Denton, seat of Caroline County, is on the Choptank River and generally near the geographic center of the county and the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Caroline County was created by an act of the Maryland legislature in 1773, the result of a petition from some inhabitants from Queen Anne’s and Dorchester counties to erect a new county for their “ease and convenience”. The county seat was to be located on the Choptank River on four acres of of ground in an area known as “Pig Point” which was part of a tract of land called “Mount Andrew”. The name of the ground designated for public use was to be Edentown. At that time, the land for the proposed courthouse and prison, as well as all of the land comprising what is now downtown Denton, was owned by the Honorable Edward Lloyd of “Wye House” in Talbot County, a member of one of the most distinguished families of colonial Maryland.
The Caroline County Court first met in march of 1774 at Melvill’s Warehouse which was located north of Pig Point on the Choptank River – temporary quarters which had to suffice for conducting the administrative and judicial business of the county at that time (and for many years thereafter). Plans for the construction of a permanent courthouse at Pig Point were begun during that first court session, but the impending conflict with Great Britain caused the postponement of construction of the public buildings at Edentown.
In 1778, two tracts out of “Mount Andrew” near Pig Point were sold to John Lucas and Michael Lucas and on October 18, 1781, both owners offered sub-divided one acre lots for sale on what is now downtown Market Street, and on the east side of Third Street north to the river. Thus began the settlement of what was to develop into the village and town of Denton.
After the cessation of the Revolutionary War, the county court continued to meet at Melvill’s Warehouse, although the 1773 law officially locating the seat of government at Pig Point was still in effect. In 1785, the site at Edentown was repealed in favor of a two acre site at Melvill’s Warehouse to be called Perrysburg. Public response to this measure must have been swift and strong, for the legislature responded during the following sessions by suspending construction of all public buildings in Caroline County through 1789.
In 1790, the issue apparently resolved, a law was passed “removing” the seat of justice from Melvill’s Warehouse to Pig Point, and a courthouse and jail were ordered to be built on four acres of ground to be called Denton. The contract for the construction of the courthouse was signed on April 27, 1791, and in June of the same year, the public ground was surveyed. A law in 1791 provided for the building of a causeway on the east side of the Choptank River through the marsh, “nearly opposite to the courthouse,” and a wharf on the opposite side of the river. This would have permitted the establishment of a ferry which was needed to enter and exit Denton, for in 1791, the riverfront was the only access to the courthouse, according to a late 18th century map of Maryland.
In 1792, the settlement near the courthouse site experienced a spurt of growth when Colonel Edward Lloyd sold to Thomas Boon of Caroline County that portion of “Mount Andrew” which surrounded the public square on the west, north and east sides. In August of that year, Boon began selling lots on what are now First, Second and Gay Streets, all of which surround the courthouse square.
With the courthouse nearing completion, the community had grown enough by 1796 to cause the owners of the land adjacent to the public square called Denton to petition the General Assembly for the erection of their settlement of houses and buildings into a village to be also called Denton, with designated streets and always and a local government for the regulation of affairs. The legislation creating the village of Denton was enacted in 1796, but it was not until 1802, by another act of legislature mandating a village to be called Denton, that plans for the necessary survey were initiated.
On June 8, 1807, the Commissioners of the village of Denton delivered that plat and certificate of survey to the courthouse to be recorded, and the village of Denton was officially underway.
In 1827, a market place was opened where the Masonic Hall now stands facing the public square. Farm produce was sold here as were slaves. In 1835, the first factory was build in Denton to manufacture plows.
Early travel to Denton was by water. The first steam boat came up the Choptank River to Denton from Baltimore before 1850. The “Cyrus” as it was named, made only one trip, but later the “Dupont” made weekly trips to Denton and Baltimore with freight and passengers. In 1811, the Denton Bridge Company was formed and a toll bridge was constructed. This bridge remained a toll bridge until shortly before the Civil War, when it was sold to the county and in about 1875 was replaced by the iron bridge which remained standing until 1913, when another iron bridge was constructed. This bridge lasted until March of 1976. At that time, extensive reinforcement was done on the bridge until a new concrete bridge could be built. Construction of the new bridge was begun in early 1980 and the present bridge was dedicated on Memorial Day weekend, 1981. Sometime before 1860, there was a stage line started between Easton and Felton, Delaware via Denton. After 1860, the stage met the Chester Riverboat at Queenstown.
Improved transportation enhanced Denton’s position as a trade center and by the time of the Civil War, new stores, shops, schools, and churches were constructed. However, much of the business district was wiped out by the fire of 1863. A company of Union soldiers stationed as guards in Denton celebrated the Fourth of July with skyrockets and other explosives and set fire to a shop building. The ensuing fire burned about all of the business part of the town, which consisted of several stores, a hotel and a rum shop.
Denton remains today a trade and governmental center with a growing industrial base. It continues to benefit from its centrality in a rich agriculture area and from its location on good land and water transportation arteries.