Endangered: 500 Block of Race Street

10/01/2014
By Preservation Maryland

The 500 block of Race Street in Cambridge in Dorchester County was listed as an Endangered Maryland site in 2014.

HISTORY

In the midst of a historic downtown and the Cambridge Arts and Entertainment District sits the 500 block of Race Street. Today, the even side of the block is lined with two and three-story buildings that are home to many small businesses. These businesses struggle in the shadow of four significant and seriously deteriorating commercial buildings that loom just across the street.

Three of the most important and threatened buildings on the block are: the Skinner Brother’s Wholesale Grocery (507 Race Street), an unadorned warehouse built in 1905; the Hearn Hardware Store (509/511 Race Street), the largest commercial building in the Main Street district which features many elegant details dating from 1915; and the Tolley Theater Complex (513/515 Race Street), an Art Deco theater dating from the 1920s.

SIGNIFICANCE

This block is particularly significant because it reflects the evolution of decades of commercial development in Cambridge during the first part of the 20th century. With its location on the Choptank River and easy access to the Chesapeake Bay, Cambridge’s economy has always been closely linked with the water. The growth of the Phillips Packing Company led to the development of the town and this increased economic prosperity can be seen through the development of the buildings in Cambridge.

THREAT

On the north corner of the block is the Grace United Methodist Church (1882) which has an active congregation and is in good condition. Many years of disinvestment and fire compromised the other buildings on the block. The Hearn Hardware Store building at 509-511 Race Street suffers greatly from demolition by neglect and sits empty with a basement full of water and a dilapidated roof which has weakened the structure. The Maryland Heritage Area Authority recently awarded a grant to repair the roof of 507 Race St., which was damaged by arson, but there is still a great deal of work to be done to stabilize and repurpose this structure. The Tolley Theater also suffers from demolition by neglect.

GOALS

Main Streets are a vital piece of communities and people are starting to realize the economic, cultural, and historical importance of maintaining a vibrant downtown that speaks to a community’s own unique character. For these reasons, there is widespread interest among residents in saving the 500 block of Race St. Large numbers of people turned out at a Housing Board of Review hearing to testify about the importance of saving 507 Race Street, and others helped clean up the exteriors of the buildings. Investment in this block by the property owners and community will mean that once again Race St. is a place people want to visit.

Preservation Maryland

Preservation Maryland is Maryland’s first and largest organization dedicated to preserving the state’s historic buildings, neighborhoods, landscapes, and archaeological sites.

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