River Towns

The Nanticoke watershed is home to many small towns. Explore the history of some of them here, or hop over to the Along the Trail section to learn about various amenities and points of interest located throughout the watershed.


Seaford, DE – One of Seaford’s earliest claims to fame was its status as the “Nylon Capital of the World,” a title it gained when the DuPont Company built its first nylon plant just outside the town in 1939. Originally laid out in 1799, the town was not incorporated until 1865. In its earlier years, Seaford was also known for being home to William Henry Harrison Ross, an innovative farmer who became the Governor of Delaware in 1851. Today, his extensive Seaford land holdings, including his still-standing Italian Renaissance style home, are open for tours. During Ross’s time, Seaford’s economy was based predominately on agriculture, specifically the tobacco industry. Over time, the nature of agriculture in the area changed to predominantly poultry production, and the farmers that continued to grow crops began producing feed for the local chicken farms.

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Bethel, DE – Bethel is a quaint village of Victorian and Italianate architecture with a rich history. Once a prosperous shipbuilding center, the town was home to a local boatyard that built 36 Chesapeake rams between 1870 and 1923. The community is traced to 1840, when Kendall Lewis laid out twelve building lots. Originally known as Lewisville, the name changed to Bethel in 1880. The entire town is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Laurel, DE – Laurel was founded in 1683 and incorporated as a town on April 13, 1883.  It was considered one of the wealthiest in the state, with 2,500 residents.  Over Laurel’s years of existence, the town has had five persons from the area serve as Governors of the state. Nathaniel Mitchell (1805 – 1808); John Collins (1821 – 1825); William Barkley Cooper (1841-1845); William Ross (1851 – 1855); and Elbert Nortrand Carvel (1949-1953,1961 – 1965). Today Laurel is home to more historic buildings than any town in Delaware with 800 on the National Historic Record.

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Sharptown, MD – Historically, Sharptown was well known for its shipbuilding industry. In the later part of the 1800s, eighteen U.S. merchant ships were built in Sharptown, and the town’s docks were home to the largest fleet of schooners on the river. Unfortunately, the industry began to fail as the area’s forests disappeared, decimated by the need for trees in boatbuilding and the clearing of land for farming. The town was named for Horatio Sharpe, who served as Governor of the Maryland Colony for fifteen years in the mid-1700s. The town now has roughly 650 residents.

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Vienna, MD – The waterfront community of Vienna is gaining prominence for its recent efforts to revitalize its waterfront. Vienna also recently established a greenbelt to contain development and limit its expansion. Historically, this town was a hub for trade and commerce, as well as shipbuilding. In 1762, it became an official customs collecting port in the colonies. The British attacked the town multiple times during the American Revolution, due to its important role as a major transportation hub and supply line for American troops. Prior to John Smith’s voyage in 1608, this shoreline was first inhabited by Native Americans. During his voyage, he visited a Chicone village that had been located near where Vienna stands today.

Mardela Springs, MD – Originally called Barren Creek Springs, the town was renamed Mardela Springs because of its location close to the Maryland-Delaware border, as well as its proximity to sulfur springs that were well known in the 19th century. At that time, visitors would flock to the town, from all the region’s major cities, to stay at the Barren Creek Hotel and visit the mineral water spa, the Barren Creek Spring House. Despite the popularity of the springs for tourists, an entrepreneurial water bottling company was afraid that water labeled from “Barren Creek Springs” would not sell well, prompting the town’s name change at the end of the 1800s. The town remained a popular destination for visitors until the mid-20th century, when a number of factors coincided that dramatically reduced the number of tourists visiting the town. Since then, Mardela Springs has returned to being a small, quiet village with a population of roughly 400.

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Hurlock, MD – The first buildings began springing up in the area that would become Hurlock at the turn of the 19th century. Following the trends of much of the surrounding region, this area was predominantly settled and developed for agriculture initially. In 1867, the Delaware Railroad built a station in the area in order to facilitate the movement of people and crops, and the Baltimore, Chesapeake, and Atlantic (BC&A) Railroad intersected it in the present-day site of Hurlock in 1890. This intersection was the true catalyst for the continued growth and development of the area and the eventual incorporation of the town in 1892. As a result, the town’s slogan is “On track since 1892.” Hurlock gained importance throughout its history in a variety of industries, including production of food and poultry, trucking, and manufacturing.

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Federalsburg, MD – Federalsburg is located on the Marshyhope Creek in the southern-most part of Caroline County, making it the only town in the county to be located within the Nanticoke watershed. As was the case in other river towns, Federalsburg earliest industry was shipbuilding. The surrounding forests provided plenty of white oak wood for the industry, which contributed to its success in the area. Agriculture was also of an early importance in the area of the fledgling Federalsburg, and, when the railroad came to the neighboring Hurlock, agriculture’s importance grew even further. Federalsburg received its name as a result of Federalist Party meetings that occurred in the vicinity of the small town in the late 1700s at what was called “The Bridge,” an important crossing of the Northwest Fork Ford that connected Caroline and Dorchester counties.

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Hebron, MD – Hebron sprung up in the 1890s after the Baltimore, Chesapeake, and Atlantic railroad was extended through that area. Prior to the extension, the area was sparsely settled by a variety of Virginians – some came seeking land or proximity to the northern markets; others were Quakers seeking religious freedom after the religion was banned in Virginia. Hebron was named after the biblical city of the same name. Now, Hebron maintains a relatively stable population of about 1100 people. Despite its proximity to Salisbury, this town still maintains its rural character and its small town pride, much like many other small towns on the Eastern Shore. There are two historical markers in Hebron: one for the “Old Spring Hill” St. Paul’s Church and one for The Four Immortal Chaplains.

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