Preston Town Hall is located at 105 Backlanding Road, Preston, MD 21655; phone: 410-673-7929.
Preston, like many of Delmarva's small rural towns, owes its earliest origins to the location of Methodist churches and Quaker meeting houses. Churches were built in centralized places that could be accessed by surrounding farm families. Often, these locations were also near mills and cross roads (which frequently led to landings that provided water access to major regional centers of population and commerce).
Linchester, located at the eastern end of our planning area, was the site of a colonial era grist mill, general store, post office, and a few surrounding residences, that predates Preston by nearly 175 years. This early post office was moved to a store at the corner of present day Maple Avenue and Main Street in 1845, where it was known as Snow Hill. Postal confusion over the name and location resulted due to a town by the same name in Worcester County. In 1856, a name change compromise led to the town being named after an attorney who impressed townspeople during a trial in Easton. However, 1890, the year the Baltimore, Chesapeake, and Atlantic railroad was constructed, marked the true beginnings of the Preston we recognize today. This railroad ran from Claiborne (a steamboat landing west of St. Michaels) to Ocean City. Prior to the railroad, commerce with Baltimore was focused through Choptank, a steamboat line landing about two and a half miles south on Maple Avenue extended. Choptank was also the terminus of the first telephone line from Preston, constructed by the Ben Trice Telephone Company in 1899.
The rail line became very important to the expansion of Preston. Four daily passenger trains and two freights stopped here. During the years before and after World War I it was common for twenty to twenty-five freight cars a day of canned tomatoes, apples, wheat and watermelons to be shipped during harvest time. A 1908 edition of the town newspaper reported that one-tenth of the total output of tomatoes was packed in Caroline County and that Maryland packed five-twelfths of all that were canned in the whole country. Canneries, box companies, warehouses, hardware, blacksmithing, dry goods, millinery, groceries, restaurants, and a hotel flourished. At one time sixteen canneries existed within seven miles of Preston, and three were located within town near the railroad. A local entrepreneur established A.W. Sisk & Son which grew to into one of the largest canned food brokerages in the United States. The Sisk company stored and transshipped tens of thousands of cases of canned fruits and vegetables that originated locally and in California and other western growing regions. Some of these warehouses remain today, although the canneries are now gone, as is the railroad.
Today, the largest structures in town are the Southern States grain elevator and storage silos. The remains of canneries and warehouses can be found if one knows where to look, but the appearance of Preston has changed much over the years.
Several interesting historical facts provide anecdotal insight on the physical and social character of our town. During the heyday of the canneries, almost half the male population of Preston was involved in the tomato canning business in one way or another, and practically everyone associated with this business had an income large enough to pay the new federal income tax. Preston at that time had a population of less than three hundred. On a per capita basis, it was found that we led the nation in the number who paid taxes. Other reasons that support our slogan: "The Biggest Little Town in the USA" include such facts as being the first town of its size to completely pave its sidewalks with concrete, a sewer system that was installed by about 1914, and electric street lights installed before 1910.
From a land use perspective, we may also hold the distinction of having moved more buildings between various locations in town than any other town. Our history records scores of residential, commercial, and institutional buildings that were relocated and often reused for different purposes, some more than once. Our tradition of mixed uses and numerous changes in commercial activity within many of our remaining smaller buildings reflect entrepreneurial initiative and a recognition that multiple structures on single lots and proximity between residential, commercial, and industrial activities did nothing to diminish the quality of life or the pride residents take in their town and their heritage.
Our cultural diversity is reflected in the history of our two largest religious congregations. A short history of the Bethesda Methodist Church dating back to 1787 is inscribed in one of the stained glass windows commissioned by Col. Sisk. The Immanuel Lutheran Church, founded in 1897, at the other end of town bears witness to the many German immigrants that were encouraged to settle here. These efforts were the result of ethnic kinship as well as Col. Sisk. In addition to his cannery, warehouses, brokerages and numerous other business ventures, he owned large land holdings and wanted hardworking industrious farmers who would support both his business vision and political aspirations. He made commercially viable tracts of farm land available at affordable prices and encouraged families and friends to immigrate as well as relocate from other areas of the East.
At the turn of the century Preston had a German language school and an English language school. During World War I the German language school was closed, and the two schools merged at the site of the present Preston Elementary School.
Today, the largest employer is Preston Ford/Autoplex which grew out of the Preston Motor Company. This business was started locally from humble beginnings that saw the evolution of transportation from horse and buggy, blacksmithing, and teamsters to steamboats, railroads, and ferries, to modern roads and motor transport. These changes paralleled the changing fortunes and economic prosperity of our town and its residents. The most recent employer to locate in Preston is Provident Bank's corporate offices.