Maryland ‘capitals’ offer visitors unique experiences
BALTIMORE – (March 4, 2009) This year is the 375th anniversary of the founding of Maryland. In the fall of 1633, English adventurers aboard two small ships, the Ark and the Dove, began a risky journey across the Atlantic. The ships eventually sailed up the Chesapeake Bay to an island in the Potomac River, which they named St. Clement’s Island. They arrived on March 25, 1634 – Maryland Day. Having established Maryland as a colony, the settlers created St. Mary’s City as the capital.
In the spirit of Maryland’s special birthday and capital-style celebrations, the Maryland Tourism Office wants you to know about a variety of ongoing attractions and destinations at “capitals” all across Maryland – places that you can discover yourself. And, they’re easily accessible: Every location in the state is within a three-hour drive from Baltimore. Many are a short distance from Washington, D.C.
Start with Annapolis, the capital of Maryland (since 1694 when it was called Anne Arundel Town), and for seven months (1783-1784), the capital of the United States. Annapolis has the nation’s largest concentration of 18th-century buildings still in use. This Colonial seaport town is also known as the sailing capital of the world. Appropriately, the U.S. Naval Academy, founded in 1845, is located here.
Annapolis was established in 1708 by virtue of a charter granted in the name of England’s Queen Anne. It’s where George Washington resigned from the Continental Army and where the Treaty of Paris – which ended the American Revolutionary War – was ratified. Take a stroll down the hill from the State House to City Dock, along brick-paved sidewalks. You’ll find pubs, restaurants, specialty shops and galleries in a town that’s brimming with maritime flavor.
If you were to sail northeast from Annapolis, nearly all the way up the Chesapeake Bay, you’d get to Havre de Grace in Harford County – the decoy capital of the world. Situated on the banks of the Susquehanna River, downtown Havre de Grace was recently designated as a Maryland arts and entertainment (A&E) district. You’ll discover a trove of museums and art galleries, historical attractions, antiques shops and local eateries featuring fresh seafood.
The Havre de Grace Decoy Museum has an expansive collection of waterfowl art created by master carvers and craftsmen from the Upper Chesapeake Bay region. And, the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum and Concord Point Lighthouse are easily accessible from a boardwalk-style promenade on the waterfront.
Return south to Baltimore – birthplace of the National Anthem – where you’ll find one end of the Star-Spangled Banner Trail, the 100-mile route that starts in the Southern Maryland town of Solomons. The trail depicts the path of British forces during the War of 1812 and the defensive stands in which American troops engaged the invaders. Fort McHenry in Baltimore is where the Americans withstood heavy British bombardments, witnessed by Francis Scott Key who was inspired to write the poem that became the National Anthem.
Baltimore is also the NAACP’s capital – its headquarters. As befits the distinction of hosting the nation’s largest and oldest civil-rights organization, Maryland is home to many African-American heritage sites. In Baltimore, they include: The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture and the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center.
Surrounding Baltimore is Baltimore County. The northern section of the county is a haven for Thoroughbred horse farms – Maryland’s Thoroughbred-horse capital. You’ll see Thorougbreds running at Pimlico in Baltimore City during the spring, but you’ll see horses in Baltimore County all-year round.
Drive west to Howard County. Ellicott City is where you’ll find the oldest surviving railroad station in the nation. Here, in 1830, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad installed the first 13 miles of commercial track in the U.S. The station is now a museum that supports the town’s distinction as one of the state’s railroading capitals.
Continue going west and you’ll get to New Market, Maryland’s antiques capital. During the late 1700s, New Market was a significant hub of commerce on the Historic National Road – the “Gateway to the West” – which went through Cumberland and the Allegheny Mountains.
Just minutes from New Market is Frederick. You’ve now arrived to a region immersed in the history of the Civil War. If there were a capital for Civil War heritage, this would be it. Frederick County was the location of the Battle of South Mountain and the Battle of Monocacy. The confrontation at Monocacy also became known as “The Battle That Saved Washington.”
Both Union and Confederate troops occupied Frederick’s towns during the days leading up to devastating battles at nearby Antietam and Gettysburg. Follow the driving tours along the Maryland Civil War Trails to become more familiar with this pivotal era in American history.
Antietam National Battlefield, by Sharpsburg in Washington County, is the site of the deadliest one-day battle in American history. Additional Civil War locations are in and around Hagerstown and other parts of Washington County. Locals call their county, situated at the border between the North and the South, the “Crossroads of the Civil War.”
Boonsboro, also in Washington County, is where the first monument to honor George Washington was built – the town’s residents assembled on July 4, 1827, to erect a stone tower in tribute of the first president. As you’ve probably surmised, Washington County is one of Maryland’s 19th-century history capitals.
Cumberland, about 30 minutes west of Hagerstown, is in “Mountain Maryland” country, Allegany County – a region that has emerged as an arts capital. In addition to arts and entertainment districts in Cumberland and Frostburg, the region is a mecca for artists and arts activities.
Farther west, toward the end of the state, is Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County. Here, you’ll find Maryland’s capital for year-round outdoors sports. Boating, kayaking, hiking, fishing, golf, skiing, snowboarding are all plentiful in this part of the state – it just depends on the time of the year you visit. In this season, you could even try ice fishing.
Now, head back east across "Mountain Maryland" and swing southeast before you get to Frederick. You’ll be in Montgomery County, just beyond the Washington, D.C., line. Bethesda, Rockville and Silver Spring are major destinations in the county, where you’ll find plenty of arts and entertainment attractions, international dining choices and abundant shopping.
Montgomery County is also home to Brookeville, which became the nation’s capital for a day during the War of 1812. President James Madison sought refuge here on the night of August 26, 1814, in the aftermath of the Battle of Bladensburg – a major conflict during the war.
From Montgomery County, go south around the border of Washington, D.C., into Prince George’s County – Maryland’s aviation history capital. The country’s first unmanned balloon ascent occurred in Bladensburg in 1784. The College Park Airport, opened in 1909, is the world’s oldest continuously operating airport. An aviation museum is also here. And, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is in Greenbelt.
Continue south toward Charles County in Southern Maryland. Charles County is the Blue Heron Capital – it has the largest Blue Heron Rookery on the East Coast, located in Nanjemoy.Below Charles County is St. Mary’s County. Here are Maryland’s roots. Historic St. Mary’s City is the site of the fourth permanent settlement in the New World and, as mentioned earlier, Maryland’s first capital, established in 1634. Historic St. Mary’s City, according to the National Park Service, is the best-preserved example of a 17th-century English town in North America.
Circle back up to Annapolis, along the west bank of the Chesapeake Bay. If you travel by boat, Rock Hall is almost directly across the Bay on the Eastern Shore. This Kent County fishing town with more than a dozen marinas is the rockfish capital. It’s known for hosting an annual rockfish tournament. Next to crabs, rockfish are Maryland’s most prized seafood.
Kent County also has Chestertown, the red-brick sidewalk capital. A thriving Colonial port town, Chestertown is home to Washington College, founded in 1782. It’s also Maryland’s tea capital. A Memorial Day weekend re-enactment of the Chestertown Tea Party, which occurred May 23, 1774, – five months after the one in Boston – is an annual event.
Galena, another Kent County town, is the dogwood capital. In the spring – when the town hosts its annual Dogwood Festival – you’ll see dogwood trees with pink and white blossoms lining the streets of an area that boasts an assortment of antiques stores and eateries. Kent also includes Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge – home to 234 species of birds – making it one of the state’s bird capitals.
Talbot County, south of Kent, has three prominent towns – Easton, Oxford and St. Michaels – that are collectively called “the Hamptons of the Chesapeake Bay.” Not exactly the name of a capital, but it’s close. (Actually, Easton is the region’s Colonial capital.) The three towns are scenic, upscale getaway destinations that have culinary, cultural and historical appeal. The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum with its lighthouse is in St. Michaels, a place that many also consider to be the romantic getaway capital.
South from Talbot is Dorchester County, which calls itself “the heart of Chesapeake Country” and Maryland’s bald eagle capital. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, 12 miles from Cambridge, includes more than 27,000 acres of marshland. It’s a haven for migrating duck and geese. The Refuge also hosts the largest breeding population of bald eagles on the East Coast, north of Florida.
From Dorchester, follow the Bay’s coastline into Somerset County. Crisfield, founded in 1666 as Annemessex and incorporated as Crisfield in 1872, was the nation’s leading oyster-producing town for many years. It became known as the Seafood Capital of the World. Maryland’s only offshore island, Smith Island, is a 12-mile boat-ride west of Crisfield. The island has about 350 residents. It’s also the state’s dessert capital. Smith Island cake – a tasty dessert usually baked with eight to 12 layers – received this legislative designation in spring 2008.
Back to the mainland, continue east around the Maryland portion of the Delmarva peninsula into Worcester County. Berlin, a town with 47 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the state’s movie capitals. Runaway Bride and Tuck Everlasting were filmed here.
Ocean City, Maryland’s marquee seaside resort, is just a short drive away. In addition to its prominence as a family-fun destination and its reputation as the white marlin capital, Ocean City and the surrounding area is the state’s golf capital. Golfers have dozens of courses to choose from.
Worcester is among the state’s top choices for outdoor recreation. The county has numerous options for hiking, biking, camping, fishing and sailing. It’s also another bird-watching capital in Maryland. More than 350 species of resident and migratory birds have been recorded here, according to the county’s tourism office.
Assateague Island is a 37-mile-long barrier island near Berlin with two parks – Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park. In addition to its thriving bird population, the island is Maryland’s wild pony capital. Wild horses have been roaming Assateague’s beaches since the 17th century.
The next county over from coastal Worcester is Wicomico. Salisbury – sometimes referred to as the “crossroads of Delmarva” – is where you’ll find The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Salisbury University. This makes Salisbury the wildfowl carving capital. The museum claims to have “the most comprehensive collection of wildfowl carving in the world.” From Salisbury, head northeast to Caroline County, to Adkins Arboretum – a 400-acre garden and preserve where you’ll discover 600 species of plants native to the Delmarva Peninsula. Adkins also offers guided walks, special programs, art exhibitions and plant sales. It’s one of Maryland’s ecological-showcase capitals.
From Caroline, continue north – back through Kent County – and you’ll be in Cecil County. You’ve now reached the upper banks of the Chesapeake, the top of the Eastern Shore. Captain John Smith came here 400 years ago during his exploration of the Bay.
A one-mile trail in Elk Neck State Park takes you to the Turkey Point Lighthouse, built in 1833. You can stand next to the lighthouse, atop a 100-ft. high bluff, and get a view of five rivers – the Northeast, Elk, Bohemia, Sassafras and Susquehanna – that converge into the Chesapeake Bay. You’re at one of the state’s lighthouse capitals. When the Turkey Point Lighthouse was in operation, its beacon was visible for 13 miles. The light source was also the highest of the 74 lighthouses on the Bay.
Cross the Chesapeake Bay here and you’ll return to Harford County. Or, take a boat and sail south back to Annapolis, where you began this trip through Maryland’s capitals.