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Federalsburg Town

Federalsburg Town Hall is located at 118 North Main Street, Federalsburg, MD 21632; phone: 410-754-8173.

Beginnings [1]

As early as 1682, James and William Wright settled on Marshyhope Creek, the headwaters of the Northwest Fork of the Nanticoke River. By the 18th century, vast hardwood forests, together with the ability to dam the Marshyhope Creek, led to the development of what would eventually become Federalsburg around a host of water-powered industries, including iron furnaces, flour mills, sawmills, shipyards, and wool-carding mills. Much of this land fell within the boundaries of Caroline County when it was created in 1774. By an act of the General Assembly in 1792, the County's southern boundary was extended to Northwest Fork Ford, (because a newly erected bridge at that spot was a well known reference).

Industry has long been important in Federalsburg. Today we have two industrial parks that are home to a host of businesses. Going back to our Town's early days, in Revolutionary War times, the nearby Douglas iron furnace supplied important materials for the Continental Army of General George Washington. Later, local sawmills provided the wood products needed to rebuild the U.S. Capitol and White House after the British burned them in the War of 1812.

Trade possibilities for the early settlement, where cross-country traffic forded the river, were foreseen, and a store was built there around 1789. It became the nucleus of a small village, which was called the "Northwest Fork Bridge" or "The Bridge" until early 1812, when politics influenced the renaming of the town.

The Federalist Party was strong on the Delmarva Peninsula, and a rousing mass meeting was held at "The Bridge." People came from far and near, the Militia drilled with pomp and ceremony replete with fife and drums. Prominent speakers of the day fostered civic pride and rekindle enthusiasm in the party. The emotion of that day demanded an outlet, and, out of this, our town was given a new name, Federalsburg.

The road following the Marshyhope Creek had been made the boundary between Caroline and Dorchester counties. It also divided the Town of Federalsburg. As new homes were built and the settlement increased in size, the fact that the western side of town was in Dorchester County and the eastern side in Caroline County, created a hardship for its citizenry. So great and so general was the inconvenience concerning issues such as taxes and education that a petition was signed in 1880 by all seventy voters in the Dorchester part of Town. This eventually resulted in a boundary change. For a payment of $614 into the Dorchester County treasury, this change allowed the Dorchester part of Federalsburg to be moved into Caroline County and for the town to become a unified jurisdiction.

There is a rich African-American History in our community as well. Some of this is presented on the waterfront park trail.

Shipbuilding was probably our earliest industry. The surrounding white oak forests supplied all the necessary building materials. However, the water was too shallow for ships to be launched at Federalsburg. Not withstanding this problem, keels were laid at many different points in the southern part of Town. Upon completion, they were moved downstream to Brown's Wharf, a landing four miles farther down the river. There they were completed, launched, laden and began their careers as a bay and river trading vessels. This industry ceased at Federalsburg sometime before the Civil War.

Besides shipbuilding, early commercial activity revolved around the mill dam, which was located at the northern end of Town. The mills there, later known as the "Idlewild Mills," converted logs, floated upstream on high tide, into lumber which was then sent downstream and on to Baltimore. Fleece from the countryside was processed into yarn there, and wheat was ground and eventually made into "Maryland Biscuits." The dam was used continually until the last mill burned in 1916. Only faint traces of the dam remain following severe flooding in the 1930's.

River traffic with Baltimore, as with some other small towns on the Chesapeake, began at an early date. Heavy scows were loaded and pushed down the river by four or five muscular men using long poles. At Brown's Wharf, they were reloaded onto schooners and other sailing vessels destined for ports along the Bay and eastern seaboard. Before the Civil War, there was relatively little cross-country travel except for mail delivery and passenger service provided by stagecoaches. Even after the Civil War, stages made daily trips from Bridgeville to Federalsburg to Cambridge and on to Easton. The Seaford and Cambridge Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad was opened on October 12, 1868. This date marked a new era in the history of Federalsburg, because refrigerated railcars made Philadelphia, New York, and other northern cities the markets for perishable fruits and produce grown in our region. By the late 1800's, Federalsburg was a center for canning fruits.

Today, agriculture is still a major industry for the area; however, more and more, Federalsburg is being discovered as a location suitable for industrial growth. We have three industrial parks, Federalsburg Industrial Park and Caroline Industrial Park and the Frank M. Adams industrial park. They support businesses with work forces numbering in the hundreds. They also offer town water, sewer, police protection, rail service, and electric power to serve almost any need. They are zoned for warehousing, wholesaling, manufacturing, laboratories, printing and similar businesses. These three Industrial Parks are in addition to individual industrial properties located in other parts of our Town.

  1. Town of Federalsburg, Maryland, Comprehensive Plan, 2009,, accessed June, 2015.
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