Potter’s Hall

Other names:  Potter’s Hall, Potter’s Mansion, Potter Town, Williston Landing

Cultural Resources include:  Choptank River landing and 18th, 19th and early 20th century wharf site; once the leading shipping port in Caroline County in the early 19th century; served as steamboat landing at least from 1898 to 1921; inn and tannery site; during early 20th century had two stores, two canneries, two wharves, hotel and grist mill; and during the early 1920s had a dance pavilion which extended over the water operated by Gilbert Hignutt.

The landing is located about four miles south of Denton.  Footner reported the wharf as “decaying” in the 1940s.  Potters Hall, located on a hill overlooking the water and surmounted with a cupola, is one of six surviving large brick plantation houses dating from the late 18th-early 19th century.

Potters Hall is also significant for its association with the Potter family, prominent in local and state affairs.  Zabdiel Potter, was a sea captain from Rhode Island, who settled on the site in the mid-eighteenth century and built a wharf and small brick house (circa 1730) which was incorporated into the central section of the present structure.  Zabdiel developed Potters Landing into a key early port for shipping of tobacco to Baltimore and imports on return.  Captain Potter was lost at sea.

Zabdiel Potter’s oldest son, Nathaniel, served in the Maryland conventions of 1774 and 1776; he also figured prominently in the Revolutionary War holding the rank of major in the militia and serving as agent for provisions for the Continental Army in Caroline County.  His nephew, Nathaniel II, who also lived on the site before moving to Baltimore in 1797, was one of the first American-trained physicians and a founder of the University of Maryland Medical School.

Nathaniel II’s younger brother, William, stayed at Potters Landing and essentially rebuilt the house to its present Georgian configuration in 1808 (other additions were made the 1930’s).  The doors to the main hall are replicas of those of the White House.  William was a successful merchant, mill operator (see Potters Mill below), and a director of the Farmer’s Bank of Annapolis.  He became Brigadier General of the Maryland Militia in the War of 1812 and was subsequently elected to the state legislature and served on the Governor’s Council.  During his lifetime Potters Landing was the leading shipping port in Caroline County and included ships sailing to and from England and France.

The property was acquired by a Colonel John Arthur Willis in 1847 who attempted to change the name to Williston.  During Willis’ occupation, Potters Landing continued to be the leading shipping point in Caroline County until the late 1890s.  Both General Potter and Colonel Willis kept sailing vessels for trade to Baltimore.

Willis died in 1899, and the property was occupied by tenants until sold to Lawrence B. Towers, Clerk of the Circuit Court for Caroline County and later state senator.  The property was subsequently acquired by Colonel Frederick F. Lyden, secretary of the Association of Stock Exchange Firms in New York in 1932.  Lyden renovated Potter Hall.

The 1906 steamboat landing map published by BC&A Railway Company calls the landing Williston Landing. Williston Hotel (circa 1860) is believed to have been used as a hostelry serving the intense maritime activity at Potters Landing.  In the late 19th century two steamboats departed Potters Landing daily.

A tannery was also located at Potters Landing.  The following canneries operated at Williston: Silver & Cooley (1908), O. M. Hignutt (1910-1929), W. S. Silver (1910).

An undated 20th century photograph of the wharf shows a square-shaped wharf with a wooden square-shaped freight shed built on it.  The roof appears to corrugated sheet metal.  Shoreward, the shed is attached to another wooden structure with vertical wood siding and wood shingles.  The wharf has four sets of dolphin piles on the outward side.  A two masted schooner is moored down current from the wharf.

An aerial photograph of Potter Hall during the Lyden period is found on page 380 of Earle. The landing is identified as “Potters Landg. P.O.” on the 1875 Caroline County map found in The 1877 Atlases and Other Early Maps of the Eastern Shore, Maryland; on “Index Chart of Natural Oyster Bars, Crab Bottoms, Clam Beds and Triangular Stations of Maryland surveyed by Maryland Shell Fish Commission in cooperation with U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey,” 1906-1912; “Topographic Map of Caroline County” 1950 revised 1971; and merely as “Williston” on “Map of Maryland” 1961 revised 1973.

(Choptank River Cultural Resources Inventory, 1999-2002)

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