Bob Culver: Investing in our past to preserve the future

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If you’ve tried the new restaurant on North Division Street recently, you’ve noticed that its name and its décor celebrate the historic nature of Downtown Salisbury. Called “Olde Towne,” the walls are decorated with old photos and stories that detail the humble beginnings of our community.


There are few buildings Downtown that represent Salisbury and Wicomico County more than the historic Wicomico County Courthouse. It stands as a symbol of our past, and a beacon for the future. It was built in 1878, just 11 years after Wicomico County was established.

On the wall of that restaurant Downtown, there’s a description of the courthouse that made me smile, as it reminded me of the financial struggles we often face today.

“The court house was not completed until 1878 due to insufficient funds. Although five prominent Salisbury businessmen agreed to pay the cost of $25,000 for building the courthouse, only one, Colonel William J. Leonard, actually paid his share. Once constructed, the courthouse also housed the jail.”

Thank you Col. Leonard for your vision in helping make Wicomico County what it is today. Businessmen continue to lead the way in our community, and as a small businessman, I applaud their efforts.

Just eight years after the courthouse was finished, the city of Salisbury had a devastating fire that swept through downtown wiping out nearly everything in its path. According to another exhibit on the wall at Olde Towne, “When the toll was taken, 22 acres had burned – 55 stores and 58 dwellings were destroyed. Both hotels in town burned as well as many of the churches. Surprisingly, the New Court House survived the fire of 1886 and stood amid the burned remains of the surrounding areas.”

It has been the scene of many historical events, from murder trials to protest marches, and today it’s still a thriving building with the Clerk of the Court, Register of Wills, Magistrate’s Office, Family Services, and Historic Courtroom No. 5 where court cases are still heard daily.

But with peeling paint and a crumbling façade, the courthouse is hardly a showpiece of downtown these days. I’ve walked by it almost every day since becoming County Executive and it’s been on my list of projects that simply couldn’t wait much longer to get fixed. We had included the project on our list of priorities and preliminary work had begun to start the process.

And then Mother Nature weighed in.  During a recent storm, a bolt of lightning struck the clock tower and we’re just lucky that the building didn’t catch fire.  Work began immediately to stabilize the structure and assess the damage, and we’re expediting the whole project.  

The $750,000 courthouse renovation project will be done in two phases. The first phase involves fixing the exterior roofs of the building for everything above the high cornice. In concert with the visual improvements, there will be major structural improvements incorporated into the work to meet the current building codes and address any deteriorated areas or just plain rotten building components, which need to be replaced.

The second phase involves everything below the roofline to the ground. Inside, we will be repairing the damage that a leaking roof has caused. Outside, we will be cleaning and restoring the brickwork, scraping, caulking and painting windows and trim, installing new doors on the south side of the building, and redoing landscaping to make the building once again a centerpiece of our Downtown streetscape.

I hope Col. Leonard and the rest of our county’s founders would be proud.

Bob Culver serves as Wicomico County Executive. Contact him at

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