The St. Michaels Museum on St. Mary’s Square is located one block east of Talbot Street at 201 East Chestnut Street. Traditionally locals have called the square “The Green.” St. Mary’s Square was the focal point of Liverpool company, Gildart & Gawith’s, agent James Braddock’s 1778 town plan. The Square was slated to be the commercial and religious center of the town. In 1781 Braddock gave an acre roughly in the center of the square to the trustees of the Methodist Church. The square had a south entrance (on what is now the East Chestnut St) and a north entrance on what is now Mulberry Street. The entrances were gated. By the early 19th century there was a market house catering to farmers and the small Methodist Church. By the second half of the 1830s there was a public school most likely in the old market house and two Methodist Churches. Today St. Mary’s Square is residential with no schools or market house. But this is where important symbols of St. Michaels past are located: the old ca. 1841 Town Bell and three war memorials that commemorate the Revolutionary War, The War of 1812 and the Korean War. The Square is also the 20th century home of the Woman’s Club, Granite Lodge (formerly the Methodist Church), the Boy Scouts log cabin and The St. Michaels Museum.
The Museum’s complex occupies the former site of St. Michaels High School and Grammar School. The large brick two story building (PHOTO) was completed and opened in 1888 as the town’s high school. In 1938 the high school moved just outside of town and the public grammar school moved in until around 1960. The Museum has three 19th century buildings that were relocated to the square from other locations in St. Michaels: The Sewell House, The Teetotum Building and The Chaney House.
The Sewell House has an interesting history built in two sections. The north half of the building was originally part of a large steam mill built by wealthy St. Michaels merchant and farmer, Samuel Harrison, sometime before 1819 on St. Michaels harbor. Harrison had a large sailing merchant ship trading with Barbados. He hoped to expand his business with his new mill. The harsh economic conditions after the War of 1812 (1812-1815) and the advent of regular scheduled steam packets severe between St. Michaels, Annapolis and Baltimore resulted in the failure of the mill. Harrison died in 1837. In 1847 shipbuilder Edward Willy bought the property and the mill was dismantled. Parts were later used in his boat yard and the section with one room down and one room above was left intact. In 1865 a lot on Mill St. was sold to St. Michaels waterman Jeremiah Sewell and his family. He moved the small frame building to Mill Street and added aa two story wing onto the building to enable his large family (seven children) to be more comfortable. A separate kitchen was built behind the home. The house stayed in the Sewell family until 1928. In 1963 the building’s owner wanted to tear it down, the St. MIchaels Sesquicentennial Commission celebrating the 150th anniversary of the 1813 Battle of St. Michaels decided to save the old home with funds raised by the celebration. They approached the Town Commissioners to see if they could move the building to the newly vacant land on St. Mary’s Square where the old brick public school building recently was demolished. The committees’ request was accepted and the building was moved to its current location from Mill Street in May, 1964. The Commission then incorporated and became the nonprofit St. Mary’s Square Museum. The house in extremely poor condition was renovated by museum volunteers and turned into a house museum featuring several period pieces that reflect the life of a typical working family in 1865. The museum continues to be run by volunteers. The museum’s name was changed to the St. Michaels Museum in 2006.
The one and a half story frame Chaney home stands independently from the other buildings. The home built in 1851 by three free African American brothers: George Jr., Charles and Samuel Chaney. Their father was a slave, their mother free. The brothers were able to buy their father’s freedom. Their father moved in with them when freed as did a sister and her family when they gained freedom. Over the years the original two room home was expanded to accommodate the extended family. The house originally on Fremont Street was moved to St. Mary’s Square in 2003 to become part of the museum complex. Before it was moved the later additions were removed so the house retained its original form. This is a rare surviving example of a 19th century St. Michaels African American home. Currently it is not usually opened to the public and is used for museum business and curatorial work. There are plans to turn the first story room into an African American Living History room.
The one story Teetotum built around 1860 was used as a commercial duplex. It has had two different names Teetotal (one theory is because it was totally square) and more recently Teetotum (the shape of the roof resembled a 19th century children’s top). Originally located on Willow Street, part of a large property owned by local merchant Edward Harrison. At one point Harrison may have briefly used it as a library. It is known that one side was used for several years as a magistrate office for justices of the peace and the other side used as a harness and saddlery shop. Next store to the harness shop was a large blacksmith shop. The harness shop was sometimes used as a mortuary. The building was also used as town jail and barber shop. In 1939 Harrison’s daughter and heir sold the property to St. Michaels Bank. Barber Eugene Harrison moved in around 1940 and ran his business, “Gene’s Barber Shop” there for several years. In 1968 St. Michaels Bank gave the building to St. Mary’s Museum. It was moved to St. Mary’s Square in November, 1968 after the Town Commissioners gave permission for the building to be placed behind the Sewell House. Today the building displays a wide assortment of St. Michaels Museum collections. They represent the town’s commercial history, local artists and the town’s events during the 19th and 20th century. The August 10th 1813 Battle of St. Michaels is represented by a large diorama.