Westside Historical Society
Saving & Celebrating the history and traditions of western Wicomico County since 1985
Barren Creek Spring House
circa 18th Century
Barren Creek Springs
Presbyterian Church - 1842
Mason - Dixon
Line Marker - 1765
Double Mills Grist Mill - circa 1700's
Land Along the Nanticoke
This website is an introduction to some of the rich heritage of this area – especially the eastern bank of the Nanticoke River. Most of that is now the western part of Wicomico County, though the upper reaches of the River stretch far up into Delaware. In the Wicomico County portion visitors can explore a number of beautiful villages and towns -- Mardela Springs, Athol, Riverton, San Domingo, Sharptown, Hebron, Quantico, Bivalve, Wetipquin, and Nanticoke. Here we present some of those sites, towns, buildings, and traditions that will help you discover that heritage.

For more than 300 years, from the early 1600's through the mid-1900's, this part of the Chesapeake basin changed slowly and clung stubbornly to the way of life shaped largely by the character of the land and the water. Even today, the Nanticoke River has been described – proudly by those who live here – as largely untouched from the time when it was explored by John Smith in 1608, and properly is part of the National John Smith Water Trail.
Copyright 2016 Westside Historical Society Inc.
P.O. Box 194
Mardela Springs MD 21837
Barren Creek Country
The Puckamees, were part of the larger Native-American Nanticoke “empire.” Their villages along the River and Creek continue to yield evidence of their presence. When John Smith sailed up the River in 1608 it was almost surely a band of Puckamees who attacked him from the mouth of Barren Creek. For the most part they were peaceful neighbors of the European families who continued to come and settle land with access to the waterways. They were hunters, fishermen, and trappers chiefly, living in “long houses” and making arrow shafts from the reeds of the marshes. For a brief period in the late 1600s the colonial Maryland Assembly attempted to confine them to a reservation stretching roughly from the mouth of Barren Creek north to the present village of Riverton, but by that time their numbers were decreasing as many chose to move into Delaware or north. Many eventually reached Canada and some even joined the mid-West Plains tribes. By the mid-1700s very few were left, but their names and even some of their skills live on. The village that started as Barren Creek Springs was so named because of the many mineral-rich springs in the area. Reportedly valued by the Indians for its health-giving properties, the white settlers quickly began drinking from them as well.

There were other reasons for a village to grow there. The tobacco warehouse became a center of some commerce; a ferry across the creek near the high ground on which the warehouse sat encouraged early trade. The Creek itself, like so many other creeks emptying into the River was a source of commerce. When dammed, the potential power created for grist mills and saw mills was impressive. At one time, as many as twelve such water-powered mills worked on the banks of Barren Creek, and more on other creeks. As local farmers turned more to grain – corn, rye, wheat, some buckwheat and oats – from the unstable tobacco market, the miller became more and more important in the local economy. The dams themselves became another factor in the town’s growth. Colonial laws required dams be wide enough to serve as roadways, and as highways became more important as post roads and other land links, a crude highway system evolved. The village at Barren Creek Springs had the good fortune to be at the spot where the main road from the north turned south and southeast to lead to the Somerset County seat of Princess Anne, and at the point where fresh horses and an inn were needed for the weary traveler. Hence, a Hotel was built in the village about the time of the Revolutionary War, and only yards away from one of the biggest springs.
We start with the northwestern corner of Wicomico County known for more than 200 years as Barren Creek District. Named for the long meandering stream feeding into the Nanticoke, on its banks sits Mardela Springs, the western “gateway” to the lower Delmarva peninsula. And, since Westside Historical Society is based here, we begin in this town which began in the latter 1700s as Barren Creek Springs, sometimes spelled “Barron” Creek. The first few settlers in the mid-1600s became the ancestors of many current residents. In the 17th century English, Welsh, Irish, and Scot newcomers often came as traders, dealing with the local Indians for furs. Small farmers soon followed, growing tobacco for export and grains, vegetables, and fruits for home consumption. In the early 1700s the town was named an official export site and a warehouse was built on the banks of the Creek; local “planters” [of tobacco] brought their crop there to await ocean-going sailing ships.
From the 1682 gift to William Penn of the land on the west bank of the Delaware River (along with Pennsylvania) an ongoing dispute between Penn and the Calverts, proprietors of Maryland, had simmered. Finally, in the 1750s an attempt was made to survey the boundary line between Penn’s southern Delaware land and Maryland. This Trans-Peninsular Line failed to satisfy all parties and in 1765 another survey team sent by the Crown, Mason and Dixon, came to settle the issue. The physical evidence of the work of both surveys is still visible; the Cornerstone [southwest corner of Delaware] and many line markers remain.
In 1893 the village of Barren Creek Springs changed it's name to Mardela Springs. The change was mostly economically motivated. The railroad had arrived in town in 1890 and several businessmen saw the chance to expand the market for the town's bottled mineral water. Fearing city consumers would shy away from "Creek Water" they suggested changing the town's name to the new combination of Maryland and Delaware - Mardela Springs. Many residents objected but were outvoted and the town has been Mardela Springs ever since.
Visitors to the town today will find several sites that are part of the town's heritage. These sites can be found on our features page.