MARYLAND'S EASTERN SHORE
By Dan Schlossberg
What a difference a year makes.
Last spring at this time, the Baltimore Orioles were pretenders to the throne in the American
League East and the Washington Nationals weren't even a blip on the baseball radar screen.
Fast forward to 2005: Baltimore is relishing the resurgence of its Orioles while Washington is
enjoying its first big-league presence since the second-edition Senators left for Texas after the
Fans flocking to see newly-arrived slugger Sammy Sosa in Baltimore or the transplanted
Montreal Expos in Washington would be wise to plan a non-baseball diversion to Maryland's
The focal point of that sidetrip should be St. Michaels, a tiny speck on the Maryland map that
lies 69 miles from Baltimore, 83 miles from Washington, 127 miles from Philadelphia but light-
years from anything approaching a big city.
One of those places that time forgot, St. Michaels has 1200 permanent residents. There's no
rat race, no rush hour, no jets roaring above or trains that insist the horn blows at midnight.
The only intrusion into this sea of tranquility is the soothing sound of Chesapeake Bay
estuaries lapping at its sandy shores.
So little has changed in the last century that watermen operating from nearby Tilghman Island
still use antiquated skipjacks to catch their wares of crab, cram, and eel.
That's because a century-old Maryland law permits dredging for oysters only in sailboats that
displace less than 10 tons of water. Not surprisingly, the nine skipjacks still operating average
90 years old.
Visitors who set sail are virtually certain to catch a glimpse of native wildlife, from osprey,
herons, and egrets to bald eagles that nest along the Blackwater River.
Seven hundred people live on the tiny island, a strip of land three miles long and less than a
mile wide. Most of those who don't fish run inns or restaurants. The Tilghman Island Inn, where
co-owner David McCallum but doesn't resemble the TV star, has both. Its claim to fame is
location: it's the only island restaurant where diners add Chesapeake sunsets to their menus.
The Wood Duck Inn, an 1890 Victorian that once housed a bordello, overlooks Dogwood
Harbor, allowing guests to watch the morning sailing of the skipjacks from the sun-drenched
Compared to Tilghman Island, St. Michaels is a metropolis. Ten miles up the road from the
active Knapps Narrows drawbridge that links the island to the mainland, the town retains its
colonial flavor. And it takes pride in its history.
During the War of 1812, residents received a tip that a British bombardment was imminent.
They blacked out the town while hanging lanterns from ship masts and tree-tops. Thinking the
lanterns were the lights of the town, the attackers aimed too high, sparing the young
The only structure that failed to escape unscathed is now known as Cannonball House. A ball
pierced the roof, rolled across the attic, and bounced down the stairs without damaging much
more than the nerves of the residents.
St. Michaels not only continued to produce privateers, blockade-runners, and naval barges
vital to the war effort but became known as "the town that fooled the British."
Boat-building and fishing flourished but the community never lost its colonial charm. The same
steamboats that carried its seafood and farm produce to Annapolis and Baltimore returned
with visitors who recognized the therapeutic value of an Eastern Shore retreat.
Some of those steamboats, plus fishing and crabbing craft of all sizes and descriptions, are on
display at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, an 18-acre spread dominated by a
transplanted 19th century circular lighthouse (climbing the spiral staircase entertains visitors of
The 38-year-old museum features artifacts from the bay and its 5,000-mile shoreline, from
floating exhibits moored at the museum's docks to the largest display of Chesapeake Bay small
craft in existence (more than 75 pieces). Displays on ecology, crabbing, and the evolution of
the local fishing and boat-building industries are also worth perusing.
Moored adjacent to the museum is The Patriot, a double-decked steamboat with an oblong
shape and a schedule of narrated sightseeing cruises.
Another vessel worth perusing is the privately-owned Bellevue-Oxford ferry, a floating car
carrier that has made the 10-minute crossing of the Tred Avon river since 1683. Although its
capacity is nine full-sized vehicles, it has filled its wooden floor with more than a dozen mini-
Ferry passengers planning an early dinner at the Robert Morris Inn must return before
sundown, when the ferry shuts down for the day. Driving is another option but the ferry
crossing is quicker.
There's nothing hurried about dinner at the historic inn; its food, service, and historic legacy
should be savored and not gulped. Built in 1710 by ships' carpenters, it was the home of 18th
century businessman Robert Morris, whose son later earned the nickname "Financier of the
American Revolution." Alternately used as a town hall, boarding house, general store, and
hospital for war veterans, the Robert Morris became an inn after World War II. Its postwar claim
to fame is James Michener's widely-circulated celebration of its crabcakes.
Oxford, still an important center for boat-building and yachting, was once Maryland's largest
port. It now serves as a protected harbor for watermen who harvest oysters, crabs, clams, and
fish. Also on the Oxford side of the river are a small museum with a collection of ship models
and maritime memorabilia, plus a replica of a room from an 18th century customs house. Some
of Oxford's homes and buildings carry an even earlier vintage. Because the quiet bay town is
flat, it's a bicycle-lovers' paradise.
Cycling is also an excellent way to see St. Michaels. Even today, there are now oversized
resorts. The largest is The Inn at Perry Cabin, a white colonial mansion built by War of 1812
veteran Samuel Hambleton, aide-de-camp to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and designed to
resemble the commodore's cabin on the USS Niagara. All of its rooms and suites have water
exposure, fronting the Miles River. Margaret Thatcher, Dennis Hastert, and a myriad of other
high-profile guests seeking solace and seclusion in spacious surroundings have been guests
in recent years.
Guests of the St. Michaels Harbour Inn & Marina can arrive by boat; it has 60 adjacent marina
slips, plus a prime waterfront location directly across from the maritime museum. Lynsey
Roper, the British import who runs the resort's spa, was one of the key organizers in the highly-
successful St. Michaels Food & Wine Festival, which ended May 1.
For guests who don't mind the 10-minute hop to town, one of the region's most romantic
hideaways is The Oaks – A Country Inn. A historic waterfront B&B occupying 42 acres of
nearby Royal Oak, it was built as a private residence in 1748 but revitalized as recently at this
spring. The Oaks features oversized rooms with fireplaces, Jacuzzis, and views of Oak Creek,
just off the Miles River. With the area's largest ballroom, it's no surprise that the resort's
calendar is crowded with weddings and conferences.
The only place to find crowds in the area is the Avalon Theater on Saturday nights. Located in
the historic district of nearby Easton, the theater hosts a variety of entertainment venues, from
jazz to drama, with cabaret-style seating. The theater, like the place, just oozes charm.
With quiet beaches, hidden marshes, and colonial charm, St. Michaels routinely triples it
population during its peak season and the Indian summer that invariably follows. No wonder
Captain John Smith, sailing on the Chesapeake in 1606, once declared, "Heaven and earth
never agreed to frame a better place for man's habitation."
For further information contact The St. Michaels Harbour Inn, Marina & Spa, 101 N. Harbour
Road, St. Michaels, MD 21663 (Tel. 800-955-9001, www.harbourinn.com) ; The Oaks--a
Country Inn, 25876 Royal Oak Road, Royal Oak, MD 21662 (Tel. 410-745-5053, www.the-
oaks.com); or the Talbot County Office of Tourism, 11 S. Harrison St., Easton, MD 21601 (Tel.
410-770-8000, Fax 410-770-8057, www.tourtablbot.org).