The building with the strange name and the intriguing history, known originally as the Paw Paw Building in Port Deposit, was built in 1821. It was named for two paw-paw bushes which once flanked the entrance, and today one paw paw stands sentinel at the entrance of the old structure. If you’ve ever heard the children’s song, "Way down yonder in the paw paw patch," or "pickin’ up paw paws and puttin’ ‘em in a basket," the name suddenly isn’t so strange.
The Paw Paw was the first church structure of any denomination in Port Deposit,
serving the Methodist congregation. The building had three entrances for this
congregation – "one for men, one for women and one for coloreds," according to the writings of the pseudonym utilizing historian Guyas Cutas in 1876. All of the congregants, no matter which door they used, attended services together.
Originally a one-story building, there was a high pulpit on one side and a balcony for African-Americans, reached only by the outside entrance. According to
historians, including the late James Chapman, a multi-term Councilman in Port Deposit, the Paw Paw was the scene of much Underground Railroad activity.
Said Cutas, "…many a runaway salve crouched in the balcony as the word was preached from the pulpit."
The second story was added by the Odd Fellows in 1857 and the familiar coating of stucco was added, as was popular at the time. The building was then used as a meeting hall by Harmony Lodge Masons from 1852 to 1867 and in later years housed an academy, store and a restaurant.
Sadly this historic structure was derelict for many years, its walls crumbling and its worth fading, but in 1975 a small group made a first step in preserving Port
Deposit’s history. Founded by the late Grace Humphries, the Port Deposit Heritage Corporation was chartered and the Paw Paw was chosen as their first project. It was purchased by PDHC in 1975 and fundraising began in earnest to save the dilapidated building. Through grants from Maryland Historical Trust and Preservation Maryland this building was saved. The Cecil Historical Trust contributed funding for interior improvements along with the Port Deposit VFW. These funds
and donations from members and supporters help to create the museum setting in use today.
The exterior was stabilized first and for years all funds were used to replace windows and shutters, re-stucco the walls, replace the roof and add doors. Then interior work began. Finally, the first floor was completed during the summer of
1991 and the Paw Paw Museum was opened to the public on August 24, 1991. Old photos, yearbooks, stoves, clothing, authentic Civil War items and other local memorabilia were and continue to be displayed, collected and preserved here for
The second floor of the Paw Paw Museum was restored in the late 1990s, and is now used as a meeting room for PDHC and other organizations.
The Paw Paw Museum is open the second and fourth Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m., May through October.
The 2002 season of the Paw Paw Museum featured the "Patriotism of Port Deposit,
" which was well received and enjoyed by hundreds of visitors from across the
country, who also conducted genealogical research while visiting.
The 2003 season of the Paw Paw Museum features an exhibit on Snow’s Battery B and Port Deposit during the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865. The exhibit was created by museum curator Erika L. Quesenbery with assistance by museum
volunteer J. Kevin Matthews.
The exhibit features Civil War relics carried into battle by the men of Snow’s Battery B, 1st Maryland Light Artillery, composed of men from the 7th District of Cecil County, primarily from Port Deposit and environs. Period photographs, many
on public display for the first time, enhance the exhibit as do recreations of camp scenes such as a dog tent and officer’s quarters.
The battery earned high honors and praise during the war from General Franz Sigel and Captain Romeyn B. Ayres, and were even visited by President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton who watched them drill in
Northern Virginia. Transcripts of original Civil War letters written by these men, including 1st Lieutenants Theodore Vanneman, James H. Kidd and L.A.C. Gerry, Captain Alonzo Snow, and 2nd Lt. Leonard Parker are included in the exhibit, alongside Captain Snow’s engraved sword, flask and pistol.
The Paw Paw Museum remains a "must see" for several tour groups throughout the northeastern United States and attracts visitors from all over the country to do research or learn a little more about the one and one-half mile long town on the
Susquehanna River. The Paw Paw features a small gift shop where copies of the PDHC published book "We Called It Everlasting Granite And, By Golly, It Is: Stories of the Port Deposit Granite Quarries" are still available.