Handsell, 4835 Indiantown Road, Vienna, Dorchester County, MD
Significance: Handsell—a name derived from the original 1665 English land grant to Thomas Taylor—is a well-preserved example of the vernacular domestic architecture of the Chesapeake region. The house retains a high degree of integrity to the 1830s, although its front and side walls date from the eighteenth century, the remnants of a larger house. Handsell is located on the Nanticoke River and Chicone Creek north of Vienna and was constructed on a Native American Chicone village site where Taylor, an official interpreter for the Maryland colony, established a trading post. In 1769, Henry Steele, a member of an affluent and prominent colonial family, and his wife Ann acquired the property after the Chicone reservation was dissolved by the government. The couple likely constructed the original house prior to 1776 and it may have been destroyed as early as 1779 during British raids along the river.
Evidence suggests that another house was not built on the site until John Shehee purchased the property in 1837 from a grandson of the Steeles. Dendrochronology has established that timbers used in the construction of the present Handsell date from that same year. The building's story-and-a-half form is typical for Chesapeake houses of the period, yet its vernacular character is, in some ways, challenged by the seemingly incongruous presence of particularly fine brickwork on the front and side walls. Shehee's decision to use extant sections of the ruined eighteenth-century house's walls was almost certainly an economic one, but, in doing so, he also inadvertently preserved visual evidence of an older house having much grander architectural and social pretensions than the new. Handsell's combination of the Georgian remnants and more modest form and details, in addition to a high level of integrity in part stemming from a lack of modern utilities, are remarkable among Chesapeake dwellings.
Unprocessed Field note material exists for this structure: N1552
Survey number: HABS MD-1319
Building/structure dates: after 1769 Initial Construction
Building/structure dates: 1837 Subsequent Work
National Register of Historic Places NRIS Number: 08000216