Featured Tour

Watermen in the Middle Bay (Driving Tour)

Most Chesapeake Bay watermen work year-round, modifying their equipment to follow the seasons. In summer they may set hundreds of crab pots, every day checking, baiting and resetting them. In winter, they’ll install patent tongs for oystering. In fall and spring they may go after eels or finfish.

Perhaps no image of the Chesapeake Bay is more enduring than that of a waterman heading into the sunrise, the sharp bow of his bright white workboat slicing the glimmering water, his radio blaring as he listens to his friends discuss the day’s work ahead. Living in small, tightly knit waterfront communities, these men (and a few women) help define the very essence of the Chesapeake. A Bay without watermen would be diminished, a place without a part of its soul.

This tour takes visitors to three sites where they can learn about oyster dredgers and the oystering industry, visit the 1860s home of a buyboat captain, and learn about a waterman’s neighborhood that thrived until the 1960s.

Total mileage:  73.5 (one way)
Total travel time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
(The route includes a toll at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge)

Stop 1: The Home of the Buyboat Captain

Captain Avery Museum

1418 East West Shady Side Road
Shady Side, MD 20764

Buyboats were named for their purpose. Their captains met the tongers on the water, bought their oysters and then delivered them to the city markets. Captain Salem Avery was a buyboat captain in the heydey of Chesapeake oystering. He married Lucretia Weedon and bought a piece of land along the West River, where in the early 1860s he built the house that is home to this museum. Today, you can stand on the broad swath of lawn facing the river and the Bay beyond and imagine the view in Captain Avery’s time, when scores of skipjacks and bugeyes worked the oyster beds. Then walk the halls and rooms where he and his wife raised their family, now furnished in the period.

The Museum includes a collection of boats and watermen's equipment, a diorama depicting the peninsula during the 1860's, and exhibits on the history of watermen, as well as trade and transportation, on the Chesapeake. Take a docent led tour to learn more about the rich history of the Chesapeake and Anne Arundel County.

Stop 2: A Watermen's Neighborhood

Annapolis Maritime Museum

Annapolis Maritime Museum
Annapolis, MD 21403

Peelers are crabs that are shedding their shells in order to grow. Right after shedding they’re called soft-shells, and they are a Bay delicacy. Many watermen keep peeler floats or sluffing tanks to hold the peelers until they shed, so they can be delivered to market at the exactly right time. Captain Herbie Sadler, a waterman from the Eastport neighborhood of Annapolis, was known for letting local kids dip their hands into the tanks to feel the cottony soft backs of the soft-crabs he kept at his shop, Sadler’s Seafood. His story is one of those you will find at this museum, which is located in the former McNasby Oyster Company building, the last remaining oyster-packing plant in Annapolis. Walking the cool, damp hallways of the packing house, you can almost hear the voices of the men and women ringing from the past when the place was bustling with business, boats lined up out front offloading their catch.

The Annapolis Maritime Museum is dedicated to preserving and commemorating the maritime heritage of Annapolis and the neighboring waters of the Chesapeake Bay. The museum features exhibits celebrating the area's unique maritime heritage. Concerts, seminars, and community events are held in the new assembly hall and the adjacent waterfront park. Museum piers provide Bay access for crabbing and fishing, and a small beach is a great place to launch your own canoe or kayak for a self-guided tour.

Stop 3: The Oyster Dredger’s Tale

Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (image courtesy Michael Land)
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
St. Michaels, MD 21663

No story of Chesapeake watermen would be complete without several chapters dedicated to oysters. At one time so abundant that their enormous reefs were noted on charts as threats to navigation, Bay oysters were known as a delicacy in the finest of restaurants across the country. They were the economic foundation for Bay watermen in the 1800s and through the mid 1900s. Hundreds of skipjacks, bugeyes and log canoes sailed the Bay in search of the oyster.

The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum examines the oystering story using many of those boats. One of them, the skipjack Rosie Parks, still sails from the museum on the Miles River. Another, the E.C. Collier, is the center of an exhibit that includes the hand tongs and dredges that provoked the fierce Oyster Wars on the Bay. Standing on the deck of the Rosie Parks, hefting a massive pair of oyster tongs, you can feel exactly just how hard these men worked to harvest what was known as Chesapeake Gold.

The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is one of the premier museums focusing on the history and traditions of the Chesapeake Bay. Located on 18 acres fronting the Miles River, the complex houses examples of historic bay working boats, numerous exhibits, guns, decoys, ship models and the 1879 Hooper Strait Lighthouse. An array of interactive programs, workshops and lectures are offered throughout the year.

Kate Marks Hardy

Kate is a visual information specialist at the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay office in Annapolis.

May 19, 2015

Main image: Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
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