A Bird’s Eye View of Salisbury’s “California” (c. 1908)

You may have to click on the image to see it better, but below is part of the Bird’s Eye panoramic map created by T. M. Fowler of Morrisville, Pennsylvania, believed to be dated 1908.  This portion of the map, looking roughly east is of the “California” area of the West Side of Salisbury, Maryland.

It shows West Main Street from about Lake Street up to Catherine Street (then called Fourth Street).  Delaware avenue was then called Third Street. You can see the ships, including the Virginia, at about where the restaurant Brew River is located now.  Just out of range of the map, to the right, there was a ship building business then, just as there is now, at about where Chesapeake Shipbuilding is now, near Delaware Avenue and Fitzwater Street.

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I am a fan of Fowler’s panorama maps. They are incredibly accurate given the hundreds of structures that were drawn.  This map shows likely the oldest of the surviving West Side “California” structures, located on Hill Street at the corner of First Street.

House on GoogleEarthArchitectural historian Paul Touart estimates that this structure dates to about 1820, making it one of the oldest structures still standing in Salisbury. In his book on the architectural history of Wicomico County he refers to the structure as the Benjamin H. Byrd House due to an early deed. Some may refer to it as the Azariah Hillman house, as he operated a small store attached to the corner of the house sometime in the 1930s, since removed. He is listed as a gardener by profession, in a 1908/09 directory.

There is a bit of a mystery as to where the building came from, because it does not appear on the 1877 Atlas map of the area.  But I may have narrowed in on a possibility, based on a plat that Touart had located.  Few people realize that First street did not always extend south of Hill Street as it appears today and on the 1877 map.  But the adjacent property was a parcel known as the “Spencer Todd farm.”  The Todd farmhouse is shown on a plat only a few yards away in the vicinity of where First Street is today.  There are a couple of unidentified structures on the 1877 map in that vicinity. It is possible this is that house and was realigned when the road was extended through.   It cannot be confirmed, as there was another structure near by but not as close that could have been the farmhouse, but it is highly likely this was it. Today it is rental property.  Alexine Cornish told me that she and her husband the late Tommy Cornish had lived for about four years on the second floor of this building before purchasing the house across the street.  This property as well as the home Alexine lives in now were white-owned until the mid twentieth century.

At the time of the 1908 Bird’s Eye panoramic map, there was a roughly equal mix in this part of Salisbury. Many living here and across the river in the Camden area were employed in jobs related to the water trade — ship carpenters, caulkers, sailors and more. A few mid-nineteenth century structures in this area were identified during Touart’s work, but I suspect there are a few more.  If you stop and take the time to look at some of these buildings, you can see many are likely very old.

— Linda Duyer

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