliance, hoping to catch the attention of railroad merchants?

Reliance grew to a half dozen shops by 1897. But never more.

1897 map of Caroline County by Saulsbury
Reliance on the map in 1915 – USGS
Reliance on the map in 1941 – USGS
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Where the Dead Rise Up

Check out our new Story Map:

click and go
Stand in the Place
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The Bicentennial Search for Frederick Douglass’s Birthplace

We updated our map app that shows clues in the Search for Frederick Douglass’s Birthplace.  See the full-size app here.

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How Old Black Churches Die

See the new St. Paul AME Story Map, Where the Dead Rise Up

I was scanning aerial photography of Caroline County and saw this striking image in the landscape – above-ground crypts in a church graveyard:

The 1897 map shows this was the site of St Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church: Continue reading How Old Black Churches Die

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Historic Boon Farmstead – Vanished from the face of the Earth

A century before Ridgely, there was Boonsboro.

During 1800-1850, Boonsboro was a thriving crossroads village with a church, school, wheelwright shop, and homes.  Its leading citizens were the descendants of John Boon, who acquired large landholdings nearby in the late 1700s.


Boonsboro disappeared before 1900. The historic Boon farmhouse vanished suddenly before 2016.  Only the family burial plot remains.

Maps, aerial photos, and a CRH site visit in 2009 tell the story.

Continue reading Historic Boon Farmstead – Vanished from the face of the Earth

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First woman President of NAACP got her start in Denton

The first woman president of the NAACP, Dr. Enolia P. McMillan, started her professional career as a teacher in Caroline County in 1927, when she taught at the Denton segregated black high school.

The following year, she served as a school principal in Charles County.  She moved on to Columbia University, where she obtained her master’s degree in education in 1933.  Her master’s thesis, Some Factors Affecting Secondary Education for Negroes in Maryland Counties (Excluding Baltimore), attacked Maryland’s racist dual school system in the 1930s.

With the Rev. John Wright marching to Ocean City’s Boardwalk in 1986

Continue reading First woman President of NAACP got her start in Denton

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Helicopter Flyover: Historic sites of segregated black schools, 1875-1900

Almost all of the old buildings are gone.  But we can lay old maps over aerial and satellite imagery of Caroline County to find the places where they once stood.

Do the “helicopter tour” of the school sites as they look today.  We fly north to south –  1000 feet above each of 14 sites.  Click any site name to explore the site in an interactive map.

The helicopter route map below shows all 14 sites.

Continue reading Helicopter Flyover: Historic sites of segregated black schools, 1875-1900

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News went back to Caroline that I was shot and killed

“You know the feelings of the white people here in Delaware.
Are you ready to die?”

I said, None of these things move me.
I never was so inspired to speak since the day I was born.

And news went back to Caroline,
that I was shot and killed.

Continue reading News went back to Caroline that I was shot and killed

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