When I head into a location I often go in blind with the intention of finding out more if I am intrigued by what I see. This is where I find myself with regard to Port Deposit, Maryland – and it is clear to me that I need to go back. There was much that I found interesting in the architecture and location, but I had no idea just how rich in history and personal connections I would ultimately find this place to be.
Port Deposit is located in Cecil County, Maryland, on the shore of the Susquehanna River, and is pretty much the end of navigable waters for deep draft vessels. Upriver is Smith’s Falls and the Conowingo Hydroelectric Dam. The building of the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal (1812) on the east side of the river funneled barge traffic around the falls and into Port Deposit, contributing to the rapid growth of the town, but not so rapidly that the British bothered to burn it when they came up the river during the War of 1812, as they did Lapidum directly across the river.
John Smith was the first European to visit the area, naming the rapids above Port Deposit Smythe Fayles. This was in or about 1608 or 09. By the 1790’s Pennsylvania timber was being sent down the Susquehanna, along with grain, coal, whiskey and tobacco where ships could meet river barges at this “port of deposit”. in 1812, the town was platted as Creswell’s Landing, but that same year the name was changed to Port Deposit.
The rich history of Port Deposit is not readily evident in a casual visit. There are, however, traces of architecture dating from 1790 through the 1920’s that caught my eye. Evidence of the granite quarries is everywhere in the buildings along the water – and if I had money in my pocket that day I would have bought at least three of them.
I certainly want to know more about the origins of these buildings, and am learning quite a lot delving into the history of the place, most especially on the official website, http://www.portdeposit.org
An unexpected personal connection to Port Deposit has emerged from my internet mining, and I am all the more motivated to return to this place. When I was young, I lived on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, and for a time, attended Commodore Bainbridge School. At the time, I had no idea who this Commodore Bainbridge was, but it comes to light that there, in Port Deposit was another location named for him, the Bainbridge Naval Training Center. Now decommissioned, the Center is apparently slated for development, although just what sort of development is unclear to me.
A place I missed altogether is along the upper reaches of Port Deposit. I noted the second level, accessible by a beautiful stone staircase, but did not go, that rainy day, up to view the original location of the Jacob Tomes Institute, a series of beaux arts granite buildings on the bluff. Long closed and in disrepair, the Port Deposit website states that they are currently being stabilized for rehabilitation. Judging from the photos I was able to find in an image search, they are both worth saving, and seriously in need. Take a look at the flickr images by Tim McGovern (www.flickr.com/photos/timmcgovern/sets) – such beautiful pictures of a sad state of repair.
I know I will go back. There is a thoughtfully constructed waterside facility for arriving in Port Deposit by boat – beautifully designed to sustain a wide variety of activities. The rainy day I visited, it was being used only by a lone fishing heron – but I can see where this would be the center of a lot that could be celebrated in the hidden treasure that is Port Deposit.