This is the third and final part of my series: The Eastern Shore of Maryland – Tilghman Island.
Back in the 70’s and 80’s when my parents owned a small vacation home on Tilghman Island, Maryland we spent a lot of time there. It was where weathermen made their living crabbing and fishing. Back then the island was not a tourist destination. It was a summer place for a handful of Baltimore natives who enjoyed the peace and quiet of the island. Our vacation house wasn’t fancy. We enjoyed it because of the peaceful surroundings, the smell of salt air and steamed crabs.
The locals were fisherman, whether defined as one who went for crabs, fish or oysters. Many crabbed during the summer season and oystered in the winter. Most of the residents of Tilghman Island were locals whose families lived there for generations. Each spring when we went down for the first time we knew if the winter season was profitable by the new vehicles parked in the yards.
Tilghman Island is 2.7 miles long and 2 miles at the widest part. That is what it says when you look it up, but I know it’s not that size now. The bay has washed away miles and miles of shoreline along the Chesapeake Bay side of the island. Retaining walls were put up too late to stop a lot damage. We used to swim at a little beach on the bay near the end of the island, that beach no longer exists. It is sad in that it shows what the forces of nature can do. People think that the Chesapeake Bay is calm body of water. If you watch the waves crash against those retaining walls you get a good understanding of her power. The watermen of the Chesapeake Bay have great respect for the water.
To get to Tilghman Island from St. Michaels you take route 33, you can’t miss it, and it is the only road out of town! Then drive about 30 minutes you will come to an old fashioned draw bridge over Knapps Narrows. Years ago once you crossed over onto the island on your right was a combo pool hall/restaurant/gas station/hangout where the locals enjoyed meals and relaxation on weekends. The food was served family style and it was large portions that were basic home-style food at reasonable prices. That was pretty much the social life that existed on Tilghman Island.
Then a writer did a piece about Tilghman Island and the word spread and the tourists flocked there. The old pool hall/restaurant combo became a high end restaurant where I introduced my husband to crab cakes one summer and raw oysters on the half shell the following winter. There are a handful of restaurants to choose from, check out the list here.
Tilghman still has watermen, although their numbers are decreased. They can’t make a living doing that type of work now that the bay doesn’t produce like it used to. Over-crabbing and pollution helped lead to the decline. The locals either moved away or they had to find other ways to make a living. Some opened their homes as B&B’s or vacation rentals, antiques shops appeared, new restaurants came in and modern accommodations sprung up near the water. Crabbing and fishing excursions are still very popular with tourists.
One of the old timers is Harrisons Chesapeake House; it has been around many years. It’s not a fancy place but it is clean and reasonable. They run fishing excursions as well as duck hunting trips. Their restaurant attracts locals and visitors alike. It’s a good place to hang out, drink beer and eat Maryland steamed blue crabs. The rooms are not fancy, but they are not over-priced either.
There are some modern facilities, with excellent bay views that have opened. Check accommodations for more detailed information on the island rooms. They run from modern hotels rooms with all the amenities to private rentals with lots of old southern charm. There is something for everyone and every price range.
There is a cottage rental that I came across and I wanted more information, as it is pet friendly. I e-mailed the owners, Kelly and Jerry Cox. It is called “Captain’s Watch”. It is a cute 2 bedroom, 1 bath cottage with everything you need for a weekend or a week. They have a dock right on Knapps Narrows. You can sit on the dock and catch your own crabs or fish for dinner as you watch the boats go by! Time moves very slowly on Tilghman, it’s a place to relax and unwind and you can do that at Captain’s Watch. The property has been in Kelly’s family since the 40’s. Her parents rented it back in the 70’s and now Kelly is following tradition. Check their website for more information on the Captain’s Watch cottage as well as Dockside Express Cruises and Tours, which they own and operate.
Our little house was at the end of Tilghman Island, in a section called Fairbanks. At the end of the road was, and still is, the pier where crabbers docked daily. The only crabbers there now are the weekend tourists using chicken necks, string and dip nets. The working crabbers went out at 3 am and were back in with bushel after bushel of blue crabs by 10 or 11 am. The crabs then were taken to Baltimore, Washington, DC and even New York. We always bought a bushel of blue crabs directly from the dock. My mother steamed them, had the patience to pick them and I ate them!
It is a quiet place and you can really get back to nature. I sat on the dock for hours looking out to the Bay and the horizon. You can still get that peaceful feeling right there on Tilghman Island and then head “to town” and try out one of the restaurants, or steam your own crabs and enjoy watching the world go by.
I have good memories of Tilghman Island. Tilghman Island and the Eastern Shore of Maryland is part of my life, I carry it around in my heart. If you would like to take a step back in time and relax and let your cares fade away, then you need to visit Tilghman Island, Maryland.
The Captain’s Watch