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6 Reasons To Love Maryland's Talbot County And Eastern Shore (PHOTOS)

Posted: 09/09/2012 11:10 am

All summer long, there's a certain part of Maryland that gets everyone's attention. And there's plenty to love about Ocean City and the Assateague Island National Seashore.

But as summer turns to fall -- and weekend warriors try to squeeze in just a few more last-chance trips -- smart travelers should look toward Chespeake Bay and Maryland's beautiful, historic Eastern Shore. (*SEE PHOTOS BELOW*)

At the heart of the region is Talbot County, a mixture of farmland and country estates little changed from the days when the Baltimore gentry summered here in small towns like Easton, Oxford and St. Michael's. That big-city exodus is still happening today, though the contemporary lords of Baltimore are more likely to arrive by motor yacht than horse-drawn carriage.

One power couple I met during an afternoon in St. Michael's planned to boat back to the city that evening, though their friends, power players in from D.C., were trying to convince them to stay the night.

Even those of us with considerably less Beltway sway can find plenty to love on the Eastern Shore. Here were six of my favorites on a recent visit.

Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum:
Spanning an 18-acre campus, this nautical museum is a temple to the area's "watermen" who created an economy from the bay. Exhibits on crab picking, sailboat racing and ecology are so well done as to fascinate even the most indifferent visitors -- I witnessed teenagers enjoying the place.

Old-School Inns:
Have you ever wistfully read a Hemingway novel and pined for the days of old when a tavern with strong drinks and hearty food had comfortable rooms just upstairs, the height of turn-of-the-20th-century travel elegance? The Eastern Shore has one in the Robert Morris Inn, a downtown icon dating to 1710 that got new life in 2010 when local chef Mark Salter reopened the restaurant and hotel. The Combsberry is another good option, a bed and breakfast hidden away on its own pastoral parcel a few minutes outside town, with a secluded bit of waterfront and fantastic morning service to jumpstart your day.

Oxford-Bellevue Ferry:
Many destinations brag about their history, but a hundred years is little more than an adolescence by Eastern Shore standards. A trip on the Oxford-Bellevue ferry may only take 10 minutes, but along the way, you'll have the chance to consider the fact that this passage across the Tred Avon River has survived both World Wars, the Civil War and even the American Revolution: The first ferry on this critical Eastern Shore route shoved off way back in 1683.

White-Glove Waterfront Dining:
In my experience, most of the food on the Chesapeake is of the down-and-dirty, pick-your-own-crab-meat sort, a culturally significant (and delicious) buffet hauled from the waters of the bay. Not the case at St. Michael's Inn at Perry Cabin, where Sherwood's Landing offers impeccable fare, a vast array of wines, expertly crafted cocktails -- and a stunning view of the pleasure boats coming and going in the harbor.

Small-Town Pleasures:
As befits a weekend getaway, there's a hunt for nostalgia among visitors to the Eastern Shore. In Oxford, for example, directions are given in relation to "The Strand" along the waterfront or, as one brochure situates The Scottish Highland Creamery, "behind Schooner's by the boat ramp." There's an element of timelessness here, with American flags on porches waving in the breeze and bikes meandering down quiet lanes. In St. Michael's, an evening passeggiatta to rival those in Italy is probably the biggest ticket in town.

Space!
The Eastern Shore is a quick drive from Virginia, which in fact shares part of the DelMarVa peninsula with Maryland. There, on Wallops Island, you'll find a nacent space tourism industry, including upcoming orbital launches. Given the Eastern Shore's popularity with D.C. insiders, you might just bump into some aerospace movers and shakers when you get back to town -- after you enjoy some rocket-fueled thrills.

Below, take a look at a number of photos and additional information from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

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  • The boatyard crew of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum takes the 1889 nine-log bugeye and National Historic Landmark, the <em>Edna E. Lockwood</em>, out for her first sail in nearly a decade. After several years of repairs, the <em>Edna</em> is ready to venture out on the Miles River in St. Michaels, MD. Vessel Maintenance Manager Michael Gorman stands on the push boat, used to push the bugeye in and out of the harbor, as bugeyes do not have an internal engine. When not in use, the push boat is carried at the stern of the boat.

  • The boatyard crew of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, MD, take the 1912 tug <em>Delaware</em> out for a spin on the Miles River. Built in Bethel, Delaware, this tugboat recently celebrated her centennial. <em>Delaware</em> is a rare example of a typical early 20th century wooden river tug, built by William H. Smith. She hauled scows often laden with lumber and towed ram schooners up and down the Eastern Shore's narrow, winding rivers.

  • The boatyard crew of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, MD, take the 1912 tug <em>Delaware</em> out for a spin on the Miles River. Built in Bethel, Delaware, this tugboat recently celebrated her centennial. <em>Delaware</em> is a rare example of a typical early 20th century wooden river tug, built by William H. Smith. She hauled scows often laden with lumber and towed ram schooners up and down the Eastern Shore's narrow, winding rivers.

  • A view of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum from the Miles River as they prepare for the 25th annual Antique & Classic Boat Festivals this past June. Docked alongside the 1879 Hooper Straight lighthouse is the 1889 nine-log bugeye <em>Edna E. Lockwood</em>.

  • An overhead view of the working boatyard of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, from the top of the mast on the <em>Edna E. Lockwood</em>, taken shortly after Hurricane Irene in August, 2011. The tent covering the skipjack <em>Rosie Parks</em> project (on the left) was damaged and about to be replaced. The skipjack <em>H.M. Krentz</em> is up on the rail (to the right) for repairs.

  • Five historical buildings are original to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum campus, and are included in the St. Michaels National Register District. Pictured from left, is the Higgins House, circa 1860 (white building), the Dodson House, circa 1860, which was later transformed into a waterfront guest house in 1886 with an unusual three-story porch, and the Eagle House, circa 1890, which was once the home of a steamboat captain. The homes now house the Museum's administrative offices.

  • Owned by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the <em>Edmee S.</em> is a Chesapeake Bay log canoe, built in the Tilghman Island style from hewn logs by Oliver Duke in the 1930s. She is one of the last 22 Chesapeake Bay racing log canoes and is actively raced with a crew of 9-11 people. With long masts and large sails, the only way to keep these boats upright as they accelerate to speeds of 10 knots or more is for crew members to climb to th ends of the 15-foot boards placed perpendicular to the boat itself.

  • The 1889 nine-log bugeye and National Historic Landmark, the <em>Edna E. Lockwood</em>, is docked alongside the 1889 Hooper Strait Lighthouse at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, MD.

  • The Skipjack Restoration Shop is a part of the working boatyard at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, MD, where shipwrights work in full view of the public, interacting with guests and answering questions. (PHOTO BY NIKKI DAVIS)

  • The bowsprit of the 1889 nine-log bugeye, <em>Edna E. Lockwood</em> is visible as she sits docked in the St. Michaels Harbor.

  • The Waterfowling Exhibit at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum features the most comprehensive public collections of working decoys from the Mid Atlantic region. Many different traditions of decoy carving are represented in the Museum's collection.

  • The Higgins House, circa 1860, was built after Navy Point was subdivided into town lots in 1851. Until that time, the point was part of Perry Cabin and owned by Samuel Hambleton. The house is a two-story, two-bay frame structure with smaller tow-story, two-bay wing of the 1890s. It currently houses the Education Department of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

  • A the top of the 1879 Hooper Strait Lighthouse, you can see the Welcome Center of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, and beyond to Honeymoon Bridge, where visitors may access the Museum from the main street of St. Michaels.

  • The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum has the largest collection of historic Chesapeake Bay boats in existence. The <em>Martha</em>, (pictured left) is a Hooper Island draketail because of her unique stern design. Built by the legendary boat builder Bronza Parks in 1934, she was used for crabbing, oystering, and pleasure. The tug Delaware (pictured right) was built in 1912 in Bethel, <em>Delaware</em>, by William H. Smith and serves as a rare example of a typical early 20th century wooden river tug. Both boats were completely restored by the Museum's boatyard staff.

  • Located in the Small Boat Shed at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the Maryland Crab Exhibit is a recreation of Crisfield's Maryland Crabmeat Company, once one of the largest seafood packing homes in the town that called itself the "Seafood Capital." Crab picking is detailed work, almost always done by women. From the lockers where they left their belonging to the table where they picked crabmeat into graded containers, the essential contents of a crabmeat are all here.

  • The <em>Mister Jim</em> is a replica buyboat, built to resemble oyster buyboats of the past and regularly takes museum guests on tours around the Miles River. In addition, <em>Mister Jim</em> takes hundreds of school children out every year on ecology tours. Chesapeake Bay buyboats would buy oysters directly from the harvesters, typically sail-powered skipjacks or oyster tongers, allowing the oyster dredges to remain out on the water and avoid the need to return to port to unload their catch.

  • The <em>Mister Jim</em> is a replica buyboat, built to resemble oyster buyboats of the past and regularly takes museum guests on tours around the Miles River. In addition, <em>Mister Jim</em> takes hundreds of school children out every year on ecology tours. Chesapeake Bay buyboats would buy oysters directly from the harvesters, typically sail-powered skipjacks or oyster tongers, allowing the oyster dredges to remain out on the water and avoid the need to return to port to unload their catch.

  • Opened in the fall of 2010 as a permanent exhibit at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the Mitchell House helps to tell the stories and history of free black laborers along the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The house was once the home of Eliza Bailey Mitchell, who was abolitionist Frederick Douglass's closest sibling. Originally located on Lee Street in St. Michaels, the Mitchell House was brought to the Museum several years back, before undergoing restoration as a public exhibit. The left half of the house is original, with the right half a reconstruction to resemble its former state.

  • Part of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum's historic floating fleet, <em>Old Point</em> was constructed of seven logs in 1909, and is an example of such a dredge boat used for dredging crabs through the winter. <em>Old Point</em> also hauled freight fish in the summer and carried oysters during the fall.

  • The Museum's Oystering Exhibit invites you to step onboard the skipjack <em>E.C. Collier</em>, and enter the world of the working watermen on the Chesapeake Bay. This hands-on exhibit tells the story of how the Bay's oyster fishery has shaped the region's history, culture and landscape.

  • The Museum's Oystering Exhibit invites you to step onboard the skipjack <em>E.C. Collier</em>, and enter the world of the working watermen on the Chesapeake Bay. This hands-on exhibit tells the story of how the Bay's oyster fishery has shaped the region's history, culture and landscape.

  • The non-profit Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is an 18-acre waterfront campus in the heart of St. Michaels right on the Miles River. The Museum is dedicated to telling the stories of the Chesapeake Bay and the people who have shaped their lives around it, offering exhibits, demonstrations, boat rides, and annual festivals that celebrate Chesapeake Bay culture. (PHOTO BY HUNTER HARRIS, ALOFT AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY)

  • Displayed in the Small Boat Shed is a variety of working and recreational Chesapeake small watercraft. Several log canoes illustrate the adaption of this Native American design by the English into a workboat they used for oystering, fishing and traveling. Also featured are several types of skiffs.

  • The Steamboat Building houses the Museum's special exhibits. Currently featured is the newest exhibit "Push and Pull: Life on Chesapeake Bay Tugboats," which explores the difficult and often dangerous work of the men and women who work on tugs docking ships and moving barges. "A Rising Tide in the Heart of the Chesapeake," examines changing forces in the Chesapeake's low-lying island communities through photos, videos and stories.

  • "Push and Pull: Life on Chesapeake Bay Tugboats," explores the difficult and often dangerous work of the men and women who work on tugs docking ships and moving barges through stories, images and objects of the Bay's tugboats and the words of the people who work them.

  • Waterman's Wharf is a recreated crabber's shanty where visitors can try their hand at several of the seafood harvesting activities of a Chesapeake Bay waterman. You can watch crabs shed, check an eel or crab pot or tong for oysters.

  • Waterman's Wharf is a recreated crabber's shanty where visitors can try their hand at several of the seafood harvesting activities of a Chesapeake Bay waterman. You can watch crabs shed, check an eel or crab pot or tong for oysters.

 
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