West Denton

Other names:  Harford Town, Joppa Wharf

Cultural Resource include: Choptank River wharves and warehouses, granaries, fishery, can company sites, canneries, shirt factory, general stores, mill sites, two blacksmith shop sites, fertilizer warehouse sites.

Harford Town is the patented name of the community that grew up on the west side of the Choptank River opposite Denton. It is referred to as West Denton today. The wharf properties which are located along the West Denton riverfront trace their colonial origins to a 1774 land patent which created a three acre waterfront town, “Harford Town” along the western shores of the Choptank River (opposite the river from the future Town of Denton). The patent was issued to Philip Feddeman of Queen Ann’s County, a colonel in the Maryland Militia during the American Revolution and active in local politics and public affairs.

The patent occupied riverfront lands claimed previously through earlier warrants and patents by some of the Eastern Shore’s most prominent colonial era names including Richard Bennett, Solomon Wright, Nicholas Lowe and Samuel Turbutt. It is speculated that Feddeman was hoping for Harford Town to be a competitor for the location of the County Seat, with its direct access to the river and strategic location in the center of newly created Caroline County.

By the late 18th century the West Denton waterfront was established as an active maritime trading center. An 1807 ” Map of Denton” recorded in the Caroline County Land Records (Liber I, folio 596) is the first documentation of improvements along the West Denton riverfront. This 1807 map also identifies a ferry crossing connecting Market Street to West Denton.

By 1811, the West Denton (Harford Town) property in the immediate vicinity of the Denton Bridge, had substantial commercial improvements including a wharf, a granary and a store. Also by 1811, the eastern shore’s first moveable bridge across the Choptank River, connecting West Denton to Denton, was under construction. Trading vessels during this period included sloops, schooners, pungies and scows or other “lighters” which could transport goods further up river than was possible by the deeper draft sailcraft. The West Denton waterfront also supported a limited amount of shipbuilding activity including the construction of several schooners and sloops.

At low tide, what appear to be shipway timbers or possibly a wharf extension into the river are visible along the shoreline. There are several land record and newspaper references to shipyards and shipbuilding in West Denton. A January 21, 1841 deed (L.V, f. 18) references “the sloop President built on the River near Denton Bridge and now lying at said bridge.” The February 18, 1869 edition of the American Union newspaper references a shipyard existing above the site where James G. Redden was proposing a new wharf and granary in West Denton. In addition, a list of Chesapeake Bay Vessels compiled by the Radcliffe Maritime Museum of the Maryland Historical Society (MS.2506) identifies three sloops and two schooners, which were built at (West) Denton. The sloops were Elizabeth J. Wright (18 tons) built in 1795; the President built in 1841; and the Annie Jewell (6 tons) built in 1870 by John Jewell. The schooners were Garret P. Wright (98 tons) built in 1868 and L.C. Sommers (66 tons) built in 1871.

The Agricultural Industrial Transition period (1815-1870) represented an exponential expansion of the maritime trade along the West Denton Wharves. This increased need for waterfront access spurred a boom of growth and expansion of commercial activities along the West Denton waterfront. During this period a second granary and additional wharves appeared along the waterfront and the ownership of these waterfront wharves included a number of captains and businessmen who had a vested interest in the flurry of agricultural trade activities.

Early references to wharves constructed in West Denton are found in the 1849 Caroline land records in a bill of sale to George Fisher for a 1/4 acre lot upon which a wharf was to be constructed. The lot and wharf were assessed for tax purposes in 1866 at $50. The deed stated that the wharf ran 205 feet along the river. Another wharf, called “Stewart’s Wharf” and granary, appears in the land records in the 1850’s as owned by Thomas R. Stewart, an attorney from Caroline County, who was assessed for a wharf and granary. Portions of “Stewart’s Wharf” were sold to various owners. Three were ship’s captains all by the name of Willis (grandfather, son and grandson). The granary and wharf were valued at $500 in 1866.

West Denton businesses, all linked to water born transportation, included two major cannery operations (one of which included a tin can manufacturing facility), two granaries, a flour rolling mill, a shirt factory, schooner freight (fertilizer) services, passenger steamboat services and freight warehousing, two general stores and a blacksmiths shop. The immediate proximity to the state road and a major bridge crossing over the Choptank into Denton further facilitated the use of the West Denton waterfront as an emerging multi-modal transportation center. The decision of Congress in 1880 to appropriate funds for the dredging of the Choptank River from Denton up river to Greensboro opened the upper reaches of the river to expanded trade for deeper draft vessels.

In 1877, prominent Denton Businessman, Philip W. Downes, purchased the Fisher Wharf and lot. Starting with this acquisition in 1877 Philip W. Downes continued purchases of the West Denton waterfront and by the early 1880’s he would own all the wharf properties south of the Denton Bridge. In 1882 he sold a parcel (one directly north of the current warehouse property) to the Maryland Steamboat Company. In 1891 he sold two wharf parcels, one of which included part of the former Stewart Wharf, to Harry A. Roe. (grandfather of Harry Roe Hughes, Governor of Maryland 1979-1987 and a Maryland State Senator from 1902-06). H. A. Roe was operating a cannery by the 1880’s in West Denton. Between 1891 and 1905, Roe purchased five parcels encompassing approx. 230 feet of the West Denton waterfront and including portions of the Stewart Wharf and Chilton Wharf properties. A Chiltons Wharf is mentioned as being located next to the “fishery” but the exact date or location is unknown.

Again in 1892, Downes sold a remainder wharf (running 195 feet) to Capt. Daniel Brockway. Brockway also owned a wharf just south of Greensboro on the western shore of the Choptank. The 1892 deed to Brockway references the “Stewart Wharf” as being improved by two granaries with a covered avenue between them. In 1906 prominent Denton businessman and Maryland State Senator from 1922-26, Lawrence B. Towers, bought the Roe wharf properties and in 1907 the 195-foot Brockway wharf property. The 1908 and 1915 Sanborn maps indicate that the Towers Canning Works occupied a substantial portion of the riverfront.

The following canneries operated in West Denton: Harry A. Roe (1887-1901), Charles H. Whitby and Son (1908-1922), L. B. Towers Cannery (1908), Lawrence B. Towers (1910-1934) whose cannery and warehouse was located on Dock Street, Redden Cannery, West Denton Canning Company (1935-1936), Philips West Denton (1930-1957), and Whitby & Sons Cannery (see also Denton above).

In 1923 the Maryland Steamboat Company Wharf (also called Joppa Steamboat Wharf) located just south of the bridge was taken over by the Baltimore and Virginia Steamboat Company and subsequently conveyed to Franceina W. Towers, widow of Lawrence B. Towers, in 1935. A surviving early 20th century warehouse adjacent to the Steamboat Wharf, located just below the Md. Rte. 404 business bridge into Denton, is believed to be one the last structures which survives in Maryland (one example was located at Centreville until it burned down in late 1996; a second surviving example may be the “warehouse” located at Vienna along the Nanticoke River).

The West Denton wharves were actively utilized by schooners, steamboats and power barges well into the 1920’s and to a limited extent by oil and fertilizer barges until the 1950’s. George Swartz ,who grew up in West Denton in the early 1900’s, wrote an account of the life in West Denton during the early potion of the twentieth century titled, Bridges to My Maturity . In his book, Swartz provides a sketch map of West Denton “as remembered by the author” and provides personal remembrances of what life was like in West Denton during this time. He relates as many as four or five two- and three-masted schooners tied up to the wharves at one time during the 1920’s.

In the late 1920’s the terminal facilities at West Denton were described as “reasonably adequate, consisting of about 500 feet of bulkhead wharf and three open pile piers. Some of these wharves are equipped with warehouses but there are no mechanical freight handling devices.” The bulkhead has solid earth fill behind it. The Baltimore, Chesapeake & Atlantic Railway Co. owned about 280 feet of the bulkhead and the balance owned by private parties. Seven private wharves are indicated as existing during this time. One, an open pile pier extending 20 feet from shore and 20 feet wide, was used exclusively by the Standard Oil Company; another extended 60 feet from shore and was 20 feet wide used exclusively by the Hearn Oil Company, and a third open pile pier extending 30 feet from shore and 50 feet wide used exclusively by an unnamed fertilizer company.

(Choptank River Cultural Resources Inventory, 1999-2002)

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