Above: The NHPA showcases the stories of the three cultures who once lived on the land that is now known as the Handsell Plantation.
National Register of Historic Places
Handsell, which is located outside of Vienna, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the National Park Services’ Historic American Buildings Survey. The property was an early Nanticoke Native village, later named for a 1665 land grant to Thomas Taylor, native interpreter and Indian trader for the Maryland Colony.
Designated an Indian Reservation in 1720, the land reverted to Henry Steele (Englishman turned American patriot, Dorchester state delegate) who built a “large, pretentious” brick house sometime after 1770. The existing house is what remains of this large dwelling house.
In 1781, British privateers raided and burned plantations along the Nanticoke River. The Handsell house standing today also exhibits signs of a fire and a partial collapse. Today, it retains a brick façade that dates from the 18th century, but roof, chimney tops and interior woodwork that date from 1837, indicating it was rebuilt to a smaller scale using the ruins of the earlier dwelling.
Using the Guidelines of the Secretary of the Interiors Standards, the NHPA has adopted their method of preservation for Handsell. As such, Handsell can uniquely be used to interpret the history of Dorchester County in a setting that is visually authentic and untouched by modern materials.
The area around Handsell is protected by conservation easements, allowing it to retain its rural setting. This is rare in the world of historic preservation and heritage tourism. Handsell visitors are given an experience that is different from those provided by sites that have been polished and restored to a more modern sensibility and are surrounded by modern development and parking lots.
Handsell’s diverse programs have contributed to the site’s stature as one of Dorchester County’s important historic landmarks. But the three accomplishments that NHPA counts as their most significant achievements are the preservation of brick house, listing on the National Register of Historic Places and the building of the Chicone Village.
Midge Ingersoll, who also serves as President of the Heritage Board of Directors, notes NHPA’s close ties to the Heritage Area. Past experience has demonstrated that since 2009, most visitors are returning each year to see the progress on the preservation efforts at Handsell. As a result, heritage tourism increases as visitors make use of hotel accommodations, restaurants and other heritage area sites when they come to the county for Handsell living history events.
NHPA has a proven record of stewardship of Handsell. Acquiring the property in 2009, they have received a Heart of Chesapeake County’s Heritage Area Award three times and have been awarded the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage Special Recognition Award for the work at Handsell. To date, more than $350,000 has been raised and spent on the preservation efforts and development of the site at Handsell.
“All these goals will lead us into the right decisions to make Handsell one of Dorchester County’s prime heritage tourism sites, promoting history while encouraging economic development through tourism.”