“It’s overcast, but supposed to get up to 57 degrees. Would you like to head over to the Eastern Shore?”
The hour and a half drive across the Bay Bridge flew by and, in no time, we were driving along Talbot Street in the little town of St. Michaels, Maryland. The small population of the oldest town in Talbot County increases on the weekends when visitors come to hunt for antiques, sample the Vidal Blanc at St. Michaels Winery, and eat fresh seafood. We came just to explore and see what we might discover.
In the early morning of 10 August 1813, the British attempted to bombard St. Michaels. However, so the story goes, because the villagers had advance warning and hung lanterns high up in the trees outside of town, the British cannonballs overshot and failed to cause any substantial damage. They did manage to hit one home, which is now called the Cannonball House.
Frederick Douglass once lived here as a slave. Lucretia Anthony Auld, daughter of his owner, sent him to live with her brother-in-law and his family in the Fells Point shipbuilding area of Baltimore. Sophia Auld, his kind new mistress, gave him basic reading skills while teaching her own young son. When Lucretia died, Frederick belonged to her husband, Captain Thomas Auld, and his new wife, who lived in St. Michaels. It was here that Douglass was caught teaching slaves and therefore was ‘rented out’ rather than being shot. Douglass and five other men plotted to escape but were discovered, tied behind horses and dragged from St. Michaels to a jail in Easton, Maryland.
Our first stop was the Candleberry Gallery [210 S. Talbot Street, St. Michaels, MD 21663; 410-745-2420], an art cooperative which features over 45 local and regional artists. One of the proprietors came out from behind his sales counter to inform us that Congress apparently came to an agreement that all roads should lead to St. Michaels, effectively making it the center of the world. We smiled and nodded politely, assuming paint fumes and a closed room may have been involved. Overall, it was a fun trip through the local arts and kitch scene.
The bright colors and bold strokes of a painting in a bay window of the Clark Fine Art Gallery [308 S. Talbot Street, P.O. Box 562, St. Michaels, MD 21663; 410- 829-1241] caught our attention. We were greeted by a woman with long grey hair, friendly eyes, and a nice smile–the artist/owner, Heidi Clark. She told James about herself while I stared in awe at her mixed media piece shown [below left].
Heidi doesn’t usually talk to people (her words, not mine) but her business partner and fellow artist, Patricia Spitaleri, would be in Florida for the next six months so she had no choice but to come out of her paint cave. Originally from California, Heidi and her husband were visiting his family in Virginia and decided to drive up the East Coast. When they reached St. Michaels, they “just knew” this was where they wanted to retire. The impression we were given is Maryland’s Shore artwork consists of mainly three B’s and two C’s: boats, birds, barns, chickens and cows. Distinctive contemporary art is growing in popularity, especially in St. Michaels, and as Heidi noted about the works displayed in the gallery she has owned for six years, “our abstracts play well together.”
We stopped for lunch at the Lighthouse Bar & Grill [125 Mulberry Street, St Michaels, MD 21663; 410-745-2226] which sits alone by the water. Choosing to sit at the bar, Chelsea poured me a St. Michaels Ale and told us that she also works at The Pier in Edgewater (near Annapolis) and drives down here to help out since the other restaurant is seasonal. The Caprese salad was the perfect portion size to share, while the steamed shrimp was much improved with a squeeze of lemon and a generous shake of black pepper and salt. James peeled each shrimp and ate them one at a time, whereas I peeled the entire plateful before eating. We’re still learning each other’s idiosyncrasies.
Next to the restaurant is Muskrat Park, about a half-acre of grass with a gazebo and two cannon pointed at the horizon across the wharf. A pretty white house caught our attention. Wandering up Green Street, we noted that the two Adirondack chairs in the fenced yard would be perfect for an afternoon of reading. Upon closer inspection, we saw a plaque reading, “John Bruff House c. 1805”. A similar sign graced the house across the path and as we walked along Locust Street we saw three more. The five fully restored cottages are all part of A Historic St. Michaels Vacation and available for rent year-round. [For reservations 703-732-2073] We will definitely have to come back–I’m thinking a weekend writing retreat.
A gorgeous hand-carved wooden sign beckoned us in to our last stop. Agave Arts and Juicing, Co. [406 S. Talbot Street, St Michaels, MD 21663; 410-745-0444] is located in a narrow white Victorian house with pale blue painted pumpkins on the front porch. Immediately to the left as we stepped inside was an inviting parlour. Painted in all white, with a white fireplace mantle, rattan chair and soft couch, and two picture windows, the room feels light and airy. The owner, Madeline, told us that the parlour is open to the public for lounging and conversation while upstairs is an apartment.
To the right of the foyer is a retail space with a beautiful bay window that showcases Fair Trade handcrafted gifts from Africa, where Madeline and her best friend travel every year. What was originally the dining room of the house is where you’ll find a large case of fresh squeezed juices in returnable glass jars. We chose two of the ‘wellness shots’–little four ounce jars of juices with a purpose beyond tasting good. I got the Cold & Flu: apple juice with ginger root, lemon, cinnamon and turmeric. James tried the Aches & Pains: orange juice with turmeric and cayenne pepper.
We got back to the car just as it started to rain, then turned the corner, literally, to our next writing project. On the way we cruised through Wye Mills to check out the Grist Mill. Built in 1682, it is the oldest commercial business in Maryland. Wye Oak State Park lay just up the hill. Here once stood the majestic Wye Oak, Maryland’s state tree. It’s branches spanned 120 feet and one limb that fell in 1984 weighed over 70,000 lbs. The tree was lost in a thunderstorm on 6 June 2002. A clone of the tree now grows amid the remains of the original trunk.
We headed back across the bay bridge chasing a setting Sun and started planning for tomorrow Stay tuned, things are getting good.