The Mystery of Salisbury’s California

I have found no one who can point to a source explaining the date of when the Salisbury West Side streets were laid and named, or how the area came to be labeled and forever thereafter known as “California.”

That area is shown on the 1877 Atlas just south of the cranberry bogs and on the west side of the Wicomico River. Sure, the 1877 indicates a smattering of structures, but there is even a school shown. The streets have since been known as First, Second, Third, and Fourth streets.  At one point Third Street became Delaware Avenue, and Fourth Street became Catherine Street.  Architectural historian Paul Touart describes this area in his county history as dating generally to the late 1800s. Deed searches going back to about 1890 or so leave the researcher frustrated because they do not indicate the deed chain before then. Even Touart’s work identifies some current structures dating to much earlier than the 1877 Atlas.  There have been questions as to why such an area would have been labeled as First, Second, and so on streets, leading some to speculate that settlement might have been there much earlier.  Yet all the local histories identify the town settlement to have been east of the north prong of the Wicomico River, as are early plats (though the original was lost).

So if anyone has information or ideas, please let me know.  I am doing a history of downtown Salisbury, including the West Side.  That area went through a process of gentrification, changing from a white neighborhood to a largely African American neighborhood, with the transition dated to after the 1930s.  During the 1910 period, this area was quite mixed.  Much of this area of early Salisbury was focused on the industries that sprang up along the river which was bustling with river commerce. Early directories identify ship carpenters, caulkers, painters, haulers, and more.

If only I could solve the mystery of “California.”

— Linda Duyer

1877 Salisbury California

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