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Eastern Shore

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The Eastern Shore has since the mid-seventeenth century comprised two counties: Accomack County, the northernmost, named for the Native American tribe that originally inhabited the area, and Northampton County, named for the English shire. Patterns of development in the area can be read in the landscape. Initial settlement followed the shoreline and extended to the offshore islands on the seaside. Agriculture, fishing, timber, and shipping were primary activities. By the late seventeenth century some inland development had occurred, such as that at Pear Valley, a unique survivor, but large houses remained closer to the shore. Through the eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries this pattern continued, though a few small inland towns grew up along the stagecoach roads. The bayside developments had commercial ties to Baltimore and Norfolk, while the seaside looked northward to Philadelphia, New York, and New England. Union forces under General Henry Lockwood occupied the peninsula during the Civil War, and he directed that no buildings be destroyed. A shift toward developing the middle of the peninsula came in 1884 when the New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad ran its tracks down the center of the peninsula, creating a series of railroad towns. Automobiles continued the reorientation; U.S. 13 came up the center in the 1920s, and the completion of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel in 1964 intensified automobile-related development. Refrigeration brought a boom in commercial fishing for much of the twentieth century, although today that industry is in decline. Although strip commercialism has crept in along U.S. 13, much of the landscape beyond this narrow band is maintained for farming and fishing, still primary occupations for this largely rural area, along with tourism. The terrain has a quiet, lonely, haunting quality, the flat fields bordered by trees or running into marshes. The town of Accomac has the finest collection of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century structures, Onancock the best for late nineteenth-century buildings, and Cape Charles for the early twentieth century. However, many other towns are worth a visit, as are various independent structures that display the unique Eastern Shore form of “big house,” “little house,” colonnade, and kitchen. The driving tour is arranged south to north and oriented to U.S. 13.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Richard Guy Wilson et al.

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