History | Tales
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
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.
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
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.