Calvert County’s Treasure Trove of Bayside Memories

 

Within the walls of the Bayside History Museum in the quaint little town of North Beach, you’ll find a wealth of Calvert County history, genealogy, and artifacts dating back to the War of 1812. Whether you are a history aficionado, enjoy interesting exhibitions, or in search of information on your Calvert County ancestors, this is where you want to go.

It is the fascinating story of the Colorado railroad magnates – who dreamed big when developing what is now the little resort town of Chesapeake Beach – that drew me to the interesting treasures contained in the Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum. Here, you will learn how the development of the Chesapeake Beach Railway Co. was integral in the purchase and development of Chesapeake Beach.

North Beach and Chesapeake Beach are the only incorporated towns in Calvert County. Their long, rich, and intertwining histories began in 1894 with the development of the Chesapeake Beach Railway.

Due to their differing hours of operation, my suggestion is to visit the Bayside History Museum in the morning, enjoy some lunch in the bayside town of North Beach, and then tour the Chesapeake Railway Museum in the afternoon. Check their websites first for any changes and special events.

The museums are an easy drive from D.C. and Baltimore and well worth the trip.

The Bayside History Museum

More than two hundred years of everything Calvert County

The seeds of the current museum were sown in 2001 when Grace Mary Brady, then member of the North Beach Historic Preservation Commission, began working with the County Tourism Office to create exhibits for Calvert County’s 350th Anniversary Celebration. During this time, she amassed a large amount of North Beach and County memorabilia. Then-Mayor Mark Frazer and the Town Council acquired the historic “Charlie Mead” House and the Museum advanced from dream to reality, opening its doors in that location on October 30, 2004. Nine years later the Bayside History Museum opened at its current location, in the renovated former site of the first fire department in Calvert County.

In its mission statement, the Bayside History Museum outlines its main purpose as “… providing all citizens with an understanding of the role the Chesapeake Bay environment had in shaping the cultures of the bayside communities from Fairhaven to Plum Point, from prehistoric times to the present.”  And it certainly lives up to it!

Ever-expanding exhibitions tell hundreds of years of Calvert County history

Once we entered the building, we were greeted by Ms. Brady, now president of the museum and around whom all exhibitions and genealogical work revolves. As a lifetime resident, her passion for Calvert County history is palpable. Even before we entered the elevator to the second floor where the exhibits are located, Grace had begun to give us some of more than forty-five minutes of amazing detail.

Beginning with the Camp Theodore Roosevelt exhibit, she explains its enormous significance. Originally named after presidential advisor Archibald Butt, it was then changed to honor President Roosevelt following Butt’s death on the Titanic. Located about three miles south of Chesapeake Beach, it was the site of the first permanent Boy Scout camp in the country, operating from 1914 to 1967. The exhibit includes a variety of memorabilia, including what campers participated in during the 1930s and 40s, and even a black and white video taken by National Geographic in 1932, titled A Day at Camp Roosevelt.

The Bayside History Museum regularly hires local youths attending high school or college, employing six at a time to assist in all aspects integral to running the museum. One young man who is a Lego Master, is currently working on a display of the War of 1812 – all done with Legos! The detail of injured soldiers, corn fields, cannons, and horses is incredible. And to his credit, these reproductions are built through his skill and imagination.

Other exhibits include last year’s 400th anniversary of Mayflower, including a poster showing the names of those who made it ashore.

The Amusement Park exhibit at Chesapeake Beach features an amazing replica of the merry-go-round, replete with exact reproductions of the Dentzel-carved carousel animals. A Day at the Beach exhibit features paleontology, archeology, bathing beauties, reproductions of restaurants, boating, fishing and gambling. You will find fossils from local beaches, learn about the importance of the War of 1812 in the area, read all about Captain John Smith’s exploration of the Chesapeake Bay and see photographs and memorabilia documenting the region’s people and places. Another exhibit illustrates the importance of the Black community to the many businesses in the Beaches. These mentioned are still just a few of the many exhibits that will take you back in time to learn about the fascinating and diverse history of Calvert County. Touring the museum with Grace added a depth of information and personal history you would not have without her. I suggest you call ahead to see if she is available to give you a personal group tour.

Equally important, yet not visible, is the museum’s wealth of records dating back hundreds of years. The Bayside History Museum has a volunteer genealogist on staff for anyone wanting to research their family history in Calvert County. The record-keeping also includes muster rolls and other records of service of Maryland troops in the American Revolution of 1775 to 1783. You can find links to the muster rolls on their website.

 

The Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum

A Trip Back to a Golden Era

It’s a very short ride from the town entrance to the museum on Mears Avenue, where it sits in such incongruity with all the surrounding modern structures. This quaint, nearly 125-year-old train station immediately transitions you to a much simpler time, before cars filled the streets. Erected in 1898 for the Chesapeake Beach Railway Co., it is the sole remaining structure on the old railway line and was transitioned into a marvelous museum in 1979.

As we walked onto the front porch, there was something soothing about the creaking of the boards, the squeak of the door hinges, and the comforting fragrance of aged wood inside. Being greeted by Mike Sweeney, President of Friends of the Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum, was the icing on the cake!

Dressed reminiscently like a casual conductor, his enthusiasm for all things railroad was infectious. He graciously maneuvered us around and explained the significance of everything featured. He had us mesmerized by his personal stories of his own past operating trains.

The main station parlor is filled with various exhibits, each one emphasizing one facet of the Chesapeake Beach Railway’s development, from conception to conclusion. Currently, they include: The Founders & Vision – where you will get to know Otto Mears and those integral in the design, financing, and development of their initially grandiose concept in the late 1890s; The Journey – where you can read all about the related construction, rolling stock of trains, the various stations along the Chesapeake Beach to Washington, D.C. line, and the steamboats that made daily trips from Baltimore; The Destination – where you will learn about the resort the railroad entrepreneurs created, from its beginning in 1900 through its decades-long evolution; The Stories – where you will read first person accounts of those who experienced Chesapeake Beach through the years; and, because it is a beach town after all – there is a seasonal, rotating exhibit called “A Century of Swimsuits,”  illustrating the many changes in swimwear through the last hundred years. There is also a wealth of photographs, archival materials, and three-dimensional objects housed in the museum.

Renovations for an even better experience

In the past several months, the museum has been undergoing a complete renovation, with a new, permanent exhibit and the old depot getting a thorough scrubbing, paint, and refinished wood floors.

As we were winding up our amazing tour inside, we were greeted by museum Collections Manager and Registrar, Kris DeGrace, who supplied even more information about the facelift and showed us around outside.

You won’t want to miss taking a walk around the depot. It’s so realistic that you’ll be searching for your bags to be ready on the platform when the steam locomotive pulls in! At the right, rear of the building sits “The Dolores,” one of 32 passenger cars ordered by Otto Mears in 1898. Considered a parlor car, the Dolores provided superior comfort and amenities compared to a standard coach car. Scrapped in 1935, it was stripped of original fittings, cut in half in 1959, and used as storage space. Finally, in 1979, Dolores was brought home, where volunteers immediately began work on its restoration.

This railroad station is the original eastern terminus of the Chesapeake Beach Railway.  Trains and passengers began arriving from Seat Pleasant and the District of Columbia in 1899, with the official grand opening of the Chesapeake Beach Resort in June of 1900. The last train sadly left the station on April 15, 1935. Though short lived, it had a profound effect on the town’s development.

You’ll want to explore the new website and learn all about the rich story of the founding of the railway, the amusement park, and the Town of Chesapeake Beach. It will also inform you of events and opportunities the Friends are planning, as well as other attractions in the Chesapeake Beach area. One of the attractions you should be sure to check out is the Chesapeake Beach Railway Trail, which spans nearly two miles of paved and boardwalk bike- and wheelchair-accessible views of scenic Fishing Creek.

Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum

Learn about an early Chesapeake resort town and the railroad that brought people to it. Exhibits include photographs of trains and the town, a model train, a diorama of the resort, and a surviving kangaroo from a carousel.

Bayside History Museum

Located in Calvert County, Maryland, the Bayside History Museum features exhibits and programs on the role the Chesapeake Bay environment had in shaping the cultures of the bayside communities.

Debbie Brown Driscoll

Debbie Brown Driscoll is a freelance writer and retired PR consultant. She grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, but has called Annapolis, Maryland home for more than 20 years. Her passion is visiting and writing about the history and happenings in the Chesapeake Bay area.

April 30, 2022

Main image: All photos by Debra Driscoll
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