A lot of people are introduced to Rock Hall by way of the Chesapeake Bay. A home port for many out-of-town pleasure boaters, this former fishing village has almost as many slips (1,421) as it does people (1,600).
In summer, Rock Hall swells with tourists drawn to the Eastern Shore town for the boating, the natural environment and, as the local business association frames it, "life the way it used to be." It's also a town with a great sense of humor. Where else is New Year's celebrated with a rockfish dropping at midnight?
Rock Hall, which celebrated its 300th birthday last year, still has a small waterman's community but, economics being what they are, the Kent County town in recent years has redefined itself as something of a resort town and retirement destination.
"We're really becoming more of a resort town. Most buyers are looking for weekend houses or retirement homes. There's no work force here," notes Lynn Hilfiker, a real estate agent with Hogans. "But the place has an amazing sense of community, and I think that's what strikes people most."
HOUSING STOCK // The housing in Rock Hall is a real mix, ranging from bungalows and traditional four-square farm-style construction to waterfront and waterview homes. The for-sale listings reflect that diversity; at the moment, asking prices range from $150,000 to nearly $6 million.
There's only one road in and out of Rock Hall, which can be part of its appeal. "It's not for everyone. There's no Trader Joe's or malls. A lot of services are an hour away. But there's always a lot to do," says Hilfiker. "If you want to feel insulated from the rest of the world, that can happen, too. If you want to just huddle in, this is the place. It's incredibly peaceful."
KIDS AND SCHOOLS // Rock Hall has two public schools: Rock Hall Elementary serves pre-kindergarten through fourth grade and Rock Hall Middle serves grades five through eight. Students posted a mix of results on the Maryland State Report Card with third- and fourth-graders scoring well on reading, 92.9 percent and 89.2 percent respectively.
CRIME // The Rock Hall Police Department, with four full-time officers, responds to calls within the town limits. The primary problems: theft, vandalism and "followed by a distant third," as Chief Steven W. Moore puts it, burglary. "Everyone in this community waves to the police," Moore says. "You don't see that in too many places."
DINING IN // There's one grocery store, Bayside Foods.
DINING OUT // With more than a dozen restaurants and cafes, there are lots of choices. Perennial favorite Waterman's Crab House offers free dockage with dining. Other entrants include: the elegant Inn at Osprey Point; Bay Leaf Gourmet, a deli and coffee shop; Pruitt's Swan Point Inn, which recently introduced a menu with more than 40 small plate selections; Java Rock, a cozy coffee house and Internet cafe; and laid-back Harbor Shack, a waterfront grill whose motto is "Don't be in a hurry. We're not." As for dessert, Durding's Store, a 1930s ice cream parlor, sells hand-dipped ice cream.
SHOPPING // The main shopping is on -- where else? -- Main Street. Two separate galleries feature local artists such as wildlife photographer Heather Davidson and painter Jimmy Reynolds. Sweet Annie's sells homegrown potpourri, jewelry crafted from beach glass and handmade soaps and creams. Smilin' Jake's, which characterizes itself as "Key West on the Chesapeake," brings an island feel to Main Street with its inventory of Hawaiian shirts, sun dresses, beach gear and Don Ho discs. Oyster Court, which has an assortment of shops, is open weekends.
NIGHTLIFE // Waterman's and Harbor Shack routinely offer live entertainment. The Mainstay, with 120 mismatched chairs, hosts more than 40 concerts a year and draws fans from Annapolis, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington.
RECREATION / OUTDOORS // Not surprisingly, the headline here: The Chesapeake Bay. Sailing, fishing and kayaking are hugely popular. In season, ducks and geese are a big draw for hunters. Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, located at the confluence of the Chester River and the bay, is an island refuge known for its hiking trails and wildlife viewing. Facilities for boating, fishing and crabbing are also available. The Rock Hall Yacht Club offers summer programming for kids.
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