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Bay Blog: History

Dec
16
2013

Decoy carvers show Chesapeake Bay birds at Waterfowl Festival

Millions of ducks, geese and other waterfowl visit the Chesapeake Bay each year, finding food and habitat in marshes across the watershed. Hunters have long gone after these birds as a source of food, using wooden or plastic decoys to attract them to their blinds. But in recent decades, what were once tools of the hunting trade have become works of art, and modern decoys showcase the carving styles of the artists behind the birds.

“[Decoys] started out as a means of putting food on the table, of attracting live birds,” said Kristin Sullivan, a Ph.D. candidate who studies the heritage behind decoy carving at the University of Maryland. But this soon changed: “By the 1950s, decoys started to become mass-produced, so hunters could get fairly cheap plastic or wooden birds and didn’t have to carve them out themselves.” This, paired with a burgeoning collector’s market created by hunting parties who kept hand-carved decoys as souvenirs, turned decoys into decorative, collectible items.

Now, tourists are a big customer for decoy carvers. So, too, are people who have “some sort of connection to hunting, or some… sort of connection to the landscape from which the bird came,” Sullivan said. Indeed, decoys carved in the Bay region are often evocative of the estuary. “A decoy is going to reflect the landscape,” said Sullivan.

But decoys also reflect the personality of the carver. We interviewed five carvers at the Waterfowl Festival in Easton, Md., to find out how they started carving, what makes their work unique and how the Bay has informed their birds. You can find our questions and their answers below.

Robert Clements, Clements Creations and Woodworking, Smithsburg, Md.

What drew you to decoy carving?
This show did. In about 1987, I came down here for the first time, and decided that once I retired from the Secret Service, this was going to be my job. So way back when, in 1987, is when it all started. I was cutting through one of the buildings, and in a little hallway, there was a gentleman… who was hand-chopping decoys. And I thought that was the neatest thing in the world, that someone could do that. So I’m all self-taught. After I retired, I got a bunch of reference books and I sat out in my workshop and that’s all I did until I felt that [my work] was at a point where I was comfortable with it.

Describe your carving style.
What I like to do is what they call contemporary antiques. It’s just a new bird they try to make old. [Another carver] told me to come up with your own style, don’t copy anybody else, do what you want to do. And that’s exactly what I decided to do.

How has the Chesapeake Bay inspired or informed your work?
I grew up in Takoma Park, and we had relatives around the Bay. I wasn’t a typical Bay guy, but being in the state of Maryland and [experiencing] all the history related to the Bay—you can just get caught up in it.

What role do waterfowlers play in conservation?
The whole hunting type person—you’d be surprised how those people are more in tune with the environment than the techno guys with their iPads and iPods. I think the hunting guys—the old guys especially—can give you a perspective of exactly how they did things in the beginning and how they do things now. It’s probably a 180 degree turn.

What is your favorite bird to carve?
It’d have to be a wood duck. I hate painting them, but they have so many colors in them the bird just pops. It’s a pain to do, but it’s probably the prettiest bird out there.

Ed Wallace, Wildfowl Carvings by Ed Wallace, Galena, Md.

What drew you to decoy carving?
I’ve been carving for about 30 years. We used to visit the Waterfowl Festival all the time, and I was down here and I said to myself one time, I think I can do that.

Describe your carving style.
Well, it’s my style. I have never had a lesson, and I don’t give lessons, because I want to do birds my way. I don’t want to do a bird like somebody else, and I don’t want somebody else to do a bird like mine.

How has the Chesapeake Bay inspired or informed your work?
At one time, I was a commercial hunter. I took hunting parties [out] and grew up on the Bay. It’s just bred into you.

What role do waterfowlers play in conservation?
More than a lot of people think. You know, they preserve what they have. And if they don’t, there’s not going to be any [more birds].

What is your favorite bird to carve?
A mallard drake. Why? I don’t know. I don’t like to do wood ducks; I don’t know anybody that does. I did one a couple of months ago, and that’s probably the last one I do. I don’t mind the carving. But I don’t care what you do, you can’t make one look natural.

Gilmore B. Wagoner, Quality Working Decoys by Gilmore B. Wagoner, Havre de Grace, Md.

What drew you to decoy carving?
A necessity. When I first started hunting in the early sixties, we couldn’t afford to buy decoys, so we made them. And the first ones we made were made from two by fours and two by sixes. Kind of looked like something a little kid would make, but they worked. We were making blue bills and canvasbacks, and we made some mallards, but they weren’t that good. Back in the old days, all you had to do was paint a tin can solid black and it would work. You could decoy a duck with just a painted one-gallon can. Now, they’re manufacturing decoys for the hunter, not for the ducks. The prettier a decoy is, it draws the hunter to them. It doesn’t, per se, draw the duck to the decoy.

Describe your carving style.
My carving style today is Upper Chesapeake Bay. I worked for [Havre de Grace decoy carver] Madison Mitchell for approximately seven years. While I was working for him, I worked for the federal government at Aberdeen Proving Ground, where I tested military equipment. The person you go to if you live in Havre de Grace and you want to learn how to make decoys is Madison Mitchell. I don’t think there’s a decoy maker in Havre de Grace that did not work for him.

How has the Chesapeake Bay inspired or informed your work?
I’ve always lived in Havre de Grace. I’ve never lived beyond three blocks from the water. When I was a kid, back in the early fifties, our whole summer was spent around that water, swimming, fishing, crabbing or doing whatever kids seven, eight, nine, 10 years old do. It’s a heritage thing with me, just like the rest of the guys here on the Eastern Shore. They grow up on some of the islands around here; they were brought up fishing, crabbing and eeling. We just followed the path of our forefathers and our grandfathers and our fathers. It’s in our blood. I’ll probably never leave Havre de Grace or leave the water.

What role do waterfowlers play in conservation?
I’ve always been associated with Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited and even this organization here, the Waterfowl Festival. I’ve always given decoys so they can raise money. Of course, they transfer the money into their conservation efforts. I donate the material or the products, so they can raise the money and do the [conservation] work.

What is your favorite bird to carve?
I have two. Widgeon, a.k.a. bald pates, and pintails. Canvasbacks are okay, but there’s just so many of them around. I tend to lean toward the more colorful ducks: mallards, pintails and widgeon. That’s generally what I like to carve, something more colorful.

Jeannie Vincenti, Vincenti Decoys, Havre de Grace, Md.

What drew you to decoy carving?
My husband, [Patrick Vincenti], is a carver. I work with him on a daily basis, and I run our store in Havre de Grace. My husband was drawn to [carving] because he was a hunter, and as a hunter, he had a need to make his own decoys. As he started making them, people wanted them, so he left his full-time job in 1986 to be a full-time carver.

Describe his carving style.
It’s definitely a Maryland-style bird. But more specifically, it’s an Upper Bay working decoy.

How has the Chesapeake Bay inspired or informed his work?
Living next to this estuary—which is probably one of the best in the world—the duck hunting here was outstanding. It still is. So I would have to say, the availability of the ducks made the desire to make the decoys and hunt, and as you hunted all those years and you made the decoys, you develop a tremendous respect for that Bay and its richness.

What role do waterfowlers play in conservation?
Just like deer hunters or anything else, you have to keep the numbers of birds in check, because there’s not enough food. And as we infringe upon their space, there’s less food for them. So by following the rules and the guidelines of waterfowling, you’re doing it in a fair and right way, and you’re keeping the numbers in check, just like you would for deer or any other animal.

What is your favorite bird that you and your husband sell in your store?
My husband’s would be the canvasback; mine would have to be the black duck. I like the way he paints it, and it just has a look that I like. But the canvasback is the bird that is most desirable, and [Pat] has a strong fondness for canvasbacks.

Charles Jobes, Charles Jobes Decoys, Havre de Grace, Md.

What drew you to decoy carving?
My dad has made decoys for 63 years. We all made decoys as kids; I’ve got two brothers, younger brother Joey, older brother Bobby. My dad worked for Madison Mitchell in Havre de Grace, Madison Mitchell is my godfather. So we more or less worked for my dad, all of us coming up. As the years went on, we always worked on the water crabbing, fishing and making decoys. And I’ve made decoys for a living for probably 35 years. We all make decoys for a living now.

Describe your carving style.
The carving style is a Chesapeake Bay decoy—an Upper Chesapeake Bay decoy. Where we live, the carving style of the decoy [features] an up-curved tail [and] regular, slick paint. It’s a regular gunning decoy paint style and carving style, made out of white pine and cedar and basswood.

How has the Chesapeake Bay inspired or informed your work?
When we were kids, we body booted on the Susquehanna Flats, [standing in the water, surrounded by decoys]. It’s an area that years ago, in the twenties and thirties and even before that, was home to hundreds of thousands of canvasbacks. Everybody would come to the Flats to kill canvasbacks, black heads and redheads. The Chesapeake Bay is an estuary where all the ducks and geese come in the wintertime, and that was the first place that they stopped, coming down. Then they would disperse through the whole Bay. We grew up on that water.

What role do waterfowlers play in conservation?
When they started the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Federal] Duck Stamp in 1937, when Ding Darling made the first Duck Stamp, that was the first conservation stamp. All that money goes to waterfowl. If you didn’t have waterfowlers that hunt, there would be no money to go to the wetlands that Ducks Unlimited restored in North Dakota, South Dakota, the boreal forest. There wouldn’t be anything.

What is your favorite bird to carve?
Canvasback. Drake canvasback. They’re probably the easiest duck to make, but they’re the king of ducks. They’re just so pristine, and they’re a neat duck. They’re the king of the Chesapeake.

Catherine Krikstan's avatar
About Catherine Krikstan - Catherine Krikstan is a web writer and social media specialist at the Chesapeake Bay Program. She began writing about the watershed as a reporter in Annapolis, Md., where she covered algae blooms and climate change and interviewed hog farmers and watermen. She lives in Washington, D.C.



Keywords: history, waterfowl
Oct
31
2013

Photo Essay: Experiencing the Bay’s past at Point Lookout State Park

It is 1862 and the nation is in the midst of the Civil War. You are standing at the southernmost tip of the western shore of Maryland. To your left, the rising sun dances over the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. To your right, a ship chugs up the Potomac River, making its way to Washington, D.C. The wind whips and there is a nip in the air; winter is coming and all you have to keep warm is one wool blanket and a small tent.

For many Civil War soldiers at what is now Point Lookout State Park, this scene was a reality. Once a popular summer resort, this tract of land became home to a hospital and prison camp in the 1860s. One hundred years later, the site became a state park. Today, it is a place where history and the environment meet.

Although the park’s picturesque surroundings make it an ideal spot for visitors, it faces a number of environmental challenges. During strong storms, the site can experience coastal flooding. At times, rising tides create a temporary island, cutting off the point from the rest of the park. To protect the land from the rising seas of climate change and to combat erosion, staff have placed riprap barriers along much of the park’s shoreline.

“It has been very interesting to see how the weather affects the park throughout the year,” said Melissa Boyle, assistant park manager at Point Lookout. “When it’s stormy or during a hurricane, I can see how rough the water is and I think about what kind of place this could have been one or 200 years ago, when we didn’t have all of the luxuries that we have today.”

But the park’s history began before the Civil War, with the construction of the Point Lookout Lighthouse.

Built in the 1830’s, the Point Lookout Lighthouse was a much-needed navigational beacon to ships travelling up the Potomac River and the Bay. While advances in technology mean the lighthouse is no longer in use, the Point Lookout Lighthouse Preservation Society continues to care for the structure. Once a month, the volunteer group even opens the building for guided tours to show visitors what it might have been like to be the lighthouse keeper that lived here.

Some visitors have reportedly experienced paranormal activity in the lighthouse and around the park. Although park staff cannot confirm these allegations, these experiences could be linked to the old age of the lighthouse and the rich war-related history of the park. Because of its haunted reputation, the site sees an increase in break-ins and vandalism around Halloween, forcing park police to step up their patrol.

After the Civil War began, Hammond Hospital was built at Point Lookout. At the time, the hospital was considered to be a state of the art facility: its wagon wheel shape kept different wards separate and created an advanced ventilation system to suppress fire.

In addition to the hospital, three forts were built. But, due to sea level rise and erosion, only one—a reconstructed Fort Lincoln—remains.

Point Lookout was also home to a Civil War prison camp that held Confederate soldiers. The camp was designed to hold 10,000 people, but it regularly held 20,000; over its lifetime, it held 52,000 prisoners. The prisoners would often eat off of the land and were known to scavenge for blue crabs, oysters and rats. At the end of the war, the prison was largely deconstructed. Most of its materials were recycled, but some remain underwater near the park’s fishing pier.

Aside from a handful of park staff and public citizens, the people who once lived at Point Lookout have been replaced with wildlife. Pelicans, eagles and osprey abound, and the park is even home to a great blue heron rookery. Point Lookout is also a popular resting spot for migratory birds and monarch butterflies.

Today, recreation is the primary use of the park. Point Lookout offers more than 100 campsites, a life-guarded beach, canoe and kayak rentals, fishing sites and more than 1,000 acres for visitors to explore. “People should visit Point Lookout State Park because it is where history and the environment meet,” Boyle said. “There is a lot to learn from the park, and fall is a good time to visit. It is a period of transition. Come learn about the Civil War history while taking in the marvelous views and imagining what it would be like to be a soldier that was issued only one wool blanket to sleep under through the winter.”

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program Flickr page.

Images by Steve Droter. Captions by Jenna Valente.



Oct
16
2012

Tributary Tuesday: Mallows Bay (Charles County, Md.)

This Halloween, thrill-seeking river rats can take a trip to a graveyard—a ship graveyard! Mallows Bay, located on the Maryland shore of the Potomac River, contains the largest known shipwrecked fleet in the Western Hemisphere. A quick search on Google Maps or a look at this image from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows the fleet’s massive imprint on the waterway.

An abandoned ship in Mallows Bay with trees growing out of it.

Image courtesy FossilGuy

This steamship fleet was intended to be used during World War I. But faulty construction and the war's end rendered the fleet useless. The steamship vessels, totaling more than 200, were towed to Mallows Bay, where they were packed together so tightly that you could, according to reports, walk for a mile without touching the water.

Local watermen protested, afraid that such a high concentration of “garbage” would affect their livelihoods. Some vessels were burned, but many others were left to sink and rot.

Today, many are visible above water, but some 140 more lurk beneath the Potomac’s surface.

The above-water steamships are now home to non-human inhabitants. Great egrets can be found nesting on the decks, while vegetation peeks out from beneath the rust. On some vessels, trees as high as 50 feet tall have sprouted!

To see how the plants and animals of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem have made a home out of these sunken vessels, check out these photos and videos from kayakers who have paddled through the wreckage.

Perhaps the “haunting” nature of Mallows Bay is not one of humans that have been left behind, but resources that have been ill-disposed and forgotten.

An abandoned ship in Mallows Bay is covered with trees now.

Image courtesy FossilGuy

Want to see this ghost fleet for yourself? Launch a canoe or kayak at Charles County’s Mallows Bay Park to explore the ships up close!

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Jul
31
2012

Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail now open

The Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail is open and ready for visitors. The 560-mile land and water route connects historic sites in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia while telling the story of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake Bay region. 

One of 19 national historic trails administered by the National Park Service, the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail allows visitors to explore the region's unique landscapes and waterways while experiencing the places that bring to life the nation's Second War of Independence. Part of the nation's bicentennial celebration of the War of 1812, the trail traces American and British troop movements and introduces visitors to regional communities--Bladensburg, Baltimore, Washington, D.C.--affected by war.

Visitor centers, wayside signs and road markers connect the hundreds of sites located along the trail, some of which are accessible by bike or even boat. There is the Susquehanna Museum at the Lock House in Havre de Grace, Md., where British raids in 1813 destroyed close to three-quarters of the town. There is the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, which houses the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner, written by Francis Scott Key in 1814. And there is the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., which the British burned along with the White House before a storm managed to put out the flames.

The trail website offers a number of services to help visitors explore the trail, from an adventure planner to a Junior Ranger activity book

The trail's launch was celebrated in Fell's Point, Baltimore, by more than 100 partners, friends and tourism professionals. 



May
01
2012

Tributary Tuesday: Larrys Creek (Lycoming County, Pennsylvania)

By the 1760s, the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s first settlers were pushing farther west; they negotiated new lands and redrew the lines between European and Native American territories. But when surveyors visited one of the newly acquired regions – Lycoming County, Pennsylvania – they met a European settler named Larry Burt. Disregarding the “territories” concept, Larry had lived in the area for several years, trading with the Native Americans and marrying a Native American woman. The stream became known “Larrys Creek,” and is the only creek in the county whose Native American name remains unknown.

Larrys Creek

(Image courtesy AWCattani/Flickr)

For the next few years, this 23-mile-long tributary to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River would become a disputed border between colonial and Native American lands.  Settlers living in the area were considered “Fair Play Men.” These residents were not governed or protected by the colonial government of Pennsylvania, and even made their own Declaration of Independence.

The first fork of Larrys Creek begins in northern Lycoming County in Cogan House Township, just south of a stretch of Appalachian Mountains known as Steam Valley.

Flowing southwest, the creek runs through the village of Cogan House and under the Cogan House Covered Bridge. The oldest of Lycoming County’s three covered bridges, the Cogan House Covered Bridge has survived massive floods and storms since its construction in 1877.

covered bridge

(Image courtesy Gregg Obst/Flickr)

Larrys Creek then winds through Pennsylvania State Game Lands Number 114, where a rough trail follows the stream for a few miles. It meets the second (westernmost) fork of Larrys Creek at Salladasburg, and flows south into the mouth of the Susquehanna River at the town of Larrys Creek.

If you travel to Larrys Creek today, you may find it to be a rather remote destination. But just over a hundred years ago, the creek and its watershed were home to 53 sawmills, making Larrys Creek a bustling industrial center. A 1903 newspaper article claimed, “No other stream in the country had so many mills in so small a territory.” As a result, much of the land was clear cut and virtually devoid of forests.
Today, more than 80 percent of the watershed is forested and nearly 9,000 acres of second-growth forest are protected for hunting and trout fishing.

More from Larrys Creek:

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Feb
27
2012

Four rare Chesapeake Bay “oddities” to learn about this leap year

For most of us, a leap year simply means adding an extra day to the schedule in February. But in other cultures, leap years are symbolic. In the British Isles, folk tradition says that women must propose marriage in leap years, whereas in Greece, it’s bad luck for couples to get married during leap years.

While Chesapeake Bay region folklore does not mention February 29, we decided to take this opportunity to mention a few Bay “oddities”: natural occurrences that only come along every so often – just like leap years.

1. Crab jubilees

crab jubilee

(Image courtesy Alpaca Farm Girl)

Like other Chesapeake Bay species, blue crabs need oxygen to survive. But when oxygen levels are too low, blue crabs come out of the water and onto land, an event known as a crab jubilee.

Despite the term “jubilee,” the event is not a celebration. Crab jubilees occur only when water quality in the Chesapeake Bay is extremely poor. Typically, a combination of hot weather, offshore winds and algae blooms fueled by nutrient runoff quickly deplete oxygen levels in the water, sending crabs and other critters running toward the shore for air.

In Mobile Bay, Alabama, a similar event known simply as the jubilee occurs regularly and has become a community celebration, renowned for an opportunity to easily catch seafood.

See more photos of a crab jubilee.

2. Bolides and impact craters

Chesapeake Bay bolide illustration

(Image courtesy Nicolle Rager-Fuller/National Science Foundation)

Thirty-five million years ago, a bolide (an asteroid-like object) crashed into what is now the lower tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, creating a 55-mile-wide crater that’s the largest known in the United States. It’s called an impact crater because the deep depression impacted the lay of the land: influencing the course of the region’s rivers and determining the eventual location of the Chesapeake Bay. As sea level rose and fell over the next few million years, the Chesapeake Bay fluctuated between dry land and a shallow coastal sea.

3. Visits from Chessie the manatee

manatees

(Image courtesy psyberartist/Flickr)

In 1994, the first Florida manatee ever was spotted in the Chesapeake Bay. This mammal, which can stay underwater for as long as 12 minutes, typically does not travel into waters below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. But this particular manatee, appropriately named Chessie, seems to occasionally prefer the cold. Chessie, which biologists recognize by distinct markings on his body, visited the Bay again in 2001 and 2011. Chessie even swam all the way to New England, the northernmost known point to ever receive a manatee visit.

Manatees are endangered because of habitat loss and harmful human activities, making a Chessie sighting all the more rare. Also, while most wild manatees live for 8 to 11 years, Chessie is at least 20 years old!

4. Humpback whale sightings

humpback whale

(Image courtesy Ken-ichi/Flickr)

North Atlantic humpback whales feed in polar waters in the summer and mate in warm waters in the winter. But each winter, a handful of humpback whales mate in the Chesapeake Bay instead of the tropics.  This year, 30 whales were counted off the coast of Virginia Beach – much higher than the average of five or six. An unusually mild winter attracted the whales to these Chesapeake waters.

Luckily, humpback whales are friendly and curious; they’re known to surface beside boats and put on a show for lucky whale watchers. Care for something even more rare? If you’re daring enough to stick your head in the water, you may be able to hear a mating song. Biologists can determine where a whale comes from by listening to its song. For example, Hawaiian humpback whales sing a different song than those from Virginia.

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Keywords: fish, blue crabs, history
Feb
13
2012

Eight Chesapeake Bay books to snuggle up with this winter

Although we always encourage our readers to get outdoors, we know many of you would rather stay inside when it’s cold. But there’s still plenty of ways to explore the Chesapeake Bay from the comfort of your own home. We’ve compiled a list of eight great Bay-related reads to curl up with this winter. From John Smith to watermen and sailors to the life of a blue crab, there’s an abundance to learn about the Bay, even in the depths of winter.

1. This Was Chesapeake Bay by Robert H. Burgess

“My husband, who just turned 76, grew up on the Chesapeake and worked the fish boats. He was thrilled to see this book.”
– Amazon customer

If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to live and work on the Chesapeake Bay, the authentic personal narratives in This Was Chesapeake Bay will show you both the glory and the demise associated with this body of water. Be sure to pick up a copy of this collection of true stories as told by shipbuilders, steam boat workers, oystermen, fishermen and dockhands.

2. Voices of the Chesapeake Bay by Michael Buckley

Many of these voices would be lost or inaccessible, along with their wisdom, if not for this work.”
– Author Tom Horton

Voices of the Chesapeake Bay first began as an Annapolis radio show that interviewed local personalities about their connection to the Chesapeake Bay. Show host Buckley has transcribed these “voices” into a collection of narratives. An Eastern Shore family farmer describes his farm along the Choptank River; frostbitten sailboat racers tell what it’s like to experience the Bay during winter; local artists talk about their struggle to capture Chesapeake culture. You’ll hear from state senator Bernie Fowler, Piscataway Canoy Tribal Chairwoman Mervin Savoy, waterfowl decoy carvers, and AmeriCorps volunteers. This is a must-read for anyone seeking an all-encompassing depiction of Chesapeake life today.

3. John Smith's Chesapeake Voyages, 1607-1609 by Helen C. Rountree

“Not only an engaging account of Smith's travels around Chesapeake Bay but also a fresh and exciting introduction to the native peoples in their natural environment at the time of English exploration and settlement.”
– Brooks Miles Barnes, co-editor of Seashore Chronicles: Three Centuries of the Virginia Barrier Islands 

If your family first arrived in the Chesapeake region in the early 1600s, you may be especially interested in this account of Captain John Smith’s two Chesapeake journeys. Smith’s voyages are reconstructed day-by-day and illustrated with vintage artwork and maps. Because he was attempting to map the entire Chesapeake Bay region, Smith covered a lot of ground, and encountered plenty of flora and fauna and met many natives. This book, drawn largely from Smith’s detailed journals, describes the land and waterways as they were in the early 1600s and portrays the differing perspectives of the native peoples and the newly arrived settlers.

4. Water’s Way: Life Along the Chesapeake by Tom Horton and David W. Harp

"Tom Horton has a poet's touch and a realist's frankness as he writes of the delicate ecology of this great aquatic system in chapters whose subjects range from the role of marshes to the life of the watermen to the growing pressures of urban development…This book is a singing tribute to the bay." 
Islands Magazine

Prose and photography join forces to illustrate both the nostalgic romance of Chesapeake Bay culture and the economic and ecological threats to the region’s way of life. Infused with a sense of awe and respect for the Bay, Horton and Harp guide you to “those rare, hidden nooks of the bay country where nature still appears as glorious and untrammeled as it did a thousand years ago.”

5. Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay by William W. Warner

This is a magnificent naturalist book, for anyone who has ever eaten a blue crab, caught one, spent time anywhere along the Chesapeake, wondered about the lives of fishermen, or the cycles of the sea.”
– Amazon customer

If you live near or have ever visited the Chesapeake Bay during the summer months, chances are that you’ve had your fair share of blue crab. Warner examines the life cycle of these creatures and the lives of those they have affected: from watermen whose livelihoods depend on their existence to consumers who have spent plenty of summer evenings at crab feasts. A must-read for anyone who ever wanted to know more about what they’re eating or learn why this creature has become such a prideful tradition.

6. Skipjack by Christopher White

 “Christopher White's Skipjack is not only a powerful elegy for a great American fishery, it's an act of defiance against all that has conspired to empty the dredges of these beautiful boats. White's prose is like the oystermen he portrays: tough, lyrical, and soaked to the bone in the waters of Chesapeake Bay. I've still got a lump in my throat from its last page."
– Richard Adams Carey, author of Against the Tide: The Fate of New England Fishermen and the Philosopher Fish

In March 1978, biologist and science writer Christopher White joins the crew of a skipjack: a wooden oystering boat that, at the time, is “among the last sailboats still employed in commercial fishing in North America.” Based from a cottage on Tilghman Island, White spends the next year chronicling the remote village and its oystermen, whose livelihoods are threatened by dwindling oyster populations. On-the-ground research infuses this book with the perspectives of those confronted with a degrading ecosystem and a suffering community.

7. An Island Out of Time: A Memoir of Smith Island in the Chesapeake by Tom Horton

"He has captured in full the life of the island."
Washington Post Book World

Horton paints an intimate portrait of a community where people live much as their ancestors did three hundred years ago: by the tides, blue crabs and waterfowl. To write the book, Horton and his family moved and lived on the remote, sinking island for three years. A new afterward brings the story of Smith Island up to the present.

8. Chesapeake: A Novel by James A. Michener

As I was reading "Chesapeake" I thoroughly became engrossed in the story to the extent that I forsook sleeptime to enjoy hours of late-night reading. I literally could not put the book down!
– Amazon customer

Michener gives readers a full picture of the region’s history and culture in this fictional account of life on the Chesapeake. He follows Edmund Steed and his family from pre-Revolutionary days to the Civil War. The style of prose allows Michener to depict how the region’s geography and peoples have changed throughout the centuries.

Looking for more Chesapeake Bay-related books? Check out our comprehensive reading list, which contains nearly 140 titles about the Bay and its rivers, wildlife and culture. And don’t forget to tell us about your favorite Bay book in the comments!

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Keywords: history, culture, reading
Oct
27
2011

BOO!s of the Bay: Nine scary Chesapeake stories for Halloween

Look around the Chesapeake Bay watershed this time of year, and you'll find ghost tours all over the place: Annapolis, Gettysburg and Richmond, to name a few. 

And why wouldn't there be ghosts here? The Chesapeake region was among the first areas in the United States settled by English colonists. Since that time, the Bay has experienced land-altering and life-taking hurricanes, mysterious shipwrecks, and bloody battles during the nation's early wars.

Just in time for Halloween, we've compiled an eclectic list of hauntings, sightings and purely strange spooks from throughout the Bay watershed. Many of these places would make a perfect outdoor escape this weekend – if you’re brave enough, that is!

1. The most haunted lighthouse in America: The lighthouse at Point Lookout State Park, Maryland

"All of a sudden, the room turned bitter cold - even though the thermometer still read 100 degrees." –Eyewitness encounter at Point Lookout lighthouse

Point Lookout lighthouse (Image courtesy Vicki Ashton/Flickr)

The most consistently haunted feature of Point Lookout is the lighthouse, which was first constructed in 1830. It has been featured on shows such as the Travel Channel’s Weird Travels and TLC's Haunted Lighthouses for paranormal activity ranging from strange odors that come only at night to spirits that have saved the lives of park employees living in the house.

After years of reported sightings, smells and sounds, the famous pioneer paranormal researcher Hans Holzer investigated. He recorded 24 different sounds and voices in and around the lighthouse using electric voice phenomena (EVPs).

One of these voices – heard saying, "This is my home" – is suspected to be Ann Davis, wife of the lighthouse's first keeper. Ann maintained the lighthouse long after her husband died. She has been seen standing at the top of the staircase, wearing a white blouse and blue skirt. But she is far from the only apparition people have experienced at the lighthouse.

The lighthouse is now maintained by the state of Maryland and is open only a few times a year. But if you’re really fearless, you can sign up for a Paranormal Night, when small groups can investigate the lighthouse after dark.

(Image courtesy Vicki Ashton/Flickr)

2. Look out for ghosts at Maryland’s Point Lookout State Park

It’s true: Point Lookout is so haunted that it earned two spots on our list of spooky places.

Point Lookout prison (image courtesy Southern Maryland Online)

Point Lookout's location – a peninsula between the Chesapeake Bay and the mouth of the Potomac River – made it an ideal watch post for spotting British ships during the War of 1812.

Its isolation from the mainland offered little chance of escape for the 50,000 Confederate prisoners held here during the Civil War.

The prisoners of war lived year-round with nothing but canvas tents to protect themselves from mosquito-infested summers and freezing cold winters.

Between 3,000 and 8,000 men died in the camp and were buried in mass graves – many of which are now underwater.

As if that isn't enough, a Civil War hospital was also on the peninsula and housed wounded soldiers from the Battle of Gettysburg.

One of the most frequently seen ghosts at the park is a man in ragged, homespun Civil War clothing, reeking of mildew and gunpowder, and stumbling away from what was once the camp's quarantined smallpox unit. It's thought that the man feigned illness to escape from prison – but it seems he never did...

Brave enough to visit? The Maryland Department of Natural Resources lists information about Point Lookout's hours, trails, fishing opportunities and more.

(Image courtesy Southern Maryland Online)

3. The eerie ghost with “fire and brimstone eyes”: Harpers Ferry National Park (West Virginia)

Many people on the streets of Harpers Ferry National Historic Park have seen the ghost of abolitionist John Brown. He’s sometimes so realistic that tourists, thinking he is a historic re-enactor, ask him to pose for a photograph with him – only to find later that their camera has not captured him. Those who have seen Brown say they recognize him by “those piercing fire and brimstone eyes that would put the fear of God in anybody he looked at.”

John Brown (image courtesy National Portrait Gallery)

Brown led an uprising at Harpers Ferry in 1859, raiding the armory in the hope of freeing the South (and Brown’s wife and children) one plantation at a time.

But when he heard about Brown’s rebellion, Confederate General Robert E. Lee left for Harpers Ferry so quickly that he didn’t even have time to put on his uniform. Lee and his one hundred troops sent Brown to the gallows; however, his proposed revolution would become a catalyst for the Civil War.

But perhaps a more frightening paranormal experience surrounds one of John Brown's opponents, John Wilkes Booth, who visited Harpers Ferry to witness the his nemesis’s hanging. Booth stayed in a house known as the "Haunted Cottage."

The Haunted Cottage (Image courtesy The Haunted Cottage/Flickr)

According to an article in the Martinsburg Journal-News, the house has been the site of 12 deaths. Many have witnessed objects disappearing and then re-appearing. The house is now the office of the Harpers Ferry Society for Paranormal Research.

Another haunted spot in Harpers Ferry is St. Peter's Catholic Church, where a priest can be seen walking down the aisle and a wounded Civil War soldier whispers his dying words, "Thank God I'm Saved," as he reaches the church doors.

(John Brown image courtesy National Portrait Gallery; Haunted Cottage image courtesy The Haunted Cottage/Flickr)

4. Civil War battlefields: Antietam (Md.), Gettysburg (Pa.), Manassas (Va.) and more

The Chesapeake Bay watershed states were home to the greatest number of battles in the country's early history. Spanning the border of the North and South, the region was particularly hard-hit during the Civil War.

Bloody Lane, Antietam (Image courtesy LostBob Photos/Flickr)

Left untouched except for the occasional commemorative monument, battlefields in Antietam, Gettysburg, Leesburg and Manassas provide a living museum for school children and history buffs alike.

But public access to these locations also means that there are thousands of reports of wandering soldiers, loud booms in the night, broken cameras, and even entire battles being fought in plain view.

In one alleged incident at Little Round Top in Gettysburg, re-enactors working on the film Gettysburg were visited by a man dressed as a Union soldier, who they assumed was also in the movie. He passed them ammunition, which was later discovered to be pristine musket rounds that dated back to the exact time of the famous Civil War battle.

At Antietam – where 23,000 troops were lost during some of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles – a famous creepy spot is Bloody Lane. This old farm road got its nickname after one particularly deadly battle, when thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers were killed and their blood flowed down the road like a river.

Have you visited one of these battlefields? Which one do you think is the most haunted?

(Image courtesy LostBob Photos/Flickr)

5. "Freedom fortress" at Fort Monroe (Hampton, Virginia)

Perhaps paranormal activity is expected at a military base that has been inhabited since 1608.  But one would be hard-pressed to find a line-up of big named spirits anywhere else but Fort Monroe.

Fort Monroe (image courtesy Patrick McKay/Flickr)

Reported sightings at the base include a young soldier named Edgar Allen Poe, President Abraham Lincoln, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Chief Black Hawk and Ulysses S. Grant. Other, lesser known personalities have also been spotted, such as a spirit that hates roses, and even something dubbed the "moat monster," rumored to be a relative of Scotland's Loch Ness Monster.

Orbs, lights and temperature changes are other creepy phenomena experienced so often and with such intensity that the U.S. Army has featured a story about "haunted" Fort Monroe on its website.

Sitting at the mouth of the James River and the Chesapeake Bay, the military base was a “freedom fortress” where fugitive slaves took refuge during the Civil War.

Since the fort closed last month, ownership has been turned over to the Commonwealth of Virginia. There has been talk of turning the land into a national park or even a math and science high school. But when new people move in, will the spirits stay?

(Image courtesy Patrick McKay/Flickr)

6. The graveyard of the Atlantic and ghosts of Mallows Bay (Potomac River, Maryland)

Just across the Potomac River from Quantico Marine Base lies the greatest concentration of sunken ships in North America. Mallows Bay is a graveyard of half-submerged steamships, some of them poking out from the water’s surface.

Satellite image of Mallows Bay

This steamship fleet, which cost the government $1 billion, was intended to be used in World War I. But faulty construction and the war's end rendered the fleet useless.

More than 200 steamship vessels were towed to Mallows Bay on the Potomac River. The ships were packed together so tightly that you could reportedly walk for a mile without touching the water.

Watermen protested; they were certain such a high concentration of “garbage” would affect their livelihoods. Some vessels were burned, but many others were left to sink and rot.

Today, the giant steamships are still there, but now they are home to non-human inhabitants. Great egrets can be found nesting on the decks, while vegetation peeks out from beneath the rust.

Thankfully, the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem has found a way to use these vessels for their benefit.  (For proof,  check out these great photos from kayakers who ventured through the wreckage.) Perhaps the "haunting" nature of Mallows Bay is not one of humans that have been left behind, but resources that have been ill-disposed and forgotten.

Want to see this ghost fleet for yourself? Explore the old boats by kayak or canoe, which you can launch from the nearest boat ramp.

7. Blackbeard's head haunts Hampton, Virginia

Even when he was alive, people thought Blackbeard was a sort of devil re-incarnate. And it's no wonder: the pirate arranged lit torches in his beard before he ran into battle.

Blackbeard (Image courtesy Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

When Blackbeard – real name Captain Edward Teach – moved his operations north, Virginia Governor Spotswood ordered an expedition to capture or kill Blackbeard and his crew.

One big, bad, bloody sea battle later, Blackbeard was killed. The governor demanded that Blackbeard's head be placed on a stake at the entrance to the Hampton River as a warning to other pirates.

According to some Hampton locals, Blackbeard's spirit haunts this area, which is still known today as Blackbeard’s Point.

(Image courtesy Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

8. The Bay's vanishing islands: Drowned by a terrifyingly fast sea level rise

Approximately one hundred years ago, Holland Island was a five-mile-long, 300-person fishing community, with more than 60 homes, a church and a doctor. 

Last house on Holland Island (image courtesy baldeaglebluff/Flickr)

But then sea level rose – and rose fast. Residents abandoned the island in the 1920s, some of them bringing their homes with them. 

Stephen White, a former minister and waterman who first visited Holland Island as a young boy, was inspired to save the island after visiting one of the island's three cemeteries, where he saw a gravestone that read, "Forget me not, is all I ask."

White was taking a photograph of the gravestone when he noticed a ghostly girl standing nearby.

Inspired to honor the gravestone inscription, and not let the world forget about this little girl and her home, White launched a massive campaign to save the island, hoping that a donor or the government would assist him. But they didn’t.

Still, White and his wife made it their personal mission, spending hours distributing sandbags to try and stop erosion along the island’s edges.

But last October, the island's final house fell into the Bay, despite White's best efforts. Today, two of the island's three graveyards are reportedly underwater.

More vanished islands: Captain John Smith first described and mapped Sharps Island, once located at the mouth of the Choptank River. A lighthouse built here in the 1880s is now surrounded by more than 10 feet of water. And that’s not nearly the only one: pick up a copy of The Disappearing Islands of the Chesapeake to learn about the dozens of islands that have vanished beneath the Bay’s waters.

Experts say that Smith and Tangier islands – both still inhabited – may be next. Sea level in the Bay is rising faster than the world average due to a warming climate and natural sinking of the land. In Maryland alone, 260 acres of tidal shoreline erode into the Bay each year, drowning these vulnerable islands under more water and burying any historic artifacts (or graves!) that may remain.

(Image courtesy baldeaglebluff/Flickr)

9. Bloody fingers of the not quite dead: White Marsh Episcopal Church graveyard (Trappe, Maryland)

"This is a thin place, where the veil between this world and the next is transparent." - Mindie Buroyne, author of Haunted Eastern Shore: Ghostly Tales from East of the Chesapeake

White Marsh Church ruins (image courtesy sarahstierch/Flickr)

1665. That is the year the Old White Marsh Episcopal Church in Talbot County, Maryland first opened. In the 1720s, the church’s Reverend Daniel Maynadier’s wife, Hanna, died. Upon her request, she was buried with her favorite ring on her finger. But the graverobbers, or “ringrobbers,” were ready.  When they couldn’t get the ring off her finger, they began to slice away…

And Hanna arose.

The Reverend’s wife was not dead, but in a coma She gathered her shroud around her and walked home to greet her grieving husband.

Hanna went on to have several children, but the bloodmarks on her hand would never wash away. Rumor has it that she can still be seen walking home from the cemetery, her shroud around her and her hand leaving a trail of blood.

For more Eastern Shore hauntings, visit some of these scary places listed in Haunted Eastern Shore.

(Image courtesy Sarah Stierch/Flickr)

Now it's your turn to scare us! Do you know of a creepy, spooky Chesapeake story or place we didn't include here? Share it in the comments!

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.



Keywords: history
Apr
04
2011

Bay Program acting director appointed to advisory council for John Smith Chesapeake Trail

Chesapeake Bay Program Acting Director Jim Edward has been appointed by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to a two-year term on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail Advisory Council.

The 25-member council advises the National Park Service on matters related to the trail, including trail management, public access, recreational opportunities and indigenous cultural landscapes.

The council includes representatives from Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Defense, a range of governmental and non-governmental organizations, and American Indian associations.

“The people appointed to service on the Advisory Council will contribute in many ways to the development of a rich educational and recreational trail experience for the public,” said John Reynolds, Advisory Council chair.

The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail follows the routes of John Smith’s 1607-1609 voyages throughout the Bay and several tributaries. The 3,000-mile trail offers visitors recreational and educational experience both on land and water.

For more information about the trail, visit www.smithtrail.net.



Mar
08
2011

Chesapeake Bay featured in National Park Service teaching tool

The National Park Service has developed a teaching tool about Chesapeake Bay history, geology, ecology and restoration as part of its online educational resource Views of the National Parks.

The Chesapeake edition of Views of the National Parks provides readers with a background on the Chesapeake’s natural world, from its geologic formation as an estuary to its diverse species and ecosystems. Chesapeake Views also describes the region’s human history and cultural environment, how it has changed over time, and how people can get involved restoring and protecting it.

A Visit section highlights some of the many places to experience the Chesapeake Bay. Other teaching tools include photographs, maps, a glossary and links to additional resources.

In the Chesapeake Bay region, the National Park Service administers the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, and the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. The Park Service is a Bay Program partner, helping to promote Chesapeake stewardship by connecting people to the region’s natural and cultural heritage.

Visit the National Park Service’s website to explore the Chesapeake edition of Views of the National Parks.



May
17
2010

Eighth "Smart Buoy" Launched in Upper Potomac River

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has launched its eighth “smart buoy” in the Chesapeake Bay region as part of a network of interpretive buoys that display real-time information about environmental conditions.

The buoy was deployed in the upper Potomac River near Washington, D.C.

The network of buoys, called the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS), reports real-time weather and water conditions, such as salinity, temperature and wind speed, at each buoy location. People can call a toll-free number or visit buoybay.org to access the buoy data at home or on the water.

The buoys are set up at points along the Captain John Smith Trail, which Smith traveled during his 1608 voyage of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers. Each buoy also offers historic information about what John Smith may have encountered at that location during his exploration.

At the newly deployed upper Potomac Buoy, interpretive podcasts explain that John Smith is believed to have visited the area twice in June of 1608 when he and his crew visited the Patawomeck tribe and then continued upriver in search of the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean.

In addition to the upper Potomac River buoy, interpretive buoys are located in the Susquehanna, Patapsco, Severn, lower Potomac rivers in Maryland and the Rappahannock, James and Elizabeth rivers in Virginia.

For more information about the Upper Potomac River buoy and the rest of the interpretive buoy system, visit buoybay.org.



Feb
19
2010

Six ways African-American history helped shape the Chesapeake

Each February, we celebrate Black History Month, but we often don’t take the time to reflect on the important people and events in black history that occurred right in our backyards. In the Chesapeake Bay region, the African-Americans who lived and worked here helped define our history.

Keep reading to learn more about six key events, people and occupations that influenced the history of the Chesapeake and the entire nation.

Slavery

Slavery in the Chesapeake Bay region began in 1619, when a Dutch ship carrying 20 African men arrived at Jamestown, Virginia. These men were indentured servants, rather than slaves. Many eventually earned their freedom and went on to own land, trade, raise crops and livestock, defend their rights, and eventually hire their own servants.

slave auction

(Image courtesy CORBIS/History.com)

Slaves were part of many great milestones in the Chesapeake region, such as rowing the Bay’s first ferry between the future sites of Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1636. By 1780, it is estimated that slaves made up approximately 40 percent of the population in the Chesapeake region.

In the 1800s, the Chesapeake region was on the brink of controversy over slavery. The northern Bay watershed states were considered “free states” that did not support slavery, while the southern states were “slave states.” This division foreshadowed the battles to be fought in the region during the Civil War.

Civil War

As the Civil War progressed, the Union Army was suffering from increasing numbers of casualties and needed reinforcements. Blacks were granted the right to serve in the Union Army and fought in battles throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

In Maryland, 8,700 men served in six black regiments that played major roles in Union battle plans. The 36th U.S. Colored Infantry guarded the Confederate prison at Point Lookout and disabled Confederate torpedoes in the lower Chesapeake Bay.

More than 180,000 black men served in the Union Army and 18,000 black men in the Union Navy. Twenty-one of these men were awarded the highest military honor in the United States, the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where she lived until she escaped in 1849. After escaping from slavery, she returned to the South 19 times to help other slaves along the Underground Railroad.

Harriet Tubman

As part of the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses was formed and slaves were transported with the help of ship captains in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, as well as other slaves working on boats. For many slaves, the Potomac River, the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay were vital links in the route to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

Frederick Douglass

Like Tubman, Frederick Douglass was born into slavery on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. In his first two attempts to escape slavery, Douglass and five other men planned to canoe up the Chesapeake Bay into Pennsylvania, but another slave turned them in. Eventually, Douglass was brought to freedom on a steamboat traveling from Delaware to Pennsylvania.

Tobacco plantations

In colonial times, tobacco was the mainstay of the economies of Maryland and Virginia. Many of the workers at tobacco plantations were slaves or indentured servants from Africa. Plantations were often located along the Chesapeake’s rivers, where soil quality was better and tobacco could be transported via local waterways.

slave on a tobacco plantation

(Image courtesy The Great South/Documenting the American South)

Oystering and seafood processing

Once the Chesapeake’s tobacco and agricultural industries began to decline at the end of the 18th century, blacks turned to the water to make a living, ultimately helping the region’s economy and cultural history flourish.

By the 1860s, the Chesapeake Bay was the United States’ primary source of oysters, which created plenty of opportunities for black watermen to make a living shucking oysters, processing seafood and even building boats for the industry. New African-American communities formed along the Bay’s shores, creating cultural and economic centers for blacks in the area. Their traditions became part of the local fishing industry, and many of them still exist today.

Alicia Pimental's avatar
About Alicia Pimental - Alicia is the Chesapeake Bay Program's online communications manager. She manages the Bay Program's web content and social media channels. Alicia discovered her love for nature and the environment while growing up along Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts. When she's not at work, Alicia enjoys cooking, traveling, photography and playing with her chocolate lab, Tess.



Keywords: history, fishing
Aug
01
2007

John Smith Shallop Visits Annapolis to Celebrate Region's History, Heritage and Environment

A replica of the shallop Captain John Smith used to explore the Chesapeake anchored at City Dock in Annapolis on July 14 for two days of festivities that focused on the Bay's history and environment.

The shallop — a 17th century-style boat — and its 12-member crew are retracing Smith's voyages, stopping at various points along the route to showcase their journey and educate the public about the Bay.

Smith's original voyage 400 years ago paved the way for the English colonization of Virginia and subsequent settling of the New World. In December 2006, Congress authorized the nation's first all-water trail, naming it the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail to commemorate the voyage.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley joined the shallop crew in rowing the final mile of the leg from Eastport into Annapolis Harbor. Along with the John Smith crew and their exhibit, environmental and historical groups provided interactive displays and activities.

  • Several species of wildlife were present, including terrapins and oysters.
  • There were ample opportunities to learn about how the Bay has been degraded over the last 400 years and what people can do to help restore it.
  • Groups participating in the event included the Bay Program, Chesapeake Bay Gateways, the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the Annapolis Maritime Museum and the Historic Annapolis Foundation.

The modern-day shallop crew began its journey from Jamestown, Virginia, just as Smith did in 1608. From its departure on May 12 to its arrival in Annapolis on July 14, the crew sailed and rowed approximately 700 miles. By the voyage's end, the shallop will have covered 1,500 miles and spent 121 days traveling to the headwaters of almost every tributary of the Bay.

Those interested in following the shallop as it travels the Chesapeake can visit www.johnsmith400.org for daily updates. The shallop's remaining stops are Baltimore and St. Leonard, Maryland, and Tappahannock, Fredericksburg and Deltaville, Virginia, before returning to Jamestown on September 8.

The John Smith project is the work of Sultana Projects, Inc. For more information about the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, stay tuned to www.nps.gov/cajo.



Keywords: history
Oct
01
2006

Bay Islands, Wildlife Habitat Succumbing to Sea Level Rise

The Chesapeake Bay faces environmental threats from over-development, nutrient pollution, chemical contaminants and many other sources. But there is another threat that becomes more evident in many coastal, low-lying areas along the Bay with every passing year: rising sea level.

The Bay, which was formed by the rising sea that flooded the ancient Susquehanna River valley, is constantly being reshaped by erosion. Since the Bay took on its modern form about 6,000 years ago, sea level in the Bay has risen about six inches per century. However, U.S. Geological Survey tide gauge records show that sea level in the Bay rose more rapidly during the 20th century. Currently, sea level at the mouth of the Bay is rising at a rate of about 1.3 feet per century—twice the worldwide average.

This relatively recent increase in sea level rise may have several causes. Land subsidence due to groundwater extraction is one common explanation. Another is human-induced global climate change, which is causing glaciers to melt and ocean volume to increase. Shoreline development that removes or blocks the migration of wetlands can also increase the effects of sea level rise. Without a wetland buffer between the land and the Bay, low-lying areas become more prone to flooding and erosion.

William B. Cronin's The Disappearing Islands of the Chesapeake documents the history and acreage losses due to sea level rise of over 40 Bay islands.

Less than one hundred years ago, Holland Island was a community of over 350 residents, complete with a church schoolhouse, a post office and a community center. In 1914 the island, which lies west of Deal Island in Somerset County, Md., was five miles long and about a mile and a half wide. Around that time, islanders began moving to the mainland to escape erosion that was threatening their homes. Today, Holland Island is less than 100 acres, and the remaining population is made up of terns, egrets, bald eagles and other wildlife.

Despite its name, Barren Island once held a church, a school and more than a dozen farms on its 582 acres. As recently as the 1950s, a fully functional clubhouse welcomed wildfowl hunters to the island, which is located just west of Hoopers Island in Dorchester County, Md. Today, Barren Island has been reduced to less than 120 acres, and the clubhouse is underwater. Recognizing its importance as a wintering ground for several species of ducks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has made Barren Island part of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).

Sea level rise is not just threatening the Bay's islands; many low-lying mainland areas are also at risk of being lost. The Blackwater NWR loses about 130 acres of marsh each year to rising sea level. The U.S. Geological Survey forecasts that most of the refuge will be open water in approximately 50 years. Blackwater provides critical habitat to hundreds of species of wildlife, including osprey, hummingbirds, bald eagles and the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel.

While the effects of sea level rise seem dire, efforts are underway to bring back some of the Bay's islands and low-lying coastal areas. Poplar Island, in Talbot County, Md., is being rebuilt by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with dredge material from Baltimore Harbor. The island, which served as a retreat for presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, was once 1,500 acres. By 1997, Poplar Island had become six separate islands totaling about 120 acres. The Poplar Island project, which is expected to be completed in 2016, will restore 1,000 acres of diverse habitat for wildlife that have historically used the island as a nesting and wintering ground.

Will more of the Bay's still-inhabited islands—such as Smith, Hoopers and Tangier—see the same fate as Holland or Poplar islands? Scientists continue to study the causes of sea level rise, as technology develops to combat erosion and restore the land, history and habitat that are being eaten away by the Bay's relentless waves.



Keywords: wildlife, history
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