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St. Mary's City Historic District

St. Marys City, Maryland
County of St. Mary's.
St. Marys River, St. Inigoes, Broome, and Chancellor's Creeks
National Register Number: 69000310
Resource type: District.
Property type: Historic District: Historical. The threat level was Watch in
Congressional District: MD-5 Certified Local Government: NO
This NHL offers public access.
Please contact the NHL directly for visitor information.
Current use/information: Museum.

Statement of Significance (as of designation - August 4, 1969):
Saint Mary's City, founded in 1634 and serving as the provincial capital of Maryland until 1695, is probably the only remaining major 17th century town site in the United States that has never been overbuilt. St. John's House, a significant contributing element within the District, is one of the best preserved 17th century archaeological sites in the country.

Since the 2002 update, physical deterioration of the St. John’s site has been halted by the Historic St. Mary’s City museum with the assistance of a National Park Service Challenge Grant and matching funding from Preservation Maryland and the France-Merrick Foundation. This included repair of a collapsing 17th century cellar wall and brick entryway, removal of biological growth, and conservation of the 1638 and 1678 brick chimney bases. State of Maryland funding has been approved to build a permanent protective structure enclosing the remains of this 1638 house and its related outbuildings, and to exhibit the site. Erosion along a 4,250 foot section of shoreline has been controlled through installation of protective stone riprap and marsh grass buffers. This has effectively stabilized the land, but possible impacts of this riprap installation on near-shore underwater archaeological resources are being monitored. This project was funded by the Maryland Department of the Environment. Planning efforts are underway to stabilize 2,400 additional feet of shoreline along Milburn Creek that is eroding at approximately one foot per year in some areas. The museum has been successful in obtaining additional support for this stabilization. Another archaeological preservation problem is burrowing by an expanding population of groundhogs on archaeologically significant lands. These tunnel complexes result in considerable disturbance of sub-surface resources. As previously noted, major long-term threats to St. Mary’s City NHL include construction and landscape alteration within and along the boundaries of the NHL. Among these are home building on adjacent tracts and pressure to divert land acquired for preservation to other uses. Most major construction by St. Mary’s College of Maryland, which shares the NHL with Historic St. Mary’s City, has been re-directed to areas not visible from the main historic zone and archaeological resource preservation is included in all college planning efforts. For example, design of a college parking lot built on museum land avoided a key 17th century site and buried other significant sites under the lot using a unique engineering approach that will preserve them. Potential construction on private land adjacent to the highly significant 1677 St. Peter’s mansion site remains an unresolved issue. Viewshed deterioration within the historic lands and on the opposite shore of the river is a continuing problem since there are few zoning or easement protections currently in place to help preserve these historic vistas and the rural setting of St. Mary’s City.

Recommendation/Change since last report:
Lands acquired specifically for preservation and museum interpretation must be protected and detailed review by preservation specialists of potential alternative uses must continue. Completion of the beach stabilization efforts will help reduce shoreline erosion and site destruction, but its effects should be monitored to ensure the desired result. This additional stabilization has been funded in 2004 and work should commence in the spring of 2005, thus controlling a principal threat to the NHL. A comprehensive groundhog eradication program is necessary to stop archaeological site disturbance. HSMC has commenced an aggressive trapping program to reduce the population in particularly significant areas, and has had some success, but this will continue to be a problem throughout the site. Protection of the viewsheds and maintenance of the rural setting are important tasks. Planting of vegetative buffers to screen distracting features is a feasible action for some locations. Acquisition of easements or other legal actions to protect key viewsheds will be necessary for others, however, especially down the St. Mary’s River. An important preservation benefit that will derive from the maintenance of an open, rural setting is archaeological site protection. Keeping sites in grass cover offers the best in situ preservation for these resources. Shallow plowing can occur without damage, since virtually all of St. Mary’s City sites have been plowed previously, but a long term strategy is recommended to convert plowed land within the historic area into stable, vegetation covered land surfaces that will provide the maximum site protection. One action essential for the preservation of open spaces and viewscapes is the preparation of a joint preservation land use plan and facilities development plan between the affiliated State agencies of Historic St. Mary’s City and St. Mary’s College of Maryland. This plan will designate the zones requiring full preservation, identify the most significant historic viewsheds and means to protect them, and formally direct future development so as to minimize the long-term impact on the unique historical setting and archaeological resources that comprise the St. Mary’s City National Historic Landmark. This action is commencing.

Comments and questions about the database may be directed to NHL_info@nps.gov