The Worcester County Historical Society moved the Nassawango Exhibition Hall and Visitors Center to its present site in 1977. Not much is known about its origins except that for over one hundred years, from about 1850 until 1865 it served as a church school and parish house for St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church in Pocomoke City, Maryland.
A fine example of rural Gothic revival architecture, it is one of the few remaining buildings of its kind on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The front section of the building, with its Gothic windows, barrel ceiling and original wainscoting, was either constructed or transported to land deeded to Coventry Parish for the purpose of erecting a school by John McNamarra and his wife, Mary Ann, in 1847 in what was then known as Newtown, now Pocomoke City. In the early 1940’s, the center section was added to the structure to serve as a kitchen for the well-used parish house.
In 1923, following a disastrous fire in Pocomoke City, the little building was pressed into service as a public school and during World War II, it became a USO building, offering hospitality to Navy personnel stationed at nearby Chincoteague Navy Base. After the war, it reverted to being a parish house and was the center of parish life for many years.
The most famous resident of Furnace Town has become Sampson Harmon.
Sampson was born at what was then Nassawango Hills in 1790. He, like his father Levin Harmon, was a free African-American in a time when slavery was the norm. Little is actually known about the life of Sampson, especially his early years. It was always said that he was strong enough to wrestle bears and fast enough to chase down deer. He was very tall, always wore a hat, and never wore shoes.
Sampson was a jack-of-all-trades at the Nassawango Iron Furnace. He helped in the community with whatever he could do. He had a family, but the name of his wife and most of his children is unknown. According to the census of 1840 he and his wife had four children: two boys and two girls. One of the girls' name was Caroline and once she was grown she had at least two daughters of her own, Sophie and Elizabeth. Sampson raised Elizabeth, or Lizzie as she is referred to in the 1870 census at Furnace Town.
After the furnace was abandoned, Sampson continued to live here. He had a small wooden home close to the Manor House and tended a garden where he raised corn. He would barter for supplies from Todd's General Store and nearby Snow Hill. In 1896, the county forced Sampson to move to the Alms House in Snow Hill where he died a year later at the age of 107. His final wish of being buried at the old furnace was never granted and instead he was buried in Snow Hill.
By the 1890s, Sampson was one of the most talked about people in Worcester County. His name was immortalized in The Entailed Hat a novel based at Furnace Town. In the book he is referred to as Sampson Hat and is the manservant of the owner John Custis. For years, many have believed this was the truth, even though the book is historical fiction. The book was written in the 1880s and still remains a widely read work. In 1895, Sampson granted an interview to the local newspaper and talked about certain parts of his life in order to set the record straight that he was not a slave as he was portrayed in the novel.