- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

VIENNA, Md. — Historian David Owens thinks the future of this forgotten sliver of the Eastern Shore lies in a clump of soggy leaves near the Nanticoke River, just a few blocks south of the highway and past the last remaining gas station.

Mr. Owens, curator of the Vienna Heritage Museum, says the soggy stretch comes from one of the area’s few freshwater springs, which means explorer John Smith might have stopped there in search of a drink almost 400 years ago while navigating the brackish Nanticoke.

Mr. Owens said he knows the area and that Smith could not have stopped his shallop anywhere else.

“The big problem for them was fresh water. Food, they could get. Fish, oysters, deer — they were everywhere. What he needed was fresh water and he said he found it by a high bank, and that’s right here,” said Mr. Owens, pointing to a low rise along the otherwise marshy riversides.

If the National Park Service agrees and adds Vienna to its National Water Trail commemorating Smith’s 1607-09 voyage up the Chesapeake Bay, the town could have its first revival since being bypassed by a highway and losing a major employer a few years ago.

Vienna’s two-person town commission paid a geographer $2,000 to provide proof that the spring was a stopping point for Smith, who in his journals described the Nanticoke as a “pretty convenient river on the east.”

Commissioner Phyllis Murphy, who is in her 70s and has spent her life along the Nanticoke, has always heard talk about Smith stopping there, but says “it’s got to be proved.”

“He was at Jamestown, and look what it did for them,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll ever be like that, but it could be a good focus point.”

Geographer Michael Scott of Salisbury University worked with two students to compare Smith’s map of the Chesapeake with satellite images of the current waters to track his movement up the Nanticoke.

Though Smith was only on the river for about five days, his writings show he met American Indians there. Mr. Scott thinks the spot was near present-day Vienna.

“As far as we can tell today, John Smith did stop there,” Mr. Scott said. “He actually hung out with [the indians] a little and traded with them.”

Town officials have forwarded Mr. Scott’s research to federal parks officials in hopes of being included on the trail. If that happens, they will apply for federal funding for a visitor’s center about Smith. They hope the recognition might also bring a restaurant and hotel to the 270-person town.

Their fervor is perhaps more practical than historic.

“Of course, it’s like saying, ‘George Washington slept here,’” Miss Murphy said. “If he slept everywhere they say he did, the man would’ve done nothing but sleep. But there’s a possibility he did. I hope he did. And he’s not here to say he didn’t.”

Mayor Russell Brinsfield would like the town to have at least 600 persons within a decade, and he sees tourism as the best way to get there.

“Let’s promote Vienna as a launching pad for exploring the Nanticoke River,” he said. “Let’s prove to people the overwhelming consensus that John Smith did stop in Vienna.”

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