New website highlights the unique beauty of Newtown

When Judith Dressel and her husband, Barry, embarked on creating an informational website about Newtown, the wanted to highlight not only the notable section of the city, but also the scores of lovely homes built long ago.

“Our purpose was to … get on the Internet information about this historic district that is filled with houses that are ripe for renovation and restoration, although there are plenty that have been updated,” said Dressel, who, with her husband, has lived in Newtown more than three years.

Attracted to Salisbury, a small town between the ocean and bay, they retired here from Baltimore and discovered Newtown – bordered by Route 50 on the south, Wilson Street on the north, Route 13 on the east and Mill Street on the west.

Knowing there were surely other retired couples in the Washington-Baltimore area looking for affordable real estate, they hired  a Web designer, then launched newtownhistoricdistrict.org. Dressel credited her husband for most of the writing, research and photographs of the homes.

“It was designed to be a civic support enterprise. It’s informational and it’s also to attract people who might want to buy a house there. We have a program to list amenities on the market,” she said.

Among featured structures are the Dr. Cathell Humphreys house, built around 1860 at 325 North Division Street; Alexander D. Toadvine house, 105 E. Isabella Street; Gillis-Grier house, built in 1897; Dickerson house, built around 1912; Dulaney house, built around  1921; and Perry-Cooper house, built around  1897.

Visitors to the Website will learn that Salisbury “began in 1732 as a landing at the head of navigation on the Wicomico River with 15 acres of building lots.”

“By 1830 it began to be visited by the new steamboats that linked its people and commerce to the wider world.

“By 1847 the town had outgrown its original boundaries and the area south of town, known as Camden, and the area to the north, known as Newtown, became part of Salisbury. Newtown, although it had some houses, such as the circa 1795 Poplar Hill Mansion at 117 Elizabeth Street, was still largely undeveloped.

“In 1850, 118 years after its founding, Salisbury was incorporated,” the Web site states.

Interestingly, the population was 2,000 by 1860, the same year the railroad started. Around that time, a fire destroyed most of the original town.

Sixteen years later, General Humphrey Humphreys built his home on Broad Street. The Charles H. Chipman Center went up in 1838 as the John Wesley M. E. Church.

“Rebuilding Salisbury was hampered when the Civil War began the year after the fire. Salisbury became a major camp for Union troops on the Eastern Shore,” the Web site states.

Today, Newtown has about 200 properties. Dressel said it’s difficult to pinpoint the population because some homes have been subdivided and are multi-family rentals.

“On the corner of Isabella, the Dickerson House, a massive Colonial Revival meticulously built with pressed brick laid in narrow butter joints, was erected in 1912,” the Dressels wrote.

“Newtown is full of wonderful houses that reward a visitor on foot with an eye for architecture.

“Newtown remains a prestigious neighborhood, but the fortunes of Salisbury, and Newtown with it, declined after World War II.

“By the early 1970s, the neighborhood was obviously suffering. New residents, some employed at the expanding medical and academic sectors, saw potential. They bought and began restoring houses. Forty years later, many still live in the houses they bought and restored. The Newtown Neighborhood Association was formed, and Newtown became Salisbury’s first historic district. Newtown was again an elite address,” they wrote.

The community has faced challenges – a slow economy among them – but Newtown Neighborhood Association members are “determined to write a new and glowing chapter in this, Newtown’s fourth century.”

The couple was disappointed to find Realtors often “steer people away from Newtown,” Dressel said.

“It’s much easier to sell property in the suburbs. And, if you Google ‘crime’ in Salisbury, Newtown pops up,” she said.

She found that’s because of the way crime statistics are gathered, with police stops made on Routes 50 or 13 in that area being attributed to Newtown.

Residents met with Police Chief Barbara Duncan to complain, and Duncan said she had been unaware.

“She said she would take that as one of her priorities,” said Dressel, who lives in a home built in 1910, on North Division Street.

She has had no problems with crime in the pleasant neighborhood where the Boundless Garden is flourishing and giving away fresh vegetables to the public and an ice cream social for neighbors is being planned.

“We’re very comfortable here,” Dressel said.

“We like the pace of Salisbury. We’re comfortable in the neighborhood and we enjoy feeling like we’re in the early stages of Salisbury’s renaissance,” she said.

“Our next push is to meet with Realtors,” she said.

Information will be posted on the Website about new systems to make historic homes more comfortable, such as air conditioning and water heating units that can be installed without tearing apart walls or ductwork.

Employed by Salisbury University, Dressel said she believes the institution has turned out enough college graduates who decided to stay in Salisbury to make a difference in the city.

At SU, she’s surrounded by faculty from universities such as Brown and Princeton, and schools in California, who also selected Salisbury.

“We feel this is a safe, secure, profitable place to live,” she said.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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