ROAD TRIP: MARYLAND'S EASTERN SHORE
Crabbing Along Maryland's Eastern Shore
On Maryland's Eastern Shore, the fun doesn't stop when the road ends—there's usually a ferry bound for more crab shacks and woodsy landscapes.
We drive straight to Crisfield, at Maryland's southern tip, for the pedestrian ferry to Smith Island. After buying Smith Island Cruises tickets at the office inside the Paddlewheel Motel, we board theTwister, a high-speed boat manned by Captain Alan Tyler. He looks like a Love Boat extra: deep tan, spotless white shirt, short shorts, and Top-Siders. (We learn later that the locals take a cheaper postal ferry from the municipal dock; $20 round-trip tickets are sold on the boat.)
A thunderstorm creates havoc during the 45-minute ride. After landing, we rush into the closest building, the Bayside Inn Restaurant, which is owned by the same Tyler family that produced the boat captain. Watching the downpour from the screened porch, we eat Captain Tyler crab cake sandwiches. I can't resist the Smith Island cake, made of 10 or so thin layers of plain yellow cake with icing sandwiched between them. I pick coconut; Kathie goes for chocolate. A woman nearby with her own slice reads my mind and says, "Just heavenly."
Made up of several clustered isles and named for colonial landowner Henry Smith, the island is four-and-a-half square miles total. It's the bay's only populated island (other than those accessible by bridge); at last count, the census was 364. Most locals get around the island by bike or golf cart, though there are a few cars--several of which don't bother with license plates.
A break in the rain leaves us about an hour to explore the main town, Ewell. We hoof it along the narrow gravel roads, through swarms of nipping flies and past a few dilapidated homes. A family of ducks wades in a small rainwater pond in someone's front yard. In the Smith Island Center, we watch a 20-minute video outlining island history. After hearing that the area's distinctive accent, an Elizabethan-tinged twang, is the result of its isolation, I realize that back on the ferry, when Captain Tyler was telling us to look off the boat's "sad," he was really saying "side."
Returning to the mainland, we reach the town of Princess Anne just before dinner. The Eastern Shore is dotted with quaint B&Bs, but none matchThe Alexander House Booklovers' Bed & Breakfastfor originality. Elizabeth Alexander, a former journalist and teacher, chose the works and time periods of Jane Austen, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Langston Hughes, respectively, as the decorating theme for three bedrooms. Our room, the Hughes, is done with deco-style furniture, a tan-and-black color scheme, and Harlem Renaissance photos. The Hughes poem in an old typewriter is a nice touch. The Mark Twain Reading Room hosts a library with cushy seats. Elizabeth serves a homemade breakfast, as well as afternoon tea, in the cheery Caf? Colette.
- Whitehaven Car Ferry410/543-2765, free
- Smith Island CruisesCrisfield, 410/425-2771, smithislandcruises.com, $24 round trip
- Alexander House30535 Linden Ave., Princess Anne, 410/651-5195, bookloversbnb.com, from $85
- Bayside Inn Restaurant4065 Smith Island Rd., Ewell, 410/425-2771, cake $3
- Smith Island Center20846 Caleb Jones Rd., Ewell, 410/425-3351, $2
Because of its adorable Victorian homes, tiny blocks, and brick sidewalks, Princess Anne is sometimes called the Williamsburg of the Eastern Shore. The main architectural attraction is theTeackle Mansion, a pink-brick Federal-style behemoth appropriately situated on Mansion Street. "I wonder what the street was called before the mansion came," I say to Kathie.
We called ahead to set up an appointment (it's not the kind of place where you can just show up). A volunteer shows us antique furniture and tells us about the ongoing renovation. In every room we visit, the guide points out where the kooky owner, Littleton Dennis Teackle, added fake windows and doorways to ensure that the house appeared to be perfectly symmetrical.
With a picnic lunch from the grocery store, we drive to our next destination:Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, a marshy preserve covering more than 27,000 acres. Getting there takes us on another car ferry and miles of back roads, past soggy countryside and the occasional fisherman. The town names on our map of scenic byways often turn out to be nothing more than four-way stops connecting wilderness to wilderness.
At the beginning of the refuge's three-and-a-half-mile nature drive, visitors drop $3 in a posted box. A map I snag at the gate tells us to look for deer, squirrels, and birds--bald eagles if we're lucky. The rainy weather, however, seems to have driven the wildlife into hiding. Nevertheless, there's plenty of beautiful marshland and forest. We picnic outside the visitors center, and head inside to watch a live camera feed of an eagle's nest and check out dioramas of area animals.