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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Smith Island: A true taste of Maryland History

       This past Wednesday we finally got around to doing something that we have talked about for years--taking the ferry over to Smith Island.  For a few years we had business in Crisfield and it never worked out that we had time to take the ferry.  With the mid week Fourth holiday it seemed to be a better idea to try out the trip than to stay at home in the air conditioning.
       Even though St. Mary's is the first settlement in Maryland the settling of Smith Island speaks better to the heritage of the future of the link between Maryland and crabs.  The island sits in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay about a 45 minute boat trip from Crisfield.
       The 45 minute trip takes you back to a much slower, earlier time where the rhythms of time follow the crabbing cycle.
       When we rented a golf cart to use on the Island I asked the merchant what we should see on the Island he said, "Not much to see on this island. We are a pretty boring place!"
       Settled by Englishman from Virginia in the 1650's the island was not conducive to farming or raising livestock as in Virginia.  But the fishing and crabbing potential was soon recognized and the settling of the island by waterman soon followed.
    The shallow marsh areas that surround the island are ideal breeding grounds for hard and soft shell crabs. 
   The metal crab pots today that we see above replaced the more primitive wooden pots used by the earlier settlers.  The growth of the chicken industry on the Eastern Shore caused the use of chicken necks as bait instead of fish used by the early settlers.
   The boats used to catch crabs are specially designed to work in the shallow water surrounding the island.  Soft shell crabs are caught in water about 18 inches deep.
   Moulting crabs like the one above are brought to special molting bins on the Island to make sure that they are brought to market before the new shell forms.
  The population of the Island is declining from a high of 900 in 1910 to about 350 residents today. It is not hard to foresee a time in the near future where the Island will be abandoned.  The younger population seems to find life off  the Island more appealing than the tough life of a crabber.  The school on the island has classes through 8th grade and the high school students take a boat each day to Crisfield to attend high school there.
   The aging of the Island can be seen in many of the abandoned houses on the Island.
No visit would be complete without Smith Island Cake and soft shell crabs
Sunset on the Island


Unknown said...

A report about Smith Island can't be acurate unless it at least mentions the unbelievable number of flies. According to locals, there isn't a time of year when they are not swarmed and desimated with brown flies early in the season to green flies later and all species in between. On our visit we were greeted by a local who was nearly covered with flies and was so used to it, he didn't think twice about swatting them off. A real visit to hell!

Hoco Connect said...

At times the flies were annoying but hardly unique with the marshes that surround the island. Using bug spray is probably a good idea.

Hector Lugo said...

When I visited, it was a September, and the flies were indeed a horror, but some bug spray was basically all it took. There is something so peaceful, tranquil, and almost otherworldly about the island if you are from the city, though, and I did kind of fall in love with the place.