The Chesapeake Bay, along with its rivers, streams and the lands that surround them form an extraordinary landscape that supports thousands of plant and animal species. But just as unique and inspiring as its natural beauty are the people and cultures that have called this region home for generations. Whether you’re a Bay native or a new visitor, check out these museums that showcase the distinctive cultures from throughout the area.
National Museum of the American Indian – Washington, D.C.
Part of the Smithsonian Institution, this museum is dedicated to the life, languages, literature, history and arts of Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere. A recent addition to the museum collections is an exhibit called Return to a Native Place: Algonquian Peoples of the Chesapeake. Through photographs, maps and interactive displays, the exhibit provides an overview of the history of the Nanticoke, Powhatan and Piscataway tribes from the 1600s to the present.
Banneker-Douglass Museum – Annapolis, Maryland
As part of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, this site is the state’s official museum of African American heritage. Formerly known as Mt. Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church, the building—which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places—served as the meeting hall for the First African Methodist Episcopal Church for nearly 100 years before opening as a museum in 1984. The museum serves to document, interpret and promote African American history and culture, particularly in Maryland.
Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum – Scranton, Pennsylvania
Part of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, this museum highlights the state’s anthracite coal mining industry, featuring exhibits that focus on the lives of people who worked in the area’s mines, mills and factories. Its collection tells the story of European immigrants who came to northeastern Pennsylvania to work in coal mining and textile production, enduring harsh working conditions but building a rich culture and heritage.
Watermen’s Museum – Yorktown, Virginia
This museum, located on the banks of the York River, documents the history of Chesapeake Bay watermen from pre-colonial to modern times. The site offers both indoor and outdoor exhibits, including workboat displays and a boat building program. For a localized take on the stories and experiences of watermen, you can visit the Tilghman Watermen’s Museum in Tilghman, Maryland, which celebrates the unique traditions and culture of Tilghman Island watermen.
Jewish Museum of Maryland – Baltimore, Maryland
Through photographs, art, documents and everyday objects, this museum tells the story of the American Jewish experience in the city of Baltimore and throughout the state of Maryland. The museum also includes two historic synagogues: Lloyd Street Synagogue, finished in 1845 and the third oldest synagogue in the United States, and B’nai Israel Synagogue, finished in 1876. Visitors to the synagogues can explore a matzoh oven, a hand-carved Torah Ark and an active archaeological site.
Landis Valley Museum – Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Once a small settlement owned by German immigrants, this living history museum collects, conserves and interprets the history and heritage of the Pennsylvania German, or Pennsylvania Dutch, culture. Visitors can watch how Conestoga wagons—first created in Lancaster—are constructed, or stop in to the blacksmith shop, farmstead, one-room schoolhouse or other historic buildings.
Know another museum that highlights the life and culture of people in the Bay watershed? Let us know in the comments! And for even more ideas, check out our previous list of museums in the Bay region.
A recent report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency outlines trends related to climate change in the United States, with data related to 37 climate indicators such as air and water temperatures, river and coastal flooding, ocean acidity and sea level rise.
New to the fourth edition of Climate Change Indicators in the United States is information on stream temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay region. After studying more than 50 years’ worth of data from 129 stream monitoring sites, experts found that stream temperatures are increasing throughout the watershed—across Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia—but the largest increases have occurred in the southern portions of the region. Water temperatures increased by an average of 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit (F) across all sites and by 2.2 degrees F at sites with trends considered statistically significant (to a 95-percent level).
Other effects of climate change throughout the Chesapeake Bay region are highlighted in the report. Washington, D.C., for example, has seen peak cherry blossom bloom dates shift approximately five days earlier since 1921. And from 2010 to 2015, Annapolis, Maryland, saw the second highest average number of coastal flood days: 46 days per year. The city has also experienced one of the most dramatic increases in overall frequency of flooding, where floods are at least 10 times more common than in the 1950s.
Also released in August is the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) State of the Climate report, which confirmed that 2015 surpassed 2014 as the warmest year on record since the mid-to-late 19th century. The report, which is based on contributions from more than 450 scientists from 62 countries, found that land and ocean temperatures, sea level rise and greenhouse gases all broke previously-held records.
Joe Wright of Stafford, Virginia, fishes off the end of the Port Royal Landing in Caroline County, Virginia. Port Royal’s new 200-foot pier—just opened in 2015—features a soft launch for paddlers and was funded by grants from the National Park Service, Friends of the Rappahannock, the Chesapeake Conservancy and other organizations.
Nestled along the Rappahannock River, the small historic town of Port Royal borders the Port Royal Unit of the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, where a 1.4-mile wildlife trail and two viewing platforms allow for visitors to hike and observe the river and surrounding land. The refuge—one of the first of its kind—is actually a collection of 17 unconnected tracts of land. From the northernmost Port Royal Unit to the Laurel Grove tract nearly 40 miles downstream, the refuge makes up 8,720 acres of protected land. The goal is to one day protect 20,000 acres along the river and its tributaries.
In the future, Friends of the Rappahannock and the Town of Port Royal will be working with the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge to establish a water trail that will provide access to the Styer Bishop, Port Royal and Toby’s Point areas of the refuge.
Image by Will Parson
Miguel Sacedo harvests squash on Cottingham Farm in Easton, Maryland, at sunrise. Owned by environmental-lawyer-turned-farmer Cleo Braver, the 156-acre farm has a mission to produce sustainably grown, locally distributed and certified organic food.
Years ago, Braver was unaware of the impact certain agricultural techniques could have on local waterways. But after some research, she learned how the use of excessive pesticides and fertilizers was partially responsible for the poor water quality in Goldsborough Neck Creek, a tributary of the Miles River that runs behind her house. Braver’s interest in producing healthy food while minimizing her impact prompted her to make a change.
Now, Cottingham Farm is home to a variety of restoration efforts, including forest buffers that help trap nutrients and sediment from running into local waterways. The land is also home to an 18-acre wetland—a once-cornfield that was transformed into habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl with the help of Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the USDA Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
Image by Keith Rutowski