As early as the 17th century, local settlers (including the famous Dutch surveyor and map maker Augustine Herrman) recognized the possibility of connecting the Chesapeake Bay with the Delaware River. In the mid-1760s, possible canal routes were surveyed along a conceptual route stretching across the Delmarva Peninsula from the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay to the Delaware River. Not until 1824, after an unsuccessful first start further to the north, did construction begin at the Chesapeake City location.
At its completion in October of 1829, two structures were reported to have been standing in the town (then known as Bohemia Village): a pre-revolutionary building known as Chick’s Tavern House and a lock house for collecting tolls. The town subsequently grew in response to the needs of the canal operations and commerce. In 1839, the town changed its name to Chesapeake City in anticipation of big things to come and incorporated in 1849 when the population reached 400.
In 1927 the canal was made sea level, and a new, vertical lift bridge was constructed to span the waterway linking the end of George Street to the North side of Chesapeake City. The bridge was used until 28 July 1942 when it was struck by a tanker, the “Franz Klasen”, completely destroying it. (Pictured at left.)
The current suspension arch bridge (pictured below) was completed in 1949.
At left, is a photograph (circa 1910) of Harriott’s Hotel known today as The Bayard House. Compare this view with the recent picture in color at right. Notice the buildings on the right side in the old photo do not exist in the new one. Both pictures were taken from the same vantage point. The old buildings (and several streets and many homes) were sacrificed to the widening of the canal. The “new” span bridge can be seen in the second photo. The Bayard House is now waterfront property, and patrons enjoy a wonderful view of the canal from both upstairs and downstairs dining areas. The “Hole in the Wall” bar located on the lower floor has not been changed from its original location. For more details on the evolution of the canal, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains a wonderful historical account of the canal project as well as current developments on their web site The Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.
Many of the homes and storefronts in Chesapeake City have been renovated. Pictured at right is a view of George Street which includes the Beiswanger-Henn House (Circa 1849), The Beiswanger Shop (Circa 1896), and the Banks Steele House (Circa 1854). This was taken about 1985 after a fire partially destroyed the center shop and damaged the Beiswanger Henn House. All three buildings were beautifully restored (new picture).
Under the watchful eye of the town’s Historic Committee, homes are still being restored today to preserve the historic charm of these old buildings.