History Lives at Handsell !

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The Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance welcomes you to the 

Restore Handsell Project

It is time now for the 2023-2024 annual Membership Renewal and Capital Campaign Support!  Please join us!

The NHPA was formed in 2005 to purchase and restore one of Dorchester County, Maryland’s most interesting and intriguing historic structures, an old ivy-covered brick building located in the middle of what is known as “the Indiantown”.  After just a little bit of research, we knew we were on to something BIG.  As the layers of the story unfolded, through research in archives, deeds, Wills and historic family letters, a better yet not fully complete story emerged of Native people, licensed Indian traders, English settlers, British attacks, merchant activity and structural devastation.  Much of the Handsell story is STILL a mystery, but it seems each day brings a little more light to this amazing, yet previously unknown saga of the Steele family’s mark on the Eastern Shore.

There is much here to learn about and see.  So please stay awhile, explore our pages and get to know us!  Listen to the latest WHCP Radio interview about Handsell taped October 2023: https://on.soundcloud.com/ZnVXi

The “old brick house” at Chicone, known as Handsell, located in the Indiantown north of Vienna, Dorchester County, Maryland, was purchased by the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance with a Preservation Easement from the Maryland Historic Trust.  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008, the site will be used to interpret the Native People’s contact period with the English, the enslaved and later African American story and the life of all those who lived at Handsell.

Handsell in October 2021

Thanks to to the Nathan Foundation and and the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority for funding the plaster work now completed at  Handsell

The Board of the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance dedicates our mission to the loving memory of Shirley Selena Jackson, NHPA President  2019-December 21, 2022.  We mourn her loss and will be guided by her dedication and spirit, always.


One Maryland One Book event – Sunday, November 12, 2023.  A partnership between the NHPA, the Dorchester County Public Library and the Maryland Humanities Council brings a discussion on the book “There, There” by Tommy Orange, PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST  NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A wondrous and shattering award-winning novel that follows twelve characters from Native communities: all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize.  At the Dorchester County Public Library.  3-5 p.m.  Also a brief annual meeting of the NHPA will take place.



Planning Ahead:  2024 launches our fundraising activity in earnest for the building of the Three Cultures Center at Handsell.  This barn-like, completely ADA accessible building will contain a multi-purpose space for programming and events, with pulic bathroom facilities, office and much-needed storage.  The fundraising goal is $600,000.  As of November 2023, NHPA has been awarded the following toward this project:

National Park Service Chesapeake Gateway Network (grant) $150,000

Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (grant) $47,500

Another $100,000 is pending to be announced January 2024.

Donate NOW to the Three Cultures Center Fund


Enslaved Community Database – a comprehensive list of enslaved persons who are connected with the Rider-Billings-Steele families of Dorchester and 19th century owners of Handsell plantation. Download available HERE. (Last updated 8-20-2022)

We are now offering Guide by Cell Audio Tours of the Handsell Historic Site to enhance the visitor’s experience.  You may also dial this number from your cell phone from anywhere to learn more about this important National Register of Historic Places listed site.

CALL  410-858-4173  for an Audio Tour of Handsell

Also in 2018, Handsell was added to Geochache!!


Trustee Shirley S. Jackson was inducted into the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame in 2020.   Ms. Jackson passed away at the age of 86 on December 21, 2022.

Trustee Margaret Ingersoll was a recipient of the Harrison Volunteer Award 2021. The Harrison Volunteer Award has been presented by Preservation Maryland semi-annually since 1985 and is the organization’s oldest award. This award goes to individuals or organizations to recognize outstanding volunteer contributions to historic preservation in Maryland.

**October 2019  NHPA is recognized for the third time by the Heart of Chesapeake Heritage Areas for “Organizational Excellence in Historic Preservation”.

**New Page – Handsell Before and After Photographs

A recent visitor to Handsell commented, ” The history of Handsell was very compelling. It survived all these years, standing proud and beautiful. It sat there stoically all these years, just waiting to be saved.  It is the most interesting site we visited in Dorchester County today.”  —Jeni Jasuta, Philadelphia, PA

HANDSELL HOURS:  Grounds are open to the public 7 days a week during daylight hours with Wayside Exhibits, Longhouse Living History Exhibit and Exterior Viewing of the Handsell House.  Special Group Tours include interior of house by appointment, contact restorehandsell@gmail.com 

Handsell House is open for special events only:  Chicone Village Day and the Nanticoke River Jamboree and private group tours by prior request and appointment.  

 The Henry Steele family–do you know more than we do?  Please contact us with historic information about the Steeles in Dorchester County at restorehandsell@gmail.com

 Handsell History 101, the Short Version:

In 1665, Thomas Taylor was granted 700 acres of Land called “Handsell”  along the Nanticoke River in the location of Chicone Indian town.  In 1704 this land was made part of an Indian reservation by an Act of the Maryland Assembly.  In 1769 the properties were returned to the ownership of the English families who had possessed the land grants.

Handsell is one of the last remaining 18th c. brick dwelling houses in Dorchester Co.  Originally a grand,  two story Georgian home, a major event, possibly a fire at Handsell gutted much of the interior and weakened the rear exterior wall, causing a partial collapse of the structure.

After a  fire (cause undetermined), Handsell was rebuilt to the one and one-half story structure  we see today.  The interior woodwork is all original to the period of the rebuild in 1837 by John Shehee, a local farmer.

This brick dwelling house exhibits a unique façade with a protruding pavilion and Flemish bond brickwork, indicating the builder’s knowledge of contemporary design trends.

Handsell is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places!!!

 A more complete history of Handsell.

You can reach us anytime with questions by emailing: restorehandsell@gmail.com or call 410-228-7458.  Tax deductible donations by check should be made out to the NHPA in care of Miriam Zijp-Koedijk, 128 Regulator Drive North, Cambridge, Maryland 21613