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Maryland's National Register Properties

Photo credit: MHT File Photo, 1989
Berlin Commercial Historic District
Inventory No.: WO-184
Date Listed: 4/17/1980
Location: Berlin, Worcester County
Category: District
Period/Date of Construction: 1895-1905
Description: The Berlin Commercial District is located on Maryland's Eastern Shore, about seven miles inland from Ocean City, in an area historically a crossroads of travel. Berlin developed late in the 18th century from a livery stable and coach stop on the old Burleigh Plantation. After the arrival of the railroad in the 1870s, Berlin became a marketplace for agricultural products and later a rest stop for rail passengers on the way to the coastal resort of Ocean City. Presently, the Berlin Commercial District is a contiguous district composed primarily of late-19th century commercial buildings. Approximately 47 small-scaled, one- to three-story buildings occupy both sides of the main thoroughfare and its secondary arterials forming visually cohesive and pleasing streetscapes. The majority of the buildings contributing to the historic architectural character of the district are constructed in the row fashion, having party or common walls. Elements common to most of the buildings are similarity in scale, setback from the street, use, construction materials, fenestration, and use of the flat roof. Architectural embellishment of the buildings is achieved in one of two ways. Many of the buildings have corbeled cornices articulated in a manner that makes them unique among commercial buildings of similar age located in nearby towns. Bricks laid in a sawtooth pattern above the corbels are the distinguishing element of these buildings. The other form of decoration used is the stamped metal cornice; seven buildings in the district retain their original metal cornices. Another feature that was common to many of the buildings of the district was an overhanging awning that sheltered the pedestrian walks along both sides of the street. Today about 17 buildings have either a metal or canvas awning sheltering the sidewalks. Significance: The Berlin Commercial District is primarily significant for its collective expression of late-19th century commercial architecture. The district is composed of a mixture of buildings individually distinguished for their architectural merit, and a larger group not distinctive separately but contributing to a common design type. All of the early buildings combine to form significant visual streetscapes exhibiting unity in scale, use, construction materials, fenestration, and degree of ornamentation. These buildings, situated on narrow streets and particularly on a central "Main Street" commercial avenue, illustrate the nature of the business area of a rural turn-of-the-20th-century town. They represent typical small-scaled commercial architecture; however, their distinguishing feature is the articulation of the corbeled cornice. The buildings therefore differ from commercial buildings in other nearby towns. Corbels supporting courses of bricks laid vertically in a sawtooth pattern are the unique architectural embellishment of the buildings in this district. Although some of the buildings have been modified, they nevertheless recall the time of their construction. Some of the facade alterations and the additions at first appear obtrusive, but a significant amount of the original fabric remains intact to retain and express the integrity of scale and visual continuity of the district as a late-19th century commercial area. The boundaries of the district were established to include all of the buildings that characterize the stylistic motif of the original market center and roughly coincide with the boundaries of that core group of buildings. The buildings representing more recent trends in architectural design are located on the periphery of the delineated district and were excluded from its boundaries.
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