The area that would become Wicomico County has a long history that is deeply rooted in the Eastern Shore culture of today. John Smith, in his exploration of the Chesapeake Bay touched land in present-day Wicomico in 1608. It was not until the mid-17th-century though, that Europeans began to settle along the Wicomico and Nanticoke Rivers in larger numbers.
By 1732 the town of Salisbury, Wicomico’s current county seat, was established on paper at the head of the Wicomico River. In August 1732, the site at the headwaters of the Wicomico was considered "convenient for trade." Its identical physical character and nationality of the founders have convinced most historians the village's name was
borrowed from the ancient cathedral city of Salisbury, England. A defect in the original town charter and the shallow harbor retarded growth for several decades. In the Civil War, Union forces were encamped here to seek out southern sympathizers and prevent movement of contraband to the Confederacy.
At this same time, the town was ravaged by fire and almost destroyed. In 1860 and 1886, disastrous fires destroyed two-thirds of the town. Despite these difficulties, Salisbury emerged as the county’s major town and the county as a whole continued to grow. As the rest of the country faced poverty from the onslaught of the Great Depression, Salisbury continued to attract new business growth in commerce and industry. In 1951 the opening of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge brought additional growth, tourists, and non-agricultural business investment to Wicomico County.
While the two great fires obliterated structures of colonial vintage, several interesting historic buildings still exist in the city's environs. Old Green Hill Church erected in 1733 and its chapel, St. Paul’s (1790) near Hebron was founded as Anglican houses of worship and retains most their original architectural features. Visits to the beautiful old brick Pemberton Hall (1741) and Poplar Hill Mansion circa 1800 are well rewarded. One of the original sections of Salisbury, known as Newtown, has been made a historic district.
The opportunity for freedom of religious worship and Governor Calvert's offer of fifty free acres of land to each new arrival attracted the first settlers to this region in the early 1660's. They came chiefly from the British Isles to clear land for plantation homes along the Wicomico River and its tributaries. For a century they lived as neighbors to the native Indians in relative peace, until their increasing numbers precipitated the departure of the Aborigines to northern and western climes.
Salisbury became the seat of government when Wicomico was carved off from Somerset and Worcester Counties in 1867. Many state and federal offices are now operating here.