If you have the thirst for knowledge and an appreciation of history – Worcester County is right up your alley. Tourists flock to the area yearly to marvel at Assateague’s famous wild horses, sail the coast, and taste delicious seafood. But did you know that Worcester County is also home to a cluster of very interesting museums? Founded in 1742, the county is knee deep in agricultural and fishing history, while also being widely recognized as one of the first destinations to which Captain John Smith and other explorers ventured. Take a break from the beach to stoke your cranium and immerse yourself in a history lesson in our picturesque beach-side county. From learning about the area’s brush with the Civil War to visiting a one-room schoolhouse to admiring the ancient artifacts of its early people, here are the top local museums worth visiting in Worcester County.
When driving into the heart of Berlin, one of the first things you’ll notice is its immaculate collection of Colonial, Federal and Victorian architecture. But for a real gem of a find, you’ll want to head over to the north end of Main Street, where the Calvin B. Taylor House Museum has proudly been sitting since 1832. History buffs will be greeted by a three-story white Federal-style building with emerald green doors and window shutters nestled under towering trees. The well-kept building has fascinating exhibits highlighting notable residents of the area including one of the most famous African American Methodist ministers of his time and Jesse R. Hollins, the inventor of the turn signals used on automobiles.
Today, visitors can browse the house to enjoy the carefully restored rooms with original furniture and see on-site exhibits including Man 0’ War, the legendary race horse that later grandfathered Seabiscuit. The prize-winning horses were trained not far from Berlin. Guided tours are available May through October, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s advised to kill two birds with one stone by attending the annual Peach Festival (during first week of August) or Concerts on the Lawn throughout the summer season. Both events are held on the lawn of the mansion, making it easy for festival goers to take a quick peek inside.
Continue your history tour by driving a few minutes toward the coast, where you’ll find Rackliffe Plantation House, tucked just beyond the Assateague Island Visitor Center, an 18th-century plantation of Georgian architecture that overlooks Sinepuxent Bay. As one of the oldest buildings in the area, the house has weathered a few battle scars including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War, along with pillaging pirates and Spanish sailors.
Thanks to a team of passionate, historic preservationists, the house was restored to its former glory in 2011. Keep in the mind, the hours are limited; only open Tuesday and Thursday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. from May through October, but once you get a glimpse inside, you’ll appreciate the restored interior with artifacts used during the Georgian era.
Nestled as the base of Pocomoke River State Park, Furnace Town is nothing like you’ve seen anywhere else. When you step into the small living history village-turned museum with a collection of houses from the 19th century, you’ll instantly feel transported into a different era. Staff dressed in authentic period attire will demonstrate the art of making potteries, weaving textiles, blacksmithing and broom making in the 1800s. Formerly the community of hardworking miners, molders, bargemen, sawyers and colliers, the village thrived from 1828 to 1850 as an iron company.
It’s said that raw materials were collected from the nearby Nassawango Swamp before being heated up in a furnace, producing homemade iron, and a catchy name for the town. Today, guests can explore the village to see the historic buildings where the workers and their families lived, including the Nassawango Iron Furnace, Broom House, Print Shop and Old Nazareth Church. While there, go on a unique tour to Warren Mansion. The 25-room Spanish villa is known for its unusual design that took ten years to complete the house.
Snow Hill has its own fair share of rare buildings – including its own one-room school house. Mount Zion One-Room School was erected in 1869; beating Sturgis by 30 years and was used as a schoolhouse until 1931. Originally built near Whiton, the school was relocated to Furnace Town so students and visitors could get a glimpse of how their ancestors were educated and reared. Visitors can go on a 30-minute tour to learn about how the school was run as well as look at used items like quill pens, water buckets (for tardiness) and inkwell slates. The school is available for tour mid-June through September, Tuesday through Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Furnace Town is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Browse through an impressive collection of historic art and artifacts at the Julia A. Purnell Museum. The quaint cottage was built in 1891 as a Catholic church before closing its doors in 1900. The story goes Julia A. Purnell was a remarkable and talented quilter and embroiderer of her time. Purnell built up quite a collection over the years, and when she died, her son William decided to feature her works in the museum–along with artifacts donated by the grieving community. Swing by anytime from Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. to learn all about the crafty woman who touched the lives of many in her community.
With a population of less than 5,000 people, Pocomoke City is a charming town south of Snow Hill with its own history and stunning architecture. Get to the pulse of this town at Delmarva Discovery Center and Museum, where visitors and locals come to discover a living museum that focuses on the ecology and biology of local wildlife. The exhibits have touch displays where families can watch a digital narrative behind each station. Traveling families will want to take their kids to the Beaver Lodge at the museum. Children can crawl inside an actual wooden dam built by the beavers in the world and later transported to the museum. Families can also visit the Cypress Swamp exhibit to get up close and personal with the tree frogs and snakes. However, the real stars of the show are the river otters during lunch feeding time.
History lovers, there’s something in it for you as well. The museum has several exhibits highlighting the history of Worcester County, including the tobacco culture, steamships and the Native American culture dating back to 12,000 years.
Next stop is the Isaac Costen House Museum. The stunning Victorian-Italianate house has a gingerbread-style porch that invites visitors inside. Built in 1870, the house was the longtime home of the Costen family and their patriarch, Isaac Costen, who worked as a doctor during the Civil War and specialized in typhoid fever, which he tirelessly tried to cure.
During your visit to the house, you’ll see displayed garments and accessories worn by members of the family along with old photographs. While there, visit the Hall-Walton Memorial Garden, an adjoining spot of greenery with crepe myrtles, towering trees and a Victorian gazebo. It is best to visit on warmer days. The house is open Wednesday through Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. May to October.
Don’t leave Pocomoke City without stopping to see a rare form of architecture. One of the only African-American one-room schoolhouses left in the country is The Sturgis One Room School. Standing at more than 115 years old, the school only operated for 37 years before it was abandoned and then restored in 1998. Now the school is used as a museum to educate visitors on the history of African Americans in Worcester County.
When visiting Worcester County, it’s absolutely essential to visit its largest and busiest city, Ocean City. Located by the water, Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum is a one-of-a-kind venue that commemorates surfmen that dedicated their lives to saving people at sea; today’s version of the U.S. Coast Guard. The museum features exciting exhibits of prints and photographs highlighting the history of its brave men rescuing folks from shipwrecks through heavy winds and rain. Don’t miss the one-of-a-kind Sands of the World Exhibit, where visitors can compare Ocean City’s sand to other parts of the world including Iceland, Russia, Australia and many more. The museum acted as an original life-saving service station until 1864 before being restored and turned into an exhibit to honor the heroic men of the sea. The museum opens seasonally from May to October 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., June to September 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and limited days in April and November, Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In Showell, east of Ocean City, a historic church built in 1744 stands in immaculate condition and is used for private events or weddings. St. Martins Church was originally intended to be the biggest parish in the area until neighboring Berlin started to expand. The expansion caused residents to pick up and move closer to the more popular town in the 1840s.
Afterward, the congregation dwindled and the building fell into a state of disrepair. Thanks to a team of preservationists, the church underwent renovations and makes an attractive place for lovers of history and architecture to visit. Families can also visit Newark, to see Queponco Railway Station, a historic 1910 railway station in restored condition. The station operates as a small museum featuring an exhibit about Worcester County’s railroad heritage and history. Call the station prior to your visit; the museum has limited hours that change seasonally.
The quiet town of Girdletree is located outside of Snow Hill and has its own star museum—the Girdletree Barnes Bank Museum. The tiny brick house was used as a local bank from 1902 to the 1930s. George L. Barnes, who ran the bank during its heyday, was reputed to be such a legendary guy that the community turned the bank into a museum to honor his memory. The building remains one of the only two small historic banks left in Worcester County. Contact the museum in advance for a tour through the bank and its charming small town of Girdletree.