LEXINGTON PARK, Md. — Three Notch Road is one of the oldest roads in Maryland, existing since the 1600s. Since many documents from that time have been lost, so have some of the stories behind Three Notch Road.

This includes definite knowledge of the naming process, but some research from the early 2000s has given insight into how it may have happened.

Lost to History

One theory on how Three Notch received its name comes from the Piscataway Tribe, located in Southern Maryland. While this is likely not true, the actual reason is just as interesting.

An article by Pete Himmelheber that appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of Chronicles of St. Mary’s provides some history of Three Notch Road.

His article offers a section about the road’s name outlining a colonial law that was enacted on October 3, 1704, to mark highways to know where they lead to, saying:

“ …roads that lead to any County Courthouse shall have two notches on the trees on both sides of the road… and another notch at a distance above the other two,” and “…any road leading to a [ferry] and dividing from the other [public] roads shall all be marked with three notches of [equal] distance at the entrance into the same…”.

Himmelheber points out that Three Notch Road does not fit either of these criteria because the road did not lead to a courthouse or a ferry. Knowing that this law was created in 1704 and that the road has existed since the 1640s, the markings used on this road likely informed that the road leads to somewhere else entirely.

What that original intention was is still unknown.

In addition to the St. Mary’s County Three Notch Road, there are two other roads named Three Notch in the United States. The first is in St. Genevieve, Missouri. The other can be found in Georgia and is part of Highway 39 in Seminole County, built by a volunteer army in 1814. They marked out the road with three notches which can still be visible on the trees there today.

Himmelheber’s article goes more into the history of Three Notch, including why it is shaped the way it is. The 11-page article briefly discusses the Piscataway and explains why some locals today still believe the Piscataways played a role in naming the road.

Himmelheber’s article can be found in the archives of the St. Mary’s County Historical Society.

Piscataway Homeland

While the Piscataway Tribe was not the reason Three Notch Road holds that name, it shouldn’t take away from the fact that Southern Maryland’s land came from the Piscataway Tribe.

If you want to learn more about different tribes from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, check out the website https://land.codeforanchorage.org/ to see what tribes lived where current cities are now located. The website offers more information on land acknowledgments and their importance. There is also a phone number to text, 907-312-5085, which provides the land identification service.

Contact our news desk at news@thebaynet.com

Join the Conversation


  1. I believe there are more than 2 other Three Notch roads in the U.S. Virginia, Alabama, South Carolina to name a few.

  2. The knowledge I have dates to the 1980s. I do not remember now, where I heard this – “Three Notch” refers to the Native Americans’ marking the trail that led to a fishing / hunting area. The trail that became today’s Three Notch Road, was identified by cutting three notches into trees.

  3. Always and always will they use my native peoples names who have been the most ostracized humans on this continent because
    of our names Cheyenne, Apache, Iroquois just a few that millions were made from a bunch of savages. Or Red Devils as is written to this day in the declaration of independence.

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