Shore ambience charms visitors Heritage: The harbors of the Chesapeake Bay and the flat expanse of Eastern Shore cropland conserve a legacy of generations of Maryland farmers and watermen.


ST. MICHAELS -- For visitors to the Eastern Shore outside the Ocean City resort area, much of the attraction is that most of the region has not been overly developed or commercialized. It has an authentic, unspoiled feel about it.

The Eastern Shore is a nine-county chunk of Maryland between the Chesapeake Bay and the ocean. Many of its communities - Chestertown, St. Michaels and Cambridge, for example - are on tidewater tributaries that flow into the bay.

The Eastern Shore has no dominant attraction puts it on the map. Nothing of national historic significance took place here, unless you count George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers who passed through while traveling between Philadelphia and points south.

Away from the water, the region is mostly flat agricultural landscape that looks much like the Midwest, except for flocks of sea gulls following tractors tilling fields. The region is also humid in midsummer. At least in some places, mosquitoes are prolific. In one case, even the mosquitoes are an attraction: On Route 16 at Church Creek in Dorchester County is the world's largest mosquito made out of wire. The menacing-looking critter hangs outside Maryland Wire Belts Co.

Shore highlights

Shore highlights include Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge south of Cambridge; Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, the Waterman's Museum in Rock Hall and cruises on the bay.

Both the Waterman's Museum and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum keep alive the heritage of a vanishing breed: watermen, who made livings on the bay from fish, blue crabs, clams, oysters, shrimp, eels, waterfowl hunting and boat building.

Many residents of Maryland's Western Shore keep boats at Eastern Shore marinas, and nonboaters come to the area for bicycling (there are few hills), bird-watching, sightseeing or relaxing getaways. Tourism officials report the area is being discovered by many out-of-state residents.

"Our market is primarily couples in their late 40s or early 50s," said Carla Massoni, owner of Chestertown's 13-room Imperial Hotel, which also has a gourmet restaurant. "If they are younger, they tend to be cyclists."

With the decline of waterfowl hunting, Massoni said, clay shooting courses have become very popular attractions in the area.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which covers 23,000 acres along the Blackwater River, is the biggest attraction in Dorchester County, said refuge spokeswoman Maggie Briggs. "And it's going to double in size in the next couple of years."

"This probably is the best place on the East Coast north of Florida to see eagles," said Briggs. "We have 12 nesting pairs. We have eagles here all year-round."

In addition to bald eagles, the refuge is the home of two other endangered species: Delmarva fox squirrels and peregrine falcons.

A 6 1/2 -mile wildlife drive goes through forests and between ponds and the river. "The drive takes about an hour," said Briggs. "Some people take all day. Others zip through in 15 minutes, then say they didn't see anything."

Canada geese, great blue herons, egrets, osprey chicks in nests, red-winged blackbirds, turtles, Delmarva fox squirrels, white-tailed and sika deer, foxes, wild turkeys and mean but nonpoisonous water snakes also inhabit the refuge. The snakes are nasty, said Briggs. "They won't hesitate to bite you."

Maritime Museum

The 32-year-old Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels includes more than just the lighthouse on pilings that is its signature attraction. It has nine exhibit buildings on 18 waterfront acres, plus up to 85 boats. Visitors can even watch small boats being built.

Promoted as the Eastern Shore's largest cultural attraction, the museum draws 93,000 visitors a year. It claims to be the only museum preserving the history of the entire bay.

Its newest permanent exhibit is Waterman's Wharf, which includes a replica of a crabber's shanty, several boats and nine stations where visitors can try watermen's skills.

Among the museum's many highlights is a two-story steam engine with a propeller in the Steamboat Building. The Waterfowling building houses punt guns, overgrown shotguns used to bring down flocks of geese.

St. Michaels promotes itself as the town that fooled the British. The tale that the town was saved with a blackout and lanterns hung in distant trees to deceive the enemy in a night-time bombardment during the War of 1812 is widely accepted.

Other things to do in St. Michaels include attending narrated cruises on the Miles River aboard the Patriot, eating at the Crab Claw and shopping for gifts and antiques, said Debbie Dodson, director of Talbot County's visitors bureau. Many visitors arrive by boat.

Another drawing card to St. Michaels is Inn at Perry Cabin. It is owned by Sir Bernard Ashley, co-founder of the Laura Ashley company and Laura Ashley's widower. Elegant yet comfortable, it has been ranked the fifth-best U.S. resort by Conde Nast.

Walking in Chestertown

Chestertown offers a guided walking tour of its history and architecture. It still has many 18th-century homes. Sections of the town are strikingly similar to New Castle, Delaware's Colonial capital.

With brick sidewalks and a thriving midtown shopping district, Chestertown is pleasant, walkable and mostly quiet. About 4,000 people live in Chestertown. It is home of Washington College, the 10th oldest U.S. liberal arts college.

Massoni, who serves on the Kent County Tourism Advisory Board, said visitors like Chestertown because "it's not touristy yet. We're concerned about it being appropriate tourism. We don't want to become known for our T-shirt shops and our bars."

Chestertown's Emmanuel Episcopal Church is called the founding location of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. The decision made there to break from England's church in 1780 started a movement to do the same elsewhere in the former Colonies.

Other stops on the walking tour include lawyers' row, nine tiny law offices built in the 19th century and still used; Geddes-Pipe House, a Philadelphia-style brick house that is home of Kent County's historical society, and the biggest American basswood tree in Maryland: 99 feet high and with a trunk nearly 16 feet in circumference.

The highlight of a visit to Cambridge might be a sail on Choptank River aboard Nathan of Dorchester, called the newest skipjack on the Eastern Shore.

Skipjacks were constructed for dredging oysters from the bay. This 45-foot-long sailboat was built to preserve part of the region's heritage and to draw more visitors to Cambridge.

Touring the Eastern Shore

Here are some tips on touring the Eastern Shore:

St. Michaels/Talbot County

* Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., until 7 p.m. in summer and 4 p.m. in winter. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission: $7.50, for seniors, $3 for children 6 to 17. Plan to spend at least 2 hours at the museum; some stay all day. Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Mill Street, Box 636, St. Michaels, Md. 21663-0636. 410- 745-2916.

* Inn at Perry Cabin has 41 rooms, each different but furnished with antiques and showcasing Laura Ashley fabrics and wallpaper. It has an indoor pool; tennis courts are being added. Room prices are determined by size and views. Nightly rates: $195 to $575, which include a full breakfast and afternoon tea. Average rate is $400. Least-expensive room sells out one year in advance. Guests pay only if completely satisfied with their stay. Inn at Perry Cabin, 308 Watkins Lane, St. Michaels, Md. 21663. 410-745-2200 or 800-722-2949.

* St. Michaels Harbour Inn, a recently renovated waterfront hotel with 38 suites and eight rooms, is one of many places to stay in St. Michaels. It includes a 60-slip marina for those arriving by boat. Nightly rates at this time of year: $189 to $409, less on weeknights. There is a two-night minimum stay on weekends. 800-955-9001.

* For more information about St. Michaels and Talbot County, write: Talbot County Conference and Visitors Bureau, Box 1366, Talbot Chamber Building, TredAvon Square, Easton, Md. 21601. 410-822-4606.

Chestertown/Kent County

* Historic Chestertown Tours: Guided narrated walking tours last about two hours and focus on 18th-century and other architecture. Prices range from $5 to $7 a person, depending on how many go. Some tours begin at 11 a.m. Sundays through November in Fountain Park. Day trip and overnight group packages are available. 410-778-2829.

* A 28th annual candlelight tour through 14 buildings in Chestertown's historic district will be 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sept. 20. Tickets are $20. Kent County Historical Society, Box 665, Chestertown, Md. 21620. Or call 410-778-3499.

* The Victorian Widow's Walk Inn, 402 High St., is one of several bed & breakfasts in and around Chestertown. Nightly rates: $75 to $135. (410) 778-6455.

* Waterman's Museum is next to Haven Harbour Marina in Rock Hall. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. No admission is charged. 410-778-6697.

* For more information about Chestertown and Kent County, write: Kent County Chamber of Commerce, 400 S. Cross St., Box 146, Chestertown, Md. 21620. 410-778-0416.

Cambridge/Dorchester County

* Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is 12 miles south of Cambridge. The visitor center is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m weekends, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. The 6 1/2 -mile Wildlife Drive, a self-guided auto tour open from dawn to dusk, costs $3 a vehicle, $1 for hikers or bicyclists. Visitors, who must remain on the paved road, pay on the honor system at a self-service entrance station. Boating is allowed in the shallow river April 1 to Sept. 30. Access for boating is limited, as is parking at access points. Write: Refuge Manager, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, 2145 Key Wallace Drive, Cambridge, Md. 21613. 410-228-2677.

* Cruises: Many two-hour Saturday evening cruises are scheduled aboard Nathan of Dorchester, berthed at the foot of High Street in Cambridge. They cost $15 and include a free drink and a discount on dinner at McGuigan's Pub. A few Sunday afternoon cruises, costing $20, also are scheduled. Reservations are needed and sailings depend on weather. The boat, which seats 25 passengers, can be chartered through October. Dorchester Skipjack Committee, 526 Poplar St., Cambridge, Md. 21613. 410-228-7141.

* Old Trinity Church, off Route 16 near Church Creek, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, plus 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, from May through October. Only admission is $1 a person for bus groups. 410-228-2940 or 410-228-3583.

* Cambridge House is a recently opened bed & breakfast at 112 High St., Cambridge. Nightly rates: $95 to $120. 410-221-7700.

* For more information about Cambridge and Dorchester County, write: Dorchester County Tourism, 203 Sunburst Highway, Cambridge, Md. 21613. 800-522-TOUR or 410-228-1000.

For more information

For more travel information about the Eastern Shore and the rest of Maryland, call 800-719-5900, or write: Maryland Office of Tourism, 217 E. Redwood St., Baltimore, Md. 21202.

Pub Date: 7/20/97

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