Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Chesapeake Bay
By Deane Winegar
A visitor arriving on the Eastern Shore by way of the Bay Bridge and US 50/301 from Annapolis and points west will be greeted with a very different first impression of Queen Anne’s County than someone entering the county on either one of those highways from the north or from the south.
The Bay Bridge has brought not only tourism and accompanying lodging and eateries to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but also permanent residents who live on scenic Kent Island and commute to work across the bridge to the west. Coming into the county from the north on US 301 or MD 213, or from the south on US 50, however, motorists are greeted to views of woodlands and peaceful farm country, the quiet villages of watermen and farmers, historic churches, and restored homes built by early traders and ship captains.
Residents are justifiably proud of their attractions on Kent Island and the western side of the mainland. But there’s more.
To the north, the Chester River separates Queen Anne’s County from Kent County. Anglers put in at boat landings off MD 544 north of Kingstown and Chestertown in pursuit of largemouth bass, striped bass, pickerel, crappie, channel catfish, and bluegill.
On the east side, the county borders Kent County, Delaware, and Caroline County, Maryland. The calm, shaded waters of Tuckahoe Creek between Queen Anne’s and Caroline counties are perfect for canoeing. Tuckahoe State Park is tucked into the southeastern corner of the county.
To the south, the Queen Anne Highway (MD 404) and a tributary of the Wye River called the Wye East River separate Queen Anne’s County from Talbot County. The Wye River, which penetrates the county north to Queenstown, gained international fame in 1998 as the site where the Wye River Accord was signed between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
At the headwaters of the Wye East River is the small Wye Mills Community Lake, with largemouth bass, crappie, pickerel, and bluegill fishing. A picnic area and restrooms are available. The lake is located in a triangle created by US 50, MD 404, and MD 213.
Queen Anne’s County has a total of nine public boat ramps and 11 more carry-down landings for car-top boats. Call (410) 758-0835 for the necessary permit. Several hunting preserves are spread across the county, and boat rentals and charters for crabbing and fishing are plentiful. The county’s Office of Tourism can provide an up-to-date list.
[Fig. 18] With a strategic location at the head of the Corsica River, Centreville once engaged in a brisk shipping trade. The old homes and quiet tree-lined streets of this county seat are Americana—the kind of place many people would like to spend their childhood. Typical of many Eastern Shore towns, Centreville’s colonial past has left a mix of architecture ranging from examples of the stark and simple Federal period to ornate Victorian homes with spacious porches.
The County Courthouse at 100 Courthouse Square has been in continuous use since 1792—longer than any other courthouse in the state. Note the bronze statue of the county’s namesake, Queen Anne, on the courthouse lawn. Queen Anne was the British monarch when the county was founded in 1706.
One of the oldest houses in town is the Tucker House, built about 1792, at 124 South Commerce Street, where the smell of fresh bagels causes visitors to make a detour into the bakery next door. The Tucker House with its six fireplaces and herb gardens once served as a town house. Wright’s Chance (circa 1744) was built as a plantation house, then moved to its present site at 119 South Commerce Street and restored. Highlights inside include exquisite Hepplewhite and Chippendale furniture. These buildings are open for tours by request.
At Front and Corsica streets is the old wharf where ships used to dock, now a public landing. The row of homes at the wharf was built by a ship captain for members of his crew and their families.
Of particular interest to those interested in Chesapeake Bay lore is the Queen Anne’s Museum of Eastern Shore Life at 126 Dulin Clark Road. Artifacts the visitor may examine here give a glimpse into the area’s history of agriculture, transportation, and watermen, and into the everyday lives of previous Eastern Shore residents.
Canoeists can put into the Corsica River at Centreville for a pleasant paddle in either direction.
[Fig. 18] This Chesapeake Bay island off the west coast of Queen Anne’s County is a mere 4 miles east of Annapolis and the western shore by way of the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge (known as the Bay Bridge). Seafood lovers, boaters, and anglers from Annapolis, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and surrounding areas flock to the island’s many harbors and marinas, and to the excellent seafood restaurants with their nautical atmosphere.
The island was created by surging tides that gradually cut a channel through Kent Narrows, separating Kent Island from the mainland. This largest Chesapeake Bay island was once the home of Matapeake Ozinie Indians and later a trading post for the first permanent English settlement in Maryland. Trader William Claiborne established the colony in 1631. The only English settlements to predate it were at Jamestown (Virginia) and Plymouth Rock (Massachusetts). Later, Kent Narrows became a busy seafood processing area, with as many as 12 packing houses operating at once as watermen brought their heavily laden boats to the docks.
The town of Stevensville—the largest town on Kent Island—is located near the eastern end of the Bay Bridge. Coming across the Bay Bridge to Kent Island, many motorists zip past Stevensville, exiting from US 50/301 when they see the rustic docks and weathered seafood houses of Kent Narrows on the eastern side of the island.
But those who take the time to explore the island town will find, on Cockey’s Lane, the colorful restored Stevensville Train Depot (circa 1902) and the Cray House (circa 1839), with its gambrel roof. The Cray House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At 117 East Main Street, is Christ Church, built about 1880. The congregation that worships here is the oldest in the state, begun in 1631 when the island was settled. A county visitor center is located at 102 Main Street.
[Fig. 18(9)] Just north of the Bay Bridge on Kent Island is a small natural gem called Terrapin Beach Nature Park. A new 1-mile nature trail, a pond, and two observation blinds are popular with those who enjoy the outdoors. Birds of prey, migratory birds, and breeding waterfowl draw bird watchers and photographers. A boardwalk leads to the Chesapeake Bay. The park is wheelchair accessible.
[Fig. 18(10)] Matapeake State Park is located on the Chesapeake Bay on the western shore of Kent Island. From the park, there are panoramic views of the Bay Bridge to the north. This 3-acre park is basically a shady parking lot on the bay with two boat ramps, a picnic area, and a 900-foot fishing pier. The sturdy pier is on the site of the former ferry terminus in use before the construction of the Bay Bridge. Tall pines and oaks shade the picnic area. In the woods next to the picnic area are large American holly trees that have beautiful red berries in winter.Anglers can also fish from a sandy path along the bulwarks that separate the waters of the bay from the park. Children should be watched carefully, as there is no railing to keep them from falling off the edge into deep water.
[Fig. 18(11)] The Chesapeake Bay has its own leaning tower—the Bloody Point Bar Lighthouse. This 56-foot high tower on a caisson foundation stands in shallow water off the southern tip of Kent Island. It began to tilt shortly after it was constructed in 1882. A dredging operation under one side partially corrected the tilt, but a sharp observer can tell the tower is still a bit off plumb.A fire in 1960 temporarily put the lighthouse out of commission and ended the manning operation. Today, the automated flashing white light still assists ship captains in the bay. The lighthouse is visible from Kent Point but is not open to the public.
[Fig. 18(12)] An attractive mix of picturesque seafood restaurants, marinas, boat rentals, and factory outlets line both sides of picturesque Kent Narrows, which separates Kent Island from the mainland of Queen Anne’s County. Also located on the waterfront here is an inviting new welcome center, the Chesapeake Exploration Center, where visitors can obtain pamphlets and view displays. The welcome center houses the Queen Anne’s County Office of Tourism.
The Kent Narrows with its numerous seafood restaurants and dock bars, is the original seafood center of Queen Anne’s County. The Narrows is famous for its nautical scenery. A public boat landing here has easy access from Piney Narrows Road. Footpaths and rental boats offer additional ways to become acquainted with this part of the Eastern Shore.
[Fig. 18(13)] This 500-acre sanctuary east of Kent Island is a haven for bird watchers, photographers, decoy carvers, wildfowl artists—and anyone else who enjoys watching wildlife and wildfowl, including children. Visitors can take paths skirting six waterfowl ponds, each representing a different wetland habitat. At the visitor center, a large window overlooks a pond with a variety of native North American waterfowl such as northern shovelers, redheads, wood ducks, and tundra swans. A powerful scope is set up by the window for a close view.
Children are fascinated with clever hands-on displays in the center. Each of several boxes has a hole with objects inside for children to identify by feel, such as a feather, a snakeskin, or a pine cone. Youngsters may also examine the shells of an Eastern painted turtle, a tiny mud turtle, and a horseshoe crab. Those who have been unable to spot the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel can see a mounted one, in addition to a mounted oldsquaw and a muskrat. Natural history books, bird books, T-shirts, praying mantis puppets, and bat puppets are for sale. An aquarium contains fish and other life characteristic of the shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
In addition to the visitor center pond, five more ponds exhibit wildfowl characteristic of woodlands, prairie potholes, the Atlantic and Pacific flyways, and even birds from overseas countries. In every instance, you are close to the ducks and geese, and in some cases you can walk among them. Wild ducks and geese often join the captive birds on the ponds.
Ponds at the center are modified and renovated from time to time. The Dusky Canada Geese Pond contains a rare subspecies of Canada goose. The Woodland Pond, which has no captive ducks, represents a typical wood duck habitat. The pond attracts, in addition to wood ducks, such wildfowl and critters as canvasbacks, black ducks, American wigeons, herons, and turtles. Some of these same ducks, in addition to lesser and greater scaups, green-winged and blue-winged teal, and cinnamon teal can be found on the Prairie Pothole Pond, a habitat similar to that formed by glacial action in the Central and Mississippi flyways. Several ponds have observation blinds, enabling visitors to view wild ducks and songbirds from close range.
The casual atmosphere of the center is wonderful. Several wild turkeys roam among the visitors, nearly as tame as pets. Benches invite people to relax and become attuned to the leisurely pace of life at the center.
No matter the time of year, there’s always something to discover at Horsehead Wetlands Center. From November to February, wintering waterfowl and winter songbirds are abundant. White-tailed deer and red foxes are easier to spot than in summer, when foliage gives them cover. Bald eagles soar overhead, searching for a meal.
From March to May, spring wildflowers prompt identification questions by visitors. Osprey, songbirds, and waterfowl are busy building their nests. Late spring and early summer are the times to see baby ducks, geese, bluebirds, fawns, foxes, raccoons, and many other animals. Hummingbirds and butterflies are drawn like magnets to a garden of native plant species designed especially for them. Turtles sun themselves on fallen limbs.
Ducks are in full plumage in late summer and fall. The marsh is full of feeding herons, egrets, and shorebirds. Some 80 species of songbird migrants such as warblers, sparrows, flycatchers, orioles, and thrushes, on their way to warmer climes, pass through the wetlands center on their migration routes between August and October. Monarch butterflies also meander through on their own fall migration to Mexico.
In addition to the exhibits, the center engages in waterfowl research and in education. Hawks, owls, and waterfowl that have imprinted on people or have received injuries that prevent their release into the wild are kept in large outdoor aviaries or smaller pens. Volunteers and staff work with such birds as Cooper’s hawks, red-shouldered hawks, red-tailed hawks, barred owls, great horned owls, and kestrels, training them to become natural ambassadors for their species. The birds travel to schools, meetings of various organizations, and festivals where their handlers teach people how the birds live in the wild, what habitat they need to survive, and what to do when injured birds are discovered.
Some 200 acres of recently acquired land at Horsehead Wetlands Center offer visitors several new habitats to discover. A pine plantation, a small hardwood forest, and some freshwater wetlands have a great variety of plants, flowers, and wildlife not found in the tidal wetlands.
Contact the center for a colorful map, a bird checklist, and a calendar of events. A popular Wetlands Festival is held the last weekend in September. Members may borrow the center’s canoes to explore a canoe trail on Marshy Creek.
The Wildfowl Trust of North America is a private, nonprofit conservation organization patterned after the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust of the United Kingdom. Sir Peter Scott founded the original organization for two purposes: to provide habitat for waterfowl and to demonstrate the importance of wetlands to people observing the waterfowl.
[Fig. 18(14)] In addition to the path winding through the exhibit ponds in the area of the visitor center, two more trails lead into the surrounding marsh, bay edge, meadows, and woodlands.
Boardwalk Trail. A 0.66-mile Boardwalk Trail crosses a salt meadow and marsh, passing a berm planted with perennial flowers and native plants, and an observation blind at Lake Knapp where egrets, osprey, bald eagles, and herons make regular appearances. The walk leads to a beach on the Chesapeake Bay and a 15-foot observation tower. The sweeping view may reveal tundra swans, lesser scaups, buffleheads, wading birds, terns, and maybe even loons.
Marshy Creek Trail. A variety of songbirds, varying according to season, use the woodlands along the 0.33-mile Marshy Creek Trail. Listen for various warbler calls, especially in spring and fall. Rufous-sided towhees, white-throated sparrows, flycatchers, orioles, thrushes, and cardinals are other possibilities. Another blind on Lake Knapp, this one on the east side, is on this trail. A 15-foot observation tower overlooks Marshy Creek, where a launch area is available for canoeists. The Marshy Creek Trail is especially interesting for its display boards, which are updated from time to time. These boards challenge hikers to be observant. A recent topic was identification of the surrounding plant life, with illustrations of both summer and winter forms.
Along the trail are wet meadow edge plants, plants of disturbed woodlands, and meadow plants. Vegetation in the wet meadow habitat includes the persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana). The persimmon produces a mouth-puckering green fruit that has a memorable astringency if eaten before ripe. A rule of thumb is to wait until the first frost to eat them—that is, if raccoons and opossums don’t get them first. Swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus palustris) is a showy plant with large, deep-pink flowers. Note the musky smell. The day lily, sweetgum, and Eastern redcedar also are found here.Plants of the disturbed woodland habitat include vegetation that takes hold where soil has been altered, usually by man-made disturbances such as cultivation. Look for velvetleaf (Abutilon theoprasti), also called pie-maker, with its heart-shaped, toothed, velvety leaves and small yellow flowers tight in the leaf axils. Tiny deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) grows 8 to 20 inches tall, with white-spotted, pink flowers that are only 0.5 inch wide. Poison ivy, greenbriar, Queen Anne’s lace, pokeweed, wax myrtle, American holly, shadbush, and willow oak are other common plants and trees in the understory and at the edges of the loblolly pine forest.
The meadows in summer are dotted with yarrow, oxeye daisy, black-eyed Susan, butterfly weed, and wild bergamot. Monarch butterflies seek out the common milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). They are totally dependent on the foliage of this plant, which contains a chemical that renders both the adult monarchs and their larvae toxic to would-be predators.
[Fig. 18(15)] This 1,000-acre private resort in Queenstown, just east of Kent Island, offers outdoor getaways for hunters, fishermen, sporting clay enthusiasts, or those who simply want to escape for a few hours in a horse-drawn carriage or charter boat. Reservations are required.
The sporting clays course—which is similar to a golf course for shooters—is positioned along the scenic banks of the Wye River. Fishing opportunities include the river, the Chesapeake Bay, and a stocked pond. Hunters may try for released pheasant, quail, chukar, Hungarian partridge, or mallard. Hunting for wild game includes deer and dove hunting in the resort’s fields and forests, and duck hunting from blinds. Guides and expertly trained bird dogs are available, or visitors may bring their own bird dogs. Even combinations of Activities can be arranged, such as chartering a boat to hunt sea ducks on a fall morning and casting for striped bass (rockfish) in the afternoon.
Pintail Point also offers fly-fishing lessons.
[Fig. 18(16)] The 3,498 acres of Tuckahoe State Park spread along both sides of Tuckahoe Creek about 6 miles north of Hillsboro in both Queen Anne’s and Caroline counties. Roads along the boundary and in the park provide access on both side of the river.
Hikers can keep cool as they pass through the park’s dense woodlands on several miles of marked trails. A 2-mile fitness trail offers a great place to work out in a scenic environment. Tuckahoe Creek, bordered for most of its length by wooded marshlands, passes through the park, pausing at a dam that forms 60-acre Crouse Mill Pond. Boating (no gasoline motors) and fishing are permitted on the lake and in the surrounding flooded woodlands.
The lake and the creek waters above the lake have fresh water. Below the lake, the water is influenced by tides, but salinity is so low that anglers are able to capture such freshwater species as bass, pickerel, and bluegill all the way down to Hillsboro and beyond. The park is a fine hub for bikers, who can camp and explore the tranquil 10-mile loop of back roads that border the park. Hunters come seasonally for dove, quail, wild turkey, woodcock, rabbit, squirrel, and deer. Leashed pets are allowed on the park and arboretum trails.
Trees and shrubs native to the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain are grown at the 400-acre Adkins Arboretum in the park. Three miles of surfaced walkways, some that are wheelchair-accessible, lead beside streams and through dry upland woods, bottomland forests, and upland meadows. Trees and shrubs are tagged for easy identification. The arboretum is a cooperative project of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the nonprofit Friends of Adkins Arboretum, Ltd.
[Fig. 18(17)] Wye Island is a crooked 8 miles long. It is located south of Queenstown and east of Kent Island in the southwestern corner of Queen Anne County. The island is formed by the Eastern Bay to the west, the Wye River to the northwest, the Wye East River to the south, and Wye Narrows on the north and northeast.
Most of the island—2,515 of 2,800 acres—is managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest and Park Service. A 30-acre area called School House Woods contains giant hardwoods that began life some two and one-half centuries ago when the nation was still young. This stand of mature oaks, hickory, and black gum is a rare sight on the Eastern Shore. The remainder of the management area is mostly comprised of corn and soybean fields separated by hedgerows—a great combination of food and cover for wildlife.
Six miles of trails invite hikers, bikers, and horseback riders to explore. Some 30 miles of shoreline are perfect for poking about in small boats. Rewards for patient observers include the sight and sound of a tremendous variety of ducks, geese, herons, egrets, and nesting osprey. White-tailed deer, raccoons, foxes, muskrats, rabbits, and even the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel make occasional appearances. The early morning and evening hours are most productive for bird and wildlife observation. In spring, summer, and fall, the borders of fields and roadsides are dotted with wildflowers including tickseed sunflowers, (Bidens aristosa), smooth aster, (Aster laevis), and multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora). The tall spikes of the dramatic cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) grow in wet areas.
Participants in managed hunts in late fall and winter must obtain a permit or be chosen by lottery. The hunts include archery and muzzleloading for deer and limited fox chasing and coon hunting. Nonhunters should wear blaze orange during hunting season for safety. From the island’s banks, anglers catch rockfish, white perch, yellow perch, catfish, and other species that inhabit the brackish water. A Maryland tidewater fishing license is required.
Pets must be on leash. A small lodge is available for conferences. Visitors can obtain information at the hunter check-in station located on the right just after crossing the entrance bridge and from the bulletin board at Granary Creek Picnic Area, which is 1.2 miles past the entrance bridge.
Currently there are no boat launching Facilities at Wye Island NRMA, but county Facilities are nearby. Boaters should use extreme care in coming ashore on the island to avoid damage to the shoreline embankments. The best places to come ashore are the Granary Creek Picnic Area, at the group campsite on Dividing Creek, at Ferry Point Landing at Drum Point, and at Grapevine Avenue in Grapevine Cove. Only boats that can meet the 10-foot clearance limit at the Wye Island Bridge in Wye Narrows can circumnavigate the island.
Queen Anne’s one public beach is on the Chester River.
Conquest Beach. This beach on the lovely Chester River north of Centreville has two picnic areas with grills, bathhouses, wheelchair-accessible restrooms, a ball field, horseshoe pits, and a volleyball court. Reservations required. Phone (410) 758-0835 or (410) 778-4430.
Most of Queen Anne’s most sought-after restaurants are on Kent Island and at Kent Narrows on the east side of the Bay Bridge. Oysters, crabs, clams, rockfish, and other seafood is prepared expertly and the views are spectacular.
Anglers Restaurant. 3015 Kent Narrows Way South, Grasonville. This waterfront, casual restaurant features home-cooking. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (410) 827-6717.
Annie’s Paramount Steak and Seafood House. 500 Kent Narrows Way North, Grasonville. Award-winning restaurant, serving prime rib, steaks, and seafood. Take Exit 42 from US 50/301. Moderate. Phone (410) 827-7103.
Harris Crab House. 433 Kent Narrows Way North, Grasonville. Located off US 50/301, Exit 42, on the east side of Kent Narrows. Dining is casual, in the open air or inside, with a view of the boating activity at Kent Narrows. Sample the she-crab soup, crabcakes, shrimp, and other Chesapeake Bay seafood purchased straight from watermen who come to the dock. Access available by water. Moderate. Phone (410) 827-9500.
Fisherman’s Inn. Kent Narrows, Grasonville. Dine on fresh seafood or prime rib at this landmark restaurant of Kent Narrows since 1930. Award-winning crabcakes. Waterfront view. Open for lunch and dinner year-round. Moderate. Phone (410) 827-8807.
Hemingway’s Restaurant. Bay Bridge Marina, Stevensville. This restaurant with an outside deck claims the best view of the Chesapeake Bay. Seafood, steaks, and pasta are on the menu. A downstairs crabhouse is open seasonally. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (410) 643-2722.
Most inns and motels are located on or near Kent Island. However, for those who wish to stay in the countryside, there are other options.
Cole House Bed and Breakfast. Dudley Corners Road (MD 290), Crumpton. A restored Victorian home (circa 1860) with three charming bedrooms. Located on the Chester River, 8 miles east of Chestertown. Moderate to expensive. Phone (410) 928-5514.
Hillside Hotel. 2630 Centreville Road, Centreville. This modern hotel is located in the heart of historic Centreville and surrounded by excellent hunting opportunities. Moderate. Phone (410) 758-2270.
Chesapeake Motel. 107 Hissey Road, Grasonville. Easy access to US 50/301 at Exit 44A, 5 minutes east of Bay Bridge. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (410) 827-7272.
Comfort Inn-Kent Narrows. 3101 Main Street, Grasonville. Four-story waterfront hotel off US 50/301 east of Bay Bridge, Exit 42. Voted best hotel in county by Mid-Shore Reader’s Choice Business Awards. Walking distance from seafood restaurants, docks. Charters pick up at hotel. Moderate to expensive. Phone (800) 828-3361.
Kent Manor Inn. 500 Kent Manor Drive, Stevensville. Victorian furnishings, wide verandas, groomed flower gardens, and outstanding water vistas at this historic country inn. Tennis, bicycling, pier fishing, crabbing, boat launch, fine restaurant. Expensive. Phone (800) 820-4511.
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