[I’m taking this challenge seriously. First I’m RELAXing a bit on this last day of the July Creative Challenges by recycling and revising an article I did for AtHomeInMaryland.com an online travel magazine that has sadly gone away. Since the article is all about RELAXing and having fun in St. Michaels I thought it fit the challenge pretty well… Here goes…]
Take a walk on the relaxing streets of St. Michaels.
St. Michaels is a place of history, water, crabs, but above all St. Michael’s is a place to relax.
Finding a home on the river…
The little sea fairing town was built around St. Michaels Episcopal Church which was established in 1677. It was a trading post for farmers and trappers. James Braddock, an English land agent purchased 20 acres in 1778. An early real estate developer, Braddock carved 58 plots out of the land and arranged them around a town green. Along with the houses he included churches, a market and schools. Since the town is on the water fishing and shipbuilding became natural industries. By 1812 a half-dozen firms were building schooners to sail the Chesapeake.
It became the “Town That Fooled the British” in the War of 1812. The English fleet was barreling its way up the Chesapeake Bay headed to Baltimore. St. Michaels, with its shipping industry was a clear target for destruction. But in the wee hours of August 10, 1813 as the fleet approached the town’s residents hoisted lanterns into ship’s rigging and high into the tree tops, and the British cannons overshot the town. Only one house took a direct hit. A cannonball crashed through the roof, frightening, but not harming the inhabitants as it rolled down the stairs. That house still stands on Mulberry Street, it is aptly named the “Cannonball House.”
Over the next 150 years St. Michaels became one of the major seafood processing centers on the Bay. By 1930 a single processing plant was shipping more than a million pounds of crab meat annually, and 12,000 gallons of oysters a week! But, by the mid 20th century the seemingly boundless harvest of seafood began quickly, to dry up and St. Michaels long history as the “seafood basket” of the Chesapeake was coming to an end.
With the establishment of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in 1965 the city turned full-time to tourism as a way of life. St. Michaels beautiful colonial and Victorian homes refashioned themselves as bed and breakfasts, feed stores and tack shops were converted to boutiques and restaurants, and skipjack captains turned from dredging crustaceans to hosting sunset cruises.
Interior of one of the boat barns at the Maritime Museum
Lots to see and do around town…
The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum offers 12 buildings and sits on 18 acres at old Naval Point in St. Michaels Harbor.
The Hooper Strait Lighthouse is the iconic center piece of the museum. Built in 1879 the hexagonal lighthouse guarded the wicked shoals near Deals Island. It was accessible only by rowboat then, and the keepers spent months alone on the water tending the 4th level Fresnel lense and keeping weather and vessel records at the “screw pile” lighthouse. But by 1954 the lighthouse was fully automated and the Coast Guard began dismantling the old style lighthouses.. The Hooper Straight house was on the list for demo! Luckily the fledgling Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum was able to purchase it for $1,000 and barge is North to St. Michaels. Today it sits safely on the tip of Naval Point, one of four screw pile designed lighthouses left on the Bay. Visitors can climb into the lighthouse and take a self paced tour of the interior, including the keeper’s quarters and the light, and get a birds eye view of the harbor from the catwalk. The Museum offers a Lighthouse Overnight program for small groups of kids 8-12.
At the “Oystering on the Chesapeake” building visitors board the E.C. Collier and listen in as her long time crew brings in the harvest. Dozens of hands-on, kid friendly displays take you through the history and conflicts of the oystering industry and lets you see how Maryland’s favorite mollusk went from the Bay’s bottom to a restaurant’s table top.
At the museum’s boat yard you can watch as skipjacks and crab dredgers are restored to new life. If you are itching to get out on the water you can take a tour on the Mister Jim. If you want a more hands on approach, the Museum’s Apprentice For A Day program is a unique opportunity to help build traditional wooden skiffs. The museum is open daily year-round (except Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s day).
Canon at St. Mary’s Square
St. Mary’s Square lies just to the south of St. Michaels Harbor. See cannons, one of which defended the city in during the War of 1812, and the Mechanic’s Bell that ruled the shipbuilder’s day by ringing at 7am, noon and 5 pm. St. Mary’s Square Museum host historic exhibits centered on the town of St. Michaels. The Museum is open weekends from May to October, Guided walking tours are available at the corner of Chestnut street and St. Mary’s Square on Saturdays beginning at 10:30 am. The tours alternate between “Young Frederick Douglas in St. Michaels” and “Historic St. Michaels Waterfront”. Reservations are required for a docent tour, call 410-745-0530. A Self-Guided walking tour map is also available at the St. Mary’s Museum.
Get out on the water! Go down to St. Michaels’ dock or drive over to nearby Tilghman Island for some water action. Get up close and personal with some wild life, including osprey and bald eagles, with Peake Paddle Tours. Tours range from freshwater streams, to tidal rivers, to salt marshes all over the Eastern Shore, and skill levels start at beginner. Chesapeake Lights offers a variety of Lighthouse tours on the Bay. Captain Mike Richards sales the motorized M/V Sharps Island out of Tilghman Island. A 10 hour, 10 lighthouse tour is scheduled for July 24th. The skipjack Rebecca T. Ruark, a National Historic Landmark, also sales out of Tilghman’s. Captain Wade Murphy, Jr. is a 5th generation Chesapeake Bay waterman, and along with a beautiful ride you’ll get a history and science lesson on the Bay. The beautiful canoe-sterned ketch the Lady Patty is berthed in front of the Bay Hundred Restaurant in Tilghman Island and sets sail three times a day for 2 hour cruises including a romantic Champagne Sunset Cruise at 6:30. The Salina II, a vintage catboat hosts private sailing lessons and 2 hr cruises for six. You can also take a Wine or Beer Tasting cruise or even an Overnight Excursion on the Selina II which docks at St. Michaels.
Sailing on the Bay. We took a twi-light cruise on the Rebecca T. Ruark which I found both educational and relaxing. This shot if of another vessel as the sun set to the left.
Spending the night…
There are over 25 Bed and Breakfast establishments in the St. Michaels area, so there’s plenty of variety in cost, location and luxury.
Dr. Dodson’s House at 200 Cherry Street began life as a tavern and the town’s first post office in 1799. Fredrick Douglas visited the house after the Civil War to meet with his former master, Captain Thomas Auld. Much of the house still maintains a historic flavor with original fireplaces, woodwork and glass. The house, which is on the St. Mary’s Square Museum walking tour, remains one of the finest examples of Federal architecture in town. It was brought to new life as a Bed and Breakfast after a bit of modernization (read: Air Conditioning and WiFi). The full breakfast is an “Event” from the eggs benedict, to the fresh tomato tarts, to the banana pecan waffles. You won’t leave the table hungry.
For Victorian charm try the Cherry Street Inn. This 1880’s house built by a steamboat captain has been lovingly maintained. The Inn is an easy walk to the harbor, The Chesapeake Maritime Museum and the shops and eateries on Main Street (Talbot Street).
Five Gables Inn and Spa offers a number of packages for the ultimate escape to the Bay. The signature Spa and Sail package includes two nights at one of their charming Main Street locations, two massages at the on site Aveda Spa, crab dinner for two at the Crab Claw Restaurant, and a two-hour cruise on the Rebecca T. Ruark. Other packages range from a one night champagne and chocolate get away to a four night “Learn to Sail” program that includes three private sailing lessons followed by massages. Five Gables is in the heart of St. Michaels, it is nestled among the Main Street Antique shops and is an easy walk to the harbor and the Maritime Museum. The Five Gables offers 12 rooms and 8 suites and an extended continental breakfast.
The iconic Hooper Light House at St. Michaels.
- boat rides,
- cannon firings,
- a Talbot Street parade,
- horse-drawn carriage rides,
- an Art show
- and more.
If you stay an extra day you can enjoy the 4 th Annual Watermen’s Appreciation Day and Crab Feast.