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History of Leonardtown
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History of Leonardtown

Leonardtown is the oldest municipality in Maryland and the sole incorporated town in St. Mary’s County.

With its spectacular setting on the Breton Bay, this lively and colorful district, founded in the mid 1600’s is one of the oldest waterfront communities in St. Mary’s County, as well as the 4th settled area in the United States, which is known for its old world charm and retains the feel of a European village with brick sidewalks and historic attractions.

History When Leonard Calvert and his original colonists arrived in what is now Maryland in March 1634, they immediately set about establishing the civil boundaries as they had known them in England. Although the first county, St. Mary's was not formally established until 1637, the county seat was set up at town site of the Yaocomico Indians, which was renamed St. Mary's, in honor of Mary, the mother of Jesus, under whose protection the venure was placed. The county seat remained at St. Mary's City until 1654 when mention is made of known as Newtown (Leonardtown). From 1634 to 1708 the court was conducted in the homes of various gentlemen of note in the Newtown area. In 1708, Mr. Phillip Lynes, the Mayor of St. Mary's City, gave to the colony 50 acres of a piece of land known as " Shepherd's Old Fields" at the head of Breton Bay. This land was to be divided into 100 lots and laid out as the county seat of St. Mary's County. Seven commissioners were charged by the Governor and Assembly to oversee this endeavor, which included setting aside one lot for a county courthouse, to be built at an expense not to exceed 12,000 pounds of tobacco. In 1708 the town was renamed Seymour Town in honor of the royal Governor John Seymour at the suggestion of Phillip Lynes. In 1728 a new set of more forceful commissioners were named by the government in Annapolis. These men renamed the town Leonardtown for the first Governor of Maryland, Benedict Leonard Calvert. Leonardtown functioned from that point in it's intended purpose as a local place to conduct the colony's official business for the citizens of St. Mary's County. In 1858, Leonardtown incorporated and became it's own self-governing municipality. Today, Leonardtown still operates as a self-governing town, by an elected Mayor and five member Town Council, all of whom serve for two year terms.

History Leonardtown has been the County Seat of St. Mary’s County for nearly three centuries, as well as the center of commerce and social activity. Today, it is still the center of local government and a bustling town of fine restaurants, unique shops, and old-fashioned charm. Traces of its history can still be found throughout its landscape and its commercial buildings, churches and residences. So its no wonder that with Leonardtown having so much history, that there would be a history about hotels in Leonardtown as well.

History One of the first documented hotel in Leonardtown is the Moore’s Hotel which was located on the east side of Park Avenue opened in the mid to late 1850’s, one could believe there were no other hotels in the state at that time, during the Civil War in the early 1860’s General’s from the First Maryland Calvary are have known to stay at the Moore’s Hotel before making passage across the Potomac into Virginia. Moore’s Hotel operated and ran until it was removed and replaced by the new Hotel St Mary’s in 1907. Hotel St. Mary’s held numerous banquets during its time especially after World War 1, but in a very tragic event, on July 3, 1925, the Hotel St. Mary’s caught fire, even though the damage was confined to the hotel, and the fire department was able to extinguish the fire, there was significant damage.

History Another listed hotel in Leonardtown around the Civil War time era is the Fenwick Hotel (also known as Union Hotel prior to the Civil War, later Washington Hotel and Lawrence’s Hotel) Located on the west side of Park Avenue at that time, which is now considered Washington Street. Fenwick Hotel is widely known for a famous occurrence that happened there on April 25, 1865. Congressman Benjamin Gwinn Harris is being arrested on April 26, 1865, on the porch of the Fenwick Hotel, for his opposition to the Civil War.

Though Congressman Harris was arrested after the Civil War was over, he was, nonetheless, charged with war crimes for giving a small amount of money to two freed Confederate prisoners making their way from Point Lookout prison camp to Baltimore. In fact, the prisoners had been detained by Union officers and ordered to seek lodging from the congressman. Harris was suspicious and instead of taking the men into his home at Ellenborough, just outside of Town, he gave them each a dollar and suggested they seek food and lodging at the hotel. The soldiers reported this to the Union officers, who had Congressman Harris brought from his home into Town for the reading of the charges. He was immediately transferred to a boat waiting in Breton Bay and taken to Washington, D.C. for incarceration. He was convicted of war crimes by a military tribunal, even though he was a civilian and the war was over when the alleged crime occurred. He was also removed from his seat in the House of Representatives and thrown in jail.

History Leonardtown lawyer John A. Camalier pleaded the case of Congressman Harris to President Andrew Johnson, who agreed that Harris had been treated unfairly. He gave Camalier a pardon for Mr. Harris and told the attorney to invite Congressman Harris to the White House for dinner that night. The unrepentant Harris refused the dinner invitation in the strongest of terms. He returned to Leonardtown and was sent back to Congress at the next election. This story is actually shown as part of the story in the Leonardtown Mural, that you will see in the center of town and posted at most businesses in the Historic Leonardtown District.

History The Fenwick Hotel was operating for nearly a century, when during World War II, on Sunday October 15, 1944 caught fire. Now threatening adjacent business a Leonardtown landmark erupted in flames. Clarke’s Restaurant and Nuthall’s store would have been lost had it not been a quick and massive response by numerous fire companies arriving at the scene. At one time, 10 streams of water flooded into the hotel to contain the blaze, and surprisingly enough minimal damage was done. Some say that second floor residents of the hotel escaped the fire and smoke by climbing down ropes that were installed in the hotel rooms for fire escape. Much of the old hotel remains to this day.

With both the Fenwick Hotel and the Hotel St. Mary's no longer operating. In 1958, then Sheriff Robert Miedzinski opened up Leonardtown Hotel on Park Avenue. In 2007 the hotel was torn down and re-built to house what is now the Executive Inn & Suites which opened at the end of 2008.

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