Leonardtown, the county seat of St. Mary’s County, has become known for its bustling village square, beautiful waterfront, and busy calendar of community events.
But the town began its life as the center of activity for residents who needed to interact with the government of the Maryland Colony. In 1654, there are records of county court proceedings taking place in homes throughout what was then called Newtown. That lasted until 1708 when the mayor of St. Mary’s City, then the capital of Maryland, ordered that 100 acres along Brittons Bay (now called Breton Bay) be divided into 100 lots. One lot was set aside for a county courthouse.
The town got a new name at that time, too — Seymour Town after then-Gov. John Seymour. Twenty years later, the town was renamed again, becoming Leonard Town to honor Gov. Benedict Leonard Calvert, who was in office then. Leonard Town became the place where official business was conducted between residents and the colony.
Throughout is history, Leonardtown has survived war. It was plunged and destroyed by the British during the War of 1812 after a blockade of the Chesapeake Bay cut off the area. During the Civil War, it was occupied by Union Naval forces who searched for weapons and other supplies that residents were intending to send to Virginia to support the South’s war efforts. (Southern Maryland’s sympathies were with the South during the war.)
Today, Leonardtown has grown thanks in part to the nearby Naval Air Station Patuxent River, whose jobs have brought many of the town’s residents to the area. It is the only incorporated municipality in St. Mary’s County, and may be best known in some circles as the home of the National Oyster Shucking Championships, which take place at the county fairgrounds every year.
The town takes advantage of its busy village square, hosting monthly “First Friday” events to support local businesses and organizing large community events on the square for the holidays, Earth Day, and more. In 2008, the Leonardtown Wharf waterfront park opened to take advantage of the town’s location on the water.
If you’re interested in seeing the history of Leonardtown, the town website offers a walking tour. A map and podcast are available there online so you can stroll through the town and learn more about some of the historic places there. The tour includes Tudor Hall, which was built in 1798 and is the oldest building in Leonardtown. Tudor Hall is home of the St. Mary’s County Historical Society, where you can learn more about the county and Leonardtown’s place in its history.
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