Paul Baker Touart
Maple Leaf Farm Potato House
26632, Porter Mill Road, Hebron, Wicomico County
The Maple Leaf Farm Potato House stands on a property known as Western Fields. The brick potato house was moved during July 1997 from its original site on the north side of US Route 50, southeast of the intersection with White Lowe Road. On its new site, the Maple Leaf Farm Potato House is located behind an historic farm dwelling, and is surrounded by fields. Supported on a parged brick foundation, the common bond brick structure measures 40'-2" by 24' and is covered by a medium pitched gable roof of asphalt shingles. The south elevation is a symmetrical three-bay façade with a center entrance and flanking 2/2 sash windows. The second floor is pierced by three evenly spaced 6/6 sash windows. Exposed brick walls and exposed framing characterize the interiors of each floor. Supported by a scarfed summer beam, the split floor joists are set on 1' center in order to carry the load of potatoes stored on the second floor. The period of significance, c. 1920-1928, corresponds to the period during which the building was actively used for the storage of sweet potatoes.
The Maple Leaf Farm Potato House is significant as an excellent example of a particular type of agricultural building erected in Wicomico County, an across the southern Delmarva peninsula in general. Potato Houses were erected for the specific purpose of curing sweet potatoes, a crop that escalated tremendously in production during the early 20th century, especially between 1900 and 1920. Distinguishing the Maple Leaf Farm Potato House from others in Wicomico County, and adjacent Sussex County, Delaware, is its brick wall construction. The relocation of the Maple Leaf Farm Potato House was triggered by its pending destruction, the original site having been in the path of a US Route 50 bypass. On its new site at Western Fields (WI-37), the Maple Leaf Farm Potato House will retain a rural, agricultural setting behind an historic farmhouse. As a building type significant to the agricultural history of Wicomico County, the potato house was of critical importance as the curing and storage location for a cash crop that required a consistent warm temperature through the winter months. The export of the county's sweet potato crop was accomplished by means of local transportation networks. Regular steamboat and train schedules provided reliable means of conveyance to distant markets. Early-20th century improvements in local road and highway systems as well as the mass production and availability of trucks spawned the formation of early trucking ventures, which expedited the shipment of all sorts of farm products including sweet potatoes. Currently, the sweet potato house is one of the few architectural manifestations on peninsula farms that represent the early-20th century shift to truck farming and modern agricultural marketing.