Pemberton Hall, erected in 1741 of Flemish bond brick with glazed headers, is an exceptional early example of a gambrel-roofed Tidewater dwelling that incorporates an English vernacular three-room-plan. It was among the first Tidewater houses to adopt what was then referred to as a “Dutch” roof in order to maximize the headroom available in the single-story houses then characteristic of the Chesapeake region. Later referred to as a gambrel roof, the form became popular from about 1780 through the 1820s. Gambrel roofs were most often used on houses that were two rooms in depth, but by the late eighteenth century had become common on single-pile dwellings as well.
Pemberton Hall’s three-room plan includes a large multipurpose hall that is entered directly from corresponding front and rear entries and is separated by a paneled partition wall from two connecting rooms. The larger of the two rooms, identified as a parlor or perhaps a dining room, is located to the front and is entered from the hall through an arched doorway in the partition wall. The smaller room to the rear was used as a chamber or “warming room.” The hall includes an expansive open hearth for cooking laid against a decorative wood-paneled wall and flanked by fluted pilasters, with an arched cupboard to the south and the partially open winder stair to the north. The front entry is slightly off center to accommodate the larger hall section and is flanked by twelve-over-twelve sash windows with round-arched lintels. Of particular note are the coved plaster cornice and the brick inscribed with the date “1741” over the doorway in the east gable end. The second floor comprises four chambers and a hall along the rear wall, and does not correspond to the plan of the first floor.
The three-room plan was more sophisticated than the two room hall-and-parlor plan that was typical of houses throughout Maryland during the eighteenth century. The three-room plan was an English form that was transferred to the colonies and generally consisted of a hall, dining room, and chamber. Its use in the Chesapeake region reflected the emerging importance of dining within polite society during the early part of the eighteenth century, by removing the dining function from the multipurpose hall. While more spacious and formal than the previous hall-and-parlor plan, the three-room plan lacks the gentility of the emerging Georgian center-passage plan, where the passage mediated between public and private spheres while creating even greater room specialization.
Pemberton Hall also includes noteworthy interior appointments. The paneling and other detail features in the hall such as the cabinet, balustrade, and pilasters are finely executed. Fully paneled walls were occasionally used in the best houses during the first quarter of the eighteenth century, becoming more common by the 1730s and remaining so until the late colonial period. Pemberton Hall was built during the height of its popularity and included a fireplace surround with bolection molding flanked by fluted pilasters in the Doric order, a round-arched cabinet, and doorways to a closet and stair. The archway in the cabinet was repeated in the corresponding doorway in the partition wall. All three rooms were heated by fireplace and include exposed framing in the form of beamed ceilings. The upper-story passage allowed private entry into each chamber rather than passing through one to get to the next, as was common. An unusual feature is the drop tester frame built into the ceiling of the southeast chamber from which bed linens or a canopy would have hung.
Pemberton Hall is the earliest surviving dwelling in the Salisbury vicinity, erected at Handy’s Landing at the head of the Wicomico River by Isaac Handy, who purchased his portion of the Pemberton Hall tract from Joseph Pemberton in 1726. Handy was a local planter as well as a justice of the peace and a colonel in the Maryland militia. He also operated a shipping business, serving local planters via his on-site landing that sat just south of the house. Pemberton Hall remained in the Handy family until 1835.
Pemberton Hall later received a separate single-story kitchen addition to the east side elevation. The house remained largely unchanged into the twentieth century, but by mid-century had fallen into a deteriorated state. The Pemberton Hall Foundation acquired it in 1963 and initiated a restoration plan. The Foundation continues to maintain the house, while Wicomico County’s Department of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism oversees the surrounding riverfront landscape. The house is open to the public for tours.
Carson, Cary, and Carl R. Lounsbury. The Chesapeake House: Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013.
Foreman, Henry Chandlee. Early Manor and Plantation Houses of Maryland. 2nd edition. Baltimore: Bodine and Associates, 1982.
Touart, Paul B., “Pemberton Hall,” Wicomico County, Maryland. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1998. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.