The History | Tales of Reconstruction


The History
The Whitehaven Ferry dates back to 1685 and is the oldest publicly operated ferry in the country. Although Whitehaven is one of the oldest incorporated towns on the Eastern Shore (1753), nearly all of the buildings in the town date to the 1800's, with only the plantation house, Bolton, dating to the 18th century.

Circa 1810, what is now the Whitehaven Hotel was first built as a two and a half story road-house or private home. In the late 1800s, the Village of Whitehaven (then spelled White Haven) was a vibrant riverfront community with shipyards, a canning factory, a new school and church, and several stores. To meet the regionís burgeoning demand for lodging, Sailin' the mighty Wicomico the building (sitting along the Wicomico River and the Whitehaven Ferry) went through its first major expansion in approximately 1877 and opened as a hotel. The hotel served steamship passengers including salesmen who travelled among the regionís farming communities. The hotel also drew guests by horse who crossed the ferry which connected several important eastern shore towns including Princess Anne, Quantico and Vienna. At this time, a store was attached to the west end of the original building (literally by rolling it down the street and nailing it on)and a mansard roof replaced the pitched roof.

At the turn of the century, the hotel was expanded again as a dining room, kitchen and more guest rooms were added, including a high style Victorian quarters for the innkeeper. At some point the open roof between the first and second floors of the store was filled in to make more rooms where, it is said, salesmen could sleep four to a bed for twenty five cents. By 1910, an addition on the south side was filled in the u-shaped structure with a bar, possibly replacing a second floor porch. This bar operated into the 1950s. Accounts of stopping by the Hotel can be found in "River of Rogues" and "The Entailed Hat."

Weary travelers in the "River of Rogues", an account of 18th century life by A.R. Beverly Giddings,, stop at the Whitehaven Hotel to sip iced rum punch beneath a tulip tree.

World War I provided a boost to Whitehavenís shipyards, but river traffic and commerce eventually shifted to Salisbury. During prohibition, the "Whipoorwill Gang" was said to operate nearby. A secret door in the Hotel store is thought to have been used for passing liquor to customers who had first been given the once-over. As the villageís fortunes declined, the hotel became a private residence and closed shortly after World War II.

The present restoration, which started in late 1997, is reversing nearly 50 years of neglect and bringing this jewel of the Eastern Shore back to its stately appearance. While you're waiting for the Whitehaven Ferry, itís easy to imagine former (and future) guests relaxing on the porch while enjoying the early-evening views and breezes.

Tales of Reconstruction
The Whitehaven Hotel has remained in its original state as one of the last buildings in a long-gone network of points between steamship routes connecting small waterfront towns and islands in the Chesapeake Bay to commercial ports as far away as Baltimore. Its presence on the banks of the Wicomico on the site of the longest coninuously operating public ferry in the country (circa 1685)suggests a waterfront way of life which characterized the Chesapeake Bay.Sailin' the mighty Wicomico Though many had imagined and contemplated the restoration of the building, a series of starts and stops led to its ultimate auction and likely demolition in 1994. At the last moment, the non-profit Wicomico Historical Properties, led by President King Burnett and Vice President Pat Russell with critical help from resident Tom Lilly, stepped in and dramatically saved the building from the wrecking ball. Enlisting the support of the Maryland Historical Trust, these dedicated preservationists pieced together a plan for the building's adaptive restoration. As Gerry Matyko of Expert House Movers lifted the building and carpenters began work on the sills and plates, the project was earnestly underway.

Architect Ed Otter began work that identifed the Hotel as a site used in the 18th century and earlier. He excavated items such as pottery shards, pipes, and tools which indicated the Hotel's long history of commercial use in Whitehaven, a once important ship building town. The exising strucutre contains within it a two and a half story tavern or roadhouse built circa 1810. Evidence of an older, pitched roof stucture was found during the restoration, tied into the rafters on the east side. From 1810 to 1890, as needs dictated, rennovations followed; a two story store building added as the west wing, a mansard roof fashioned to top the Hotel, and an east wing, in high Victorian style, increased the dining area and added a room for the innkeeper.

As work began, spearheaded by Reggie Mariner the talented builder who created Mariner's Country Down, the Hotel began to reveal some of its secrets. Removal of asphalt around the bay windows revealed an elaborate design of cut cypress shake. The framing of the oldest part of the Hotel turned out to be mortise and tennon with hickory pins used instead of nails an old and highly skilled method of construction. A hidden door was discovered in the store, most likely used during prohibition when whiskey runners operated from remote hummocks. And, in probably the biggest suprise, a cavity in a second floor mantel, acting as a time capsule, captured a variety of items including a dunning notice (demanding payment for wooden barrels), tickets to an Indian show, paper dolls used as a promotional item by a painting company, and a tintype of three gentlemen presumed to be past owners of the Hotel.

The Hotel's interior has been decorated and designed by resident Jefferson Boyer who has been involved in the project since the start. His legendary antiquing finds, such as obtaining a copy of the Great Seal of Maryland for $28, and his eye for the character and history of the Eastern Shore, have created an atmoshpere which is faithful to the building and quite different from that of other B&Bs.

The completion of the restoration reversed nearly 50 years of neglect, bringing this jewel of the Eastern Shore back to its stately appearance. While you're waiting for the Whitehaven Ferry, itís easy to imagine former (and future) guests relaxing on the porch while enjoying the early-evening views and breezes.


 
 



 


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