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Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Chesapeake Bay

By Deane Winegar

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Chesapeake Bay > The Eastern Shore: Maryland > Wicomico County

Wicomico County

Those who are looking not for plush resorts or big-city excitement but for outdoor sports and natural beauty have come to the right place in Wicomico County. The many waterfowl that winter here are depicted in paintings by the famous and the not-so-famous. They’ve been photographed by professionals and amateurs. They’ve been sought by hunters and their well-trained retrievers. And their images have been exquisitely carved into wood decoys by some of the world’s best.

There are thousands of acres of woods and wetlands where people may hike, fish, crab, hunt, or launch a canoe or motorboat. Two state wildlife management areas (Ellis Bay and Nanticoke) and the Wicomico State Demonstration Forest provide habitat for wildlife and trails for those who would like to observe or hunt wildlife or to study nature. An outing can be as simple and inexpensive as buying a couple of chicken necks and some string at a food market and stopping at a county bridge to catch some crabs for dinner.

The county and the river and creek that flow through the heart of it and along the southeastern border take their name from a local Indian tribe. Although Wicomico County does not touch the Chesapeake Bay, it does sneak a western toe into Tangier Sound. The Nanticoke River—an important bay tributary—comprises the county’s entire western border.

The 1,207 heavily wooded acres of the Wicomico State Demonstration Forest (410-543-1950) are located between US 50 and MD 353, 10 miles east of Salisbury. The area is intersected by Sixty Foot Road, which runs between those two highways. The headquarters is located on this road about 1.8 miles south of MD 353, on the left. A network of unmarked trails and roads provide access for hiking and seasonal hunting.

Wicomico County is rich in city and municipal parks. Several of the 50 parks have small beaches, access to rivers and creeks, fishing, picnicking, and nature walks. A brochure is available. Camping is available at Roaring Point Campground (410-873-2553) off MD 349 at Nanticoke, just a couple of miles before the highway ends at Wicomico County’s southern tip at Waterview. A small beach and a boat landing are nearby.

Shopping, antiquing, lodging, and gourmet restaurants are available at Salisbury, the county seat. But those who explore the back roads will find quiet harbors where watermen pile crab pots high, old boats creak in the afternoon sun, and dragonflies flit among the grasses. Here, the traveler can discover little mom-and-pop seafood restaurants, or a riverbank where the waters hold tasty catfish and a forked stick will support a cane pole for catching them. Sometimes, all it takes to find something interesting is just getting off the main drag. On MD 54, about 3 miles east of US 50 at Mardela Springs, is the Mason-Dixon Marker, the first stone boundary marker placed in 1768 that later came to delineate the line between the North and the South before the Civil War. The Mason-Dixon Line takes its name from its surveyors, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. The old, barely readable marker is under a shelter at the southwestern corner of Delaware.

Two of Wicomico’s little towns—Whitehaven and Quantico—are on the National Register of Historic Places. Quantico is located on MD 347, about 5.5 miles west of its connection with US 50 near Hebron Springs.

A Tourist Information Center (410-548-4914) is located at Leonard’s Mill Park on US 13, 4 miles north of downtown Salisbury and 2 miles south of the Delaware border. The center is open daily, year-round, excluding major holidays. Near the tourist center, you can take MD 675 north off US 13 to Delmar, a town that sits in both Maryland and Delaware. State Street, which goes east/west through the center of town, runs straight as an arrow along an old railroad bed. One lane of traffic on State Street is in Delaware, the other in Maryland.

Salisbury

[Fig. 21] At the junction of two major Eastern Shore highways—US 13 and US 50—in central Wicomico County is Salisbury, the county seat and the largest town on the Eastern Shore. The Salisbury-Ocean City Regional Airport is just east of town.

The Wicomico River flows through the western side of town on its way to Tangier Sound and the Chesapeake Bay. Boats of many descriptions moor at the busy Port of Salisbury.

The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art (410-742-4988), housed in a modernistic building at 909 South Schumaker Drive, has on display the most comprehensive collection of wildfowl carvings in the world. The museum is named for Lem and Steve Ward of Crisfield, known among decoy carvers and collectors for raising their craft of making working decoys to a fine art. In the museum shop, visitors can buy original art, decoys, and wonderful books on natural history, butterflies, Eastern Shore art, and so on.

The short Marsh Walk off the museum parking lot provides views of a small freshwater lake with ducks and geese. Markers identify such wetland plants as arrow arum (Peltandra virginica) and wild rice (Zizania aquatica). You could hide a basketball team in the wild rice, which sends its grasslike fronds from the deep mud of the shallows up to 9 feet in the air. Call for the current calendar of events. The museum is open daily, year-round, except major holidays.

The Salisbury Zoo (office 410-548-3188, tours 410-546-3440) at 755 South Park Drive is one of North America’s best small zoos. It has received the U.S. Humane Society’s top rating for its natural habitats that house some 500 specimens of wildlife indigenous to North, Central, and South America. A numbered map leads visitors past an herb garden and tropical birds to Morgan Visitor’s Center. Past the visitor’s center are exhibits that contain macaws, sloths, tamarins, bobcats, coatis, and ocelots. An extensive collection of waterfowl, ducks of North and South America, and birds of prey are also along the walking path. Children love to watch exuberant river otters and athletic spider monkeys. The entrance on Memorial Drive is recommended for first-time visitors so they can follow the map in sequence. The zoo is free and opens at 8 a.m. daily, year-round, except Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Poplar Hill Mansion (410-749-1776) at 117 Elizabeth Street is centrally located in the Newtown Historic District of Salisbury and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Work began on the mansion in 1799. Built in the Federal style, the frame building has three stories and a steeply pitched roof. The mansion is a survivor. It made it through raging fires that destroyed most of the old buildings around it in 1860 and again in 1886 to become what is perhaps the oldest building in town. The mansion is open some Sundays, by appointment, and for special events such as a Christmas open house. The other spacious homes of the Newtown district are mostly Victorian, constructed after the fires and lovingly restored in the 1970s.

Pemberton Historical Park (410-548-4870) on Pemberton Drive in western Salisbury is the location of Pemberton Hall, a plantation home built in 1741. On Sunday afternoons from May through September, visitors can tour the restored building, see meat curing and woodworking demonstrations, watch a blacksmith at work, and examine vegetable and herb gardens typical of Colonial times. The 234-acre park also offers environmental education, nature study, and special events. Six loops of quiet hiking paths totaling 4.5 miles crisscross tidal and freshwater wetlands, upland pine forests, hardwood forests, and meadows, with views of the Wicomico River. A trail guide is available at the contact station beside the parking lot.

Also part of the park tour is the Heritage Centre Museum (410-860-0447). Both county history and Eastern Shore history are depicted in exhibits by the Wicomico Historical Society. Even the museum building—which resembles an eighteenth century tobacco barn—is part of the show.

Night life is available in Salisbury some weekends at the Shorebird Lounge (410-546-4400) in the Ramada Inn at South Salisbury Boulevard. Big-name entertainers, all-star wrestling, rodeos, and even the Harlem Globetrotters attract crowds from miles around to events at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center (410-548-4900) on Civic Avenue in Salisbury. Tickets might be easier to come by here than they would for the same act in a larger city or resort area.

Salisbury has its own Class A minor league baseball team, the Delmarva Shorebirds, an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. Call (410) 219-3112 for a schedule of home games at Purdue Stadium just east of town. If there’s no baseball, youngsters will find plenty to occupy them in the video arcade at the Centre at Salisbury on US 13 north of downtown. On Wednesdays, join local crowds and the Backfin Banjo Band for sing-a-longs at the Red Roost (451-546-5443 or 800-953-5443) in Whitehaven, where no one takes their musical talent—or lack of it—too seriously.

Whitehaven

[Fig. 21] The history of Whitehaven on the lower Wicomico River is representative of many waterside towns of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Established in the eighteenth century, the town was one of the Chesapeake Bay’s original tobacco ports. In the nineteenth century, shipbuilding and canning brought prosperity. But with the dwindling bay resources and the use of rails instead of ships to haul goods, Whitehaven went into decline. Also, the river was dredged to allow ships to pass by it and reach Salisbury, and Whitehaven was all but forgotten by the midtwentieth century.

Today, however, tourism and an interest in preserving history are bringing the little town back to life. Of the 22 buildings in town, only two were constructed in the twentieth century. Restoration has begun on the old structures and the entire village has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A small ferry where ferries have operated for some 300 years still takes people, bicycles, and cars for free across the Wicomico River between the village of Whitehaven and Somerset County.

Ellis Bay Wildlife Management Area

[Fig. 21(2)] Those with a kayak or canoe strapped to the top of their car are well equipped for Ellis Bay Wildlife Management Area. These crafts provide the perfect means for prowling the numerous waterways unobtrusively and getting close to ducks, geese, egrets, herons, osprey, and even bald eagles without alarming them. The 3,000 acres of these Chesapeake Bay marshes and forested wetlands that were brought under state protections in 1957 also provide habitat for white-tailed deer, squirrels, woodcock, and cottontail rabbits.One small boat landing in the area and several others nearby make access easy for those who want to catch white perch, rockfish, and crabs. Trappers may apply for yearly leases. Biting insects make repellent necessary spring through fall.

Restaurants of Wicomico County

Most of Wicomico’s restaurants are in the Salisbury area. Here are a few places that are popular with local people.

Crab World. 507 West Salisbury Parkway (US 50), Salisbury. Crack crab claws on tables covered in brown paper in this casual seafood restaurant. Menu items include top neck and cherrystone clams, steamed oysters, steamed crabs, soft crabs, crab cakes, baked lobster, fried scallops, and more. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (410) 742-2028.

Dayton’s. 909 Snow Hill Road. Specials include traditional Eastern Shore cuisine. Known for superb food and service. Inexpensive. Phone (410) 548-2272.

Fratelli’s. 1306 South Salisbury Boulevard, Salisbury. Daily specials in addition to Italian fare. Pasta made fresh daily. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (410) 341-0807.

Legend’s. 213 West Main Street, City Center, Salisbury. Specialties include seafood, lamb, and steaks. Voted best dining on the Eastern Shore. Moderate. Phone (410) 749-7717.

The Red Roost. Clara Road, Whitehaven. The informal dining room in an expanded, refurbished chicken house gives this restaurant a reputation as one of the most unique eating establishments on the Eastern Shore. In addition to regular menu items, steamed crabs, barbecue ribs, steamed shrimp, and snow crab are on the all-you-can-eat menu. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (451) 546-5443 or (800) 953-5443.

Waterman’s Cove. 925 Snow Hill Road, Salisbury. Seafood specialties served daily. A favorite among locals. Moderate. Phone (410) 546-1400.

Lodging in Wicomico County

Most Wicomico County lodging Facilities are in the Salisbury area. Here is a sampling of places to stay. Many more hotels and motels lie east of Salisbury in Ocean City (Worcester County), on the Atlantic seaboard.

Best Western Salisbury Plaza. 1735 North Salisbury Boulevard, Salisbury. Hospitality suite, swimming pool. Moderate. Phone (410) 546-1300 or (800) 636-7554.

Howard Johnson. 2625 North Salisbury Boulevard, Salisbury. Swimming pool, conference Facilities, restaurant. Moderate. Phone (410) 742-7194 or (800) 446-4656.

Sleep Inn. US 50 east at Autumn Grove Road, Salisbury. Restaurant, swimming pool. Moderate. Phone (410) 572-5516 or (800) 627-5337.

Whitehaven Bed & Breakfast. 23844-48 River Street, Whitehaven. Five Victorian rooms on two historic properties, the Charles Leatherbury House (circa 1886) and the Otis Lloyd House (1850s). All rooms have views of the Wicomico River and marsh. Tour the river in a classic Chesapeake Bay workboat. Moderate. Phone (410) 873-3294 or (888) 205-5921. E-mail [email protected].

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