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

Posted in Maryland, People, Schools

Wesley Williams survived the 1860 Salisbury fire

The question remains — did he also survive the Salisbury fire of 1886?

Currently I am focused on my latest project, a new book on the history of downtown Salisbury, Maryland.  It is being done from a different perspective and has been an all-consuming project.

During the process of re-visiting Salisbury’s famous history, I have learned that at least one African American suffered losses during Salisbury’s earliest large fire, that of 1860. Included in the list of those who suffered losses was Wesley Williams, identified in the U.S. Census as African American who worked as a barber.  His name appears in the Salisbury Sentinel following the 1860 fire, listed as having lost his shop.  Another listed name is Levin Houston, another known African American of that time period, who also lost his shop. Where their shops were located at the time of the fire is not yet determined. But the 1860 U.S. Census from earlier that year shows both their names, so they might have lived near each other, and Levin Houston has been identified as the prominent founder of the John Wesley Methodist Church on Broad Street east of the downtown area. If the Levin Houston in the newspaper is the same person, then it it appears he and Wesley both lost their shops during the 1860 fire.

Now I am trying to determine if Wesley also suffered during Salisbury’s largest fire, that of 1886.  There is no evidence of this yet, only a mention of it in a 1932 book by Charles J. Truitt.  Wesley Williams does appear as a barber in the 1880 U.S. Census, but he does not appear in the 1890 census or later.  Truitt identifies the location of Williams’ shop as right downtown on Main Street, three doors west of Division Street. If true, it may be possible to identify where his shop was in Salisbury’s earliest photograph which has an approximate date of about 1870 (contrary to an earlier estimate).  If Truitt’s description is correct, Wesley’s shop is visible in the photograph. But I cannot yet make that assumption.  Still, the 1860 fire was much smaller, as Salisbury was considerably smaller at that time.  If indeed the fire was localized to the couple of blocks downtown, then it is possible Truitt’s assessment was correct.  But I am still working on it!

— Linda Duyer











1860 Wesley Williams

Posted in Maryland, People

Flagrant self-promotion

It seems a bit strange pushing this on anyone reading this, but recently I was interviewed for WSCL, the public radio station at Salisbury University, on the subject of my first book, “‘Round the Pond,’ the Georgetown Neighborhood of Salisbury, Maryland.”

WSCLYou can listen to it online, but I recommend that you use earphones, as I am a bit soft-spoken in this….but chatty.  I have only done maybe 3 or 4 radio interviews but I would imagine it’s the same for anyone, that you can kick yourself for having forgotten something or for tripping over your words, etc.  So true in my case.  But I was actually surprised that I managed somehow to have packed so much information into just 30 minutes, particularly given the questions of the program director, Don Rush.  My only reason for this self-promotion of the interview is in the hopes that more people might want to come forward with their own memories of either this old now gone neighborhood or other historic neighborhoods in your area.

— Linda Duyer

Posted in Cemeteries, Churches, Maryland, People, Schools

Barbed Wire

Yes, it has been a while since contributing to my blog.  Life is my excuse.

What’s worse is that this post seemingly has nothing to do with the theme of my blog.  But in truth I have always had an interest in the history of any minority group with a largely undocumented history of being the victims of discrimination, segregation, and hatred.  What segments of society have done and why they’ve done them confound me.

Perhaps it has been the recent reported issues of immigration that has sparked my interest, or maybe simply me having more time on my hands.  And perhaps it was a post from my Barbedwirefriend Mike Dixon, relaying the Delmar DustPan‘s website post about early Chinese in the small Eastern Shore towns at a time of nationwide political exclusion of Chinese seeking to immigrate to this country.  Perhaps it was all sorts of things, including the book I recently read, Lisa See’s On Gold Mountain.

LOC Chinese in CaliforniaThe Library of Congress has an interesting website entitled “The Chinese in California 1850-1925.” and includes a lot of information and online resources.

I was drawn to the website when I had run across an online article showing one of the Library of Congress photographs of barbed Chinatown barbed wirewire around San Francisco’s old Chinatown at a time with the community was “quarantined” both for feared medical reasons but also as an extreme form of segregation which was in reality house arrest.

Think about the concept of barbed wire.  It is not only used as a barrier, of both entry and exit.  It is designed also to inflict pain and injury if challenged. But barbed wire is also a symbol, used as a warning to anyone who sees it.  Certainly barbed wire, as used against humans, is penetrable, easily cut and removable.  Usually with barbed wire used on humans, there are other systems in place to reinforce the barriers — armed guards, high impenetrable fences, electrification, and more.  Barbed wire is a hurtful and shameful symbol of how humans can be corralled into submission.  How has this method been used in our history?  Something to think about. So perhaps the topic is not so far afield afterall.

— Linda Duyer

Some images from the Library of Congress worth clicking on:

Wave chinatown quarantineAngel Island SF




Posted in People, Uncategorized

Dames Quarter School: slipping off the Rosenwald list

2014 Dames Quarter Rosenwald 1If you search YouTube for Dames Quarter School, you will find a video of the abandoned school, a creepy video walk through the empty building.  The person who meandered through this school did not know that this was a Rosenwald School, one of the many African American schools built in the early 1900s through a fund established by Julius Rosenwald.  Susan Pearl, who a while back did an inventory of the Maryland Rosenwald schools had at first thought the Dames Quarter school no longer existed, but after one of my Sunday afternoon drives I located this school.  From this discovery it was confirmed to have been the Rosenwald School.  Expanded some time or another, and used as a daycare facility after it ceased being a public school, the structure is now abandoned.  My visit today shows the roof has damage and the front door is open.  With unattended roof damage, it’s only a matter of time when this building will disappear and slip off of the Rosenwald list.

But today after my Sunday afternoon drive again through this area, I got yet another revelation, after viewing the 1877 atlas image of Dames Quarter.  Today as you come up upon Dames Quarter, after driving through a panoramic view of the marsh swamp area, you come to what remains of Dames Quarter.  To the right, north of the main road, is the more populous area with splendid views of the water, an area where the Henry’s defied the then largely white area of Dames Quarter by purchasing property and creating Henry’s Beach, a popular summer beach resort for African Americans during a time when there were few resorts open to them.

But today, as you drive into the south side, you take Riley Roberts Road, it’s a lonely spooky drive.  After a turn, on the left is the school.  Then onward the road bends to the right where you will find the active Macedonia United Methodist Church, at the spot where there has long been an African American church, even shown on the 1877 Atlas.  Recently I watched a program on Maryland Public Television on the Blacks of the Chesapeake and one of the older watermen described having been from Dames Quarter.  Likely nearly everyone in Dames Quarter, as in nearby Chance and Deals Island, made there living one way or another from the water.  There is water everywhere.

But what I did not realize until after taking this drive is that Riley Roberts Road, with it’s few old and some decaying homes, was once the main drag through Dames Quarter, not the Deal Island Road with which we all use to rush through the area.  The 1877 atlas shows a large number of people living in the vicinity of the “colored” church, now Macedonia United Methodist Church.  There are still homes there, but the atlas shows this as the through road towards Chance and Deal Island and with what looks like a more thriving area.  It just goes to show you that what you see today may not be exactly what existed long ago.  Some things stayed the same, but many changed or disappeared.  I would love to know more about the history of Dames Quarter.

— Linda Duyer

The image below is of the 1877 Atlas and a current map of Dames Quarter.  The yellow is my highlighted approximation of today’s Deal Island Road. 

1877_2014 Dames Quarter 2

Posted in Churches, Maryland, People, Schools

1963 NBC Documentary: Blacks Chant in Church in Cambridge

This is a follow-up to the previous post about the archived footage of NBC’s 1963 three-hour documentary, “The American Revolution of 1963,” which is archived online in three segments.

The second segment has a very short piece of footage described in the website as “Blacks chant in Church in Cambridge, MD,” a very short segment showing a church rally in June of 1963.  The short piece begins at about 15:40 into the second of three segments of the documentary.

— Linda Duyer

June 1963 NBC blacks chant in church cambridge

Posted in Maryland, People

NBC’s 1963 filming of Cambridge, Maryland

My special thanks to Mike Dixon for finding the NBC Archives website featuring an extraordinary glimpse of Cambridge, Maryland during the turbulent year of 1963.

map and commentator at cambridge full webpageA three-hour program on the state of Civil Rights struggles entitled “The American Revolution of 1963,” the first of the three segments features Cambridge at about 35 minutes into the footage, after a story on Birmingham.  This first image shows NBC correspondent Mike McGee standing on a map of the country with his feet straddling the label of Cambridge as he introduces the story.

race st signWhat follows in an amazing piece of filmed footage.  Many of us are familiar with the still photographs of Cambridge during this time, but there is something mesmerizing watching the filmed streets, the National Guard, the famous “egg” incident, the crowd, Gloria Richardson and other protesters, images of crowds, and more.

There is Race Street and Greene’s Savoy on Pine St greenes savoyPine Street.  But most intriguing are the people; one is left wondering who is who. There is nothing like video regardless of context.  Be sure to check it out, and be sure to watch the rest of the footage.

— Linda Duyer



Posted in Maryland, People