The Upper Maryland East Shore

The upper part of Maryland’s eastern shore flows in a succession of historic and intimate towns nestled in the coves and inlets of the Chesapeake. The boys and I have been scanning the Maryland map for several days. I have decided on the route. We will start out on I95 as far as Elkton where we will pick up 213. 213 will be the main corridor for our visit to Chesapeake City, and then to Chestertown. For the return, I thought I would follow 307 back to rejoin 95. For today’s day trip the boys and I have the company of the wife and of our friend Pat. As usual, as soon as the boys see me put my shoes on, they know we’re going somewhere in the car. They spin in frantic circles at the back kitchen door. I open the door and in a second they sit panting in front of the car waiting for my slower step. I open the car door. “Get you tails in. We’re on our way to Maryland. ”

As I have said in every other post, the dullest part of a day trip is jettisoning beyond the local atmosphere. We chit chat. We talk to the dogs. We listen to “Car Talk,” one of the best radio shows ever. Before we know it we are at the Elkton exit. Now, we are on the road to where we want to be.

The East side of Maryland is not unlike the southern part of New Jersey. We drive by acres and acres of flat farmland. Wonderful irrigators stretch their enormous wings over fields of soy. Plumes of water rise and fall over the crop rows. Lone barns and silos, center on a distant horizon. A farm house sits enthroned at the end of a long drive planted with trees. The upright martial stature of the trees elevate even the most humble demure to the elegance of an Ante-Bellum Tara. The views are renaissance exercise in the art of perspective. I relish this drive. I feel myself melt into the simplest agricultural landscape. As a driver I think I may be a hazard. The red tail hawk perched on a telephone pole takes my eye more quickly than does the stop sign at the intersection.

A towering bridge crosses the Chesapeake Delaware canal. Below is Chesapeake City. The road curves under the bridge. We are in the town. We park. The women go off to sit on a bench by the water. I walk with my boys on the shady side of the street to explore the town: summer pavement can get pretty hot on their paws. Wood frame houses fronted by old fashioned gardens line the streets. It seems that each house has a historical plaque detailing its history. A good number of the homes are also bed and breakfast inns. As with many historical towns Chesapeake City has its fair share of “quaintity” shops. Two restaurants offer lunch and dinner right on the water. The Bayard House has some outside tables near the water. The reviews for Bayard House are not all that good. Chesapeake Inn sits right on the water. Chesapeake Inn is much the loud, music blaring summer crab house with an overpriced menu that you find all along the Atlantic summer coast. You don’t go to them for fine dining. The food is overpriced. The ambiance convinces some that they are enjoying themselves in summer abandon. The charm of summer dock side restaurants is their immediate situation: water, piers, docks. These crab house places are indigenous to the Atlantic Coast in summer. I have finally learned to discipline myself to their type. The enjoyment recipe for these dock side crab houses is to load your French fries with ketchup and enjoy the water front view with your ears closed to the amped up rock.

We are back in the car. As I am driving along a historic site marker catches my eye, “Saint Francis Xavier Church, Old Bohemia, 1704.” This merits an investigation. It’s a left turn and a winding way for quite a little ride. Just when I figure that we have gone far enough out of our way, the church rises up before us. It sits atop a hill with a cemetery at its side. The building and grounds are a pastoral idyll. I park and go out to see of the church is open. It’s locked. There is a small house to the side I assume must be the caretaker’s. I knock but there is no answer. Going back to the church I at least get a look through the window. The interior is simple white and very austere. Next to the cemetery is a great field where the boys can play. How they love to investigate!

After our side trip we’re back on the main road. We cross another small bridge above the Sassafras River. Aside from the marina at Fredericktown there is not much here. We travel on. I follow 213 to our next destination, Chestertown. Somehow, I missed the turn into Chestertown and found myself across the water at Kingstown. I make the turn around. Now, I’m on the right path. I turn onto the first street. Chestertown is an Arcadia, an Elysium. House after wood frame house takes me back to another century, to another world. The main street of Chestertown leads to the waterfront. Facing the water magnificent houses announce another age. Mallards, ducks and geese waddle in the inlet waters and under the trees on the dock.

It’s now well past noon and we are all ready for lunch. In Chestertown there is no restaurant on the waterfront. Along the main street there is a hotel restaurant and a Jewish deli with sidewalk tables. Neither of these options appeals to a Maryland day trip. I look at the map. I find that if we drive a bit further on there are several are towns along the water. My triple A map highlights Rock Hall. Perhaps Rock Hall may have a waterfront restaurant.

Rock Hall is another little surprise: wood frame shops and a few little eateries. But I want the waterfront. I drive a little on and sure enough there is the water, there are the docks and boats and there is the crab shack I was hoping for. Most important, they allow us to bring the dogs on the outside deck. The service is immediate and most friendly. Two young ladies bring three buckets of water for my boys. The funny thing is that here we are on the Maryland shore and the buckets read “Sailor Boy Oysters – Port Norris, NJ.”

The menu is what you would expect for a Maryland crab house, but the prices are a bit on the very high side. Three crabs are $15. That’s pretty steep when you are accustomed to 9tth Street’s $10 a dozen. I order the crab cake and my wife and her friend share a crab melt. Each of these dishes is $15. The crab cake is good, and is mostly crab, not filler. But the cake is on the small side. From the kiddie menu I order a hot dog for my little guys. The setting is wonderful. An osprey is diving for his dinner. A crabbing boat is moving out with its traps. This is why you drive to Maryland.