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Sharptown Town

Sharptown Town Hall, 401 Main Street, Sharptown, MD 21861; phone: 410-883-3767.

Beginnings [1]

When America declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776, Sharptown was little more than a hamlet on the southern bank of the Nanticoke River. Although the Town's origin is uncertain, the discovery of thousands of spear and arrow heads in the area proves that it was inhabited by Native Americans. The area was the first high and dry building site on the south side of the river from its mouth, almost 32 miles distant. Some sources indicate it was recognized as a settlement about 1769.

By the very early 1800's however, it was known as Sharptown. Speculation has it that the village was named after Governor Horatio Sharpe, proprietary Governor of Maryland from 1753 to 1769. Although the Governor never seemed to mention this honor in his personal letters or papers, he was in that area in June 1761 to observe the work of a group of surveyors involved in the preliminary Delaware boundary dispute.

Three years after the Governor's visit, the famous surveying team of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon crossed the Nanticoke in canoes, making their way south toward the Middle Point, and landed at Twiford's Wharf where they pitched their tents. On an earlier visit in June they had hired ax men from the local populace who were still part of their crew. Throughout the next few weeks they continued to work in the neighborhood, keeping their "headquarters" at Twiford's. They left the last part of September of 1764.

Gravestones from the 1700's bear names of many families still living in the town - Bennett, Phillips, Elzey, Robinson, Gravenor, Dashiell and Collins. Around 1818, the Matthew Marine family settled there. Matthew Marine's ancestors had been among Maryland's first settlers. They were of French Huguenot stock and in the 1600's spelled their name Merine or Merin. His grandfather had been in Somerset County in 1736 but later moved to Dorchester, and it was from there that Matthew and his wife Nancy Rawlings came to Sharptown. The Nanticoke River proved to be more than a navigable river to use for transportation; it was the basis for an industry that would carry the town's name across the oceans.

As the founder of the Sharptown Marine Railway, Marine owned the largest fleet of schooners of any one person on the Nanticoke that ran from Sharptown to Baltimore. He also became a financier, philanthropist, a banker and "man of public affairs." He died in 1854. His son, the Rev. Fletcher Marine, was in business with his father for a while, but later moved to Vienna and on to Baltimore where he served as a minister until his death in 1889. The Reverend Fletcher Marine's son, William, was appointed a collector of the port of Baltimore by President Benjamin Harrison.

Some of the better known ships built by the railway between 1865 and 1893 included the "Martha Ellen," the "Nettie R. Evans," the "James H. Hargrave" and the "John W. Elliott." At the turn of the century, 18 sailing vessels registered as U.S. merchant ships had been built in Sharptown. They ranged in gross tonnage from 9.43 to 215.5 tons. The last large sailing vessel built on the Chesapeake Bay was the four-masted "Anandale" constructed there in 1919. Some steamships were built at Sharptown, such as the "George W. Johnson" in 1883, but the shipyard's prime product was always the sailing vessel.

The first steamboat to come by Sharptown on the way to Seaford was the "Osiris" in 1854, followed by the Kent in 1855. From 1860 to 1885, several companies including the Old Bay Line and the Tolchester Company, attempted to establish steamboat lines on the Nanticoke River, but they usually proved unsuccessful. Then the Nanticoke Transportation Line put the "W. E. Clarke" in service, later renamed "Nanticoke," in 1883. That same year the Nanticoke Steam Boat Company put the side-wheeler "Chowan" on the river. The same run was made by the chartered "Conoho" of the Choptank Steamboat Company. Both companies made three trips a week—between Baltimore and the towns on the Nanticoke. By 1899, the "Chowan," also renamed the "Nanticoke" by her new owners, the Baltimore Chesapeake and Atlantic Railway Company, could offer passengers their choice of fourteen state rooms equipped with electric lights. Freight shipped from Baltimore via a steamer was often transferred to smaller steamers at Sharptown and then sent to other Eastern Shore towns.

In the early part of the 1800's, the prosperity in the Town attracted many new settlers. By 1845, there were enough residents to warrant the establishment of a post office. Nine years later, Somerset County made the area its thirteenth election district. When Wicomico County was created in 1867, it became District 10.

Religion has always played an important part in the lives of the town's people. A Methodist Episcopal church had been built outside of the town in 1832, but in those days it was just too far to travel. Instead the Methodist Protestant church in nearby Portsville, Delaware, had started sponsoring services in the homes of families in Sharptown. The Phillips and Cooper families especially were instrumental in having the Harmony Methodist Protestant church built in town in 1845. In 1885, the members, under the leadership of Rev. G. R. McCready, built a new church on a lot on the corner of Railway and Church Streets. A Methodist Episcopal church, meanwhile, had been constructed in town in 1876.

During the Civil War, there was little enthusiasm for either the North or South in Sharptown. Although a Union regiment was formed, based in Salisbury, they disbanded when ordered to cross the Chesapeake Bay. Few men joined the Confederate side.

By 1877, the town could boast of four dry goods stores owned by John Smith, Thomas J. Twilley, J.R. Twilley, and S. T. Cooper. There was also a basket company located in Sharptown at this time which had been established by John Robinson and his brother. They manufactured grape and peach baskets, desk plugs, trunnel wedges, wood and iron turning, and fruit crates and baskets. There was a blacksmith/shipsmith shop (owned by Edward Burford), two ship carpenter/smith shops (owned by John W. Robinson and W.I.J. Phillips), and a ship carpenter/sail maker, C. J. Gravenor. Wesley Clarkson owned a thriving business in groceries and whiskey by the wharf. The Sharptown Marine Railway Company was in operation, now owned by R. M. Elzey and Brothers. Dr. Joseph Mann cured the town's ills. Joshua P. Bennett and Richard Darby served as Justices of the Peace in the district, while James F. Marine was Officer of Registration for elections.

The Town was first incorporated in 1874 but that was repealed in 1880, only to be incorporated again eight years later (1888) in a manner identical to that of the Act of 1874. An unusual feature of that Act was that it allowed Town Commissioners to alter town boundaries. The entire charter was again repealed and reenacted in 1912.

For several years after World War I, business declined due to the loss of the railway. Robinson sold his growing basket-making business to Marvel Package Company and with that as the main employer, the Town provided jobs for approximately 200 of its own residents. The population was maintained at 600 to 700 for most of the years after 1920. Marvel Package Company later sold to Atlas Plywood Company. After the factory was destroyed by fire in 1953, they decided not to rebuild it and Sharptown's bustling business days came to an end.

  1. Town of Sharptown with Davis, Bowen & Friedel, Inc., Comprehensive Plan, 2008, Draft, planning.maryland.gov, accessed June, 2015.
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