Summer Travel: Test the Waters
These vacation spots are dripping with fun. Start planning now.
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St. Mary's County, Maryland
In 1634, a group of 140 colonists seeking religious freedom and a better life traveled from England aboard two ships—the Ark and the Dove—and established the fourth permanent settlement in British North America. They called their capital, located on a peninsula surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, the Patuxent and Potomac Rivers, Terrae-Marie, Mary’s Land, after Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I. Tobacco fueled the growth of the colony and its population boom with St. Mary’s City serving as its political and economic center until 1695 when the capital was moved to Annapolis. After that, St. Mary’s virtually died and the ground on which it stood—as well as the foundations of the city underneath—remained relatively undisturbed for hundreds of years. Today, Historic St. Mary’s City is one of the nation’s most renowned archaeological sites and outdoor living history museums, recognized by the National Park Service as “the best preserved founding site of a 17th-century English colony in North America.”
Where to Stay
It took 18 years to restore the once-abandoned, 1798 manor house now called Woodlawn Farm (16040 Woodlawn Lane, Ridge, 301-872-0555, woodlawn-farm.com; $140 to $190 weekdays, $170 to $260 weekends). The effort paid off because it was honored with the 1990 Grand Prize of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Great American Home Awards.” Built on a tidal inlet at the mouth of the Potomac and surrounded by 180 acres of lawns, fields, woodlands and 300-year-old boxwoods, this home-turned-bed and breakfast offers accommodations in two bay- or garden-view suites in the main manor house or in five more contemporary cottage suites. All of the cottages have Jacuzzi tubs, including the charming Magnolia Cottage, designed to replicate 17th-century architecture, with its soaring cathedral ceiling. Swim, fish or crab off the dock or walk or bike on the five miles of trails.
Where to Eat
Just about every St. Mary’s County family has its own recipe for stuffed ham, a local delicacy. The ham is brined, pierced, and filled with a mixture of cabbage, kale and spices that include a variety of peppers. Look for it at local grocery stores and church dinners (some churches also offer all-you-can-eat crab feasts).
Brome-Howard Inn (18281 Rosecroft Road, St. Mary’s City, 301-866-0656, bromehowardinn.com; $22 to $27), in an 1840s Greek revival gentleman’s plantation house on the St. Mary’s River, offers an atmosphere of sophisticated intimacy. Seafood is a specialty of Chef Michael Kelley, who is particularly proud of his jumbo lump crab cakes and saffron-scented Fisherman’s Stew.
Surrounded by wooden shacks and trailers at the end of a road, you might be tempted to skip the humble Courtney’s Restaurant (48290 Wynne Road, Ridge; 301-872-4403; dinners up to $25.95), but the locals absolutely love this seafood spot with its vegetable crab soup, oyster stew, “secret” battered selections and, in season, soft shell crabs.
If you’re really hungry, order Chef Neil’s Colossal Steamer Platter at Evans Seafood Restaurant (16800 Piney Point Road, Piney Point, 301-994-9944, evansseafoodrestaurant.com; $15 to $37). If you’re looking for some quick, cheap and surprisingly fresh food, the cafeteria at St. Mary’s College (18952 E. Fisher Road, St. Mary’s City) is open to the public.
What to Do
Archaeologists began digging on the 835-acre site set on Calvert Creek in 1972 to unearth the foundations and artifacts from the buried Historic St. Mary’s City (off Rt. 5, 800-762-1634, stmaryscity.org; $10 for adults, $3.50 to $6 for youngsters), a.k.a. HSMC.
Work still continues to reveal and rebuild the city with the utmost historic accuracy, but St. John’s Archaeology Museum, constructed on the preserved foundation of a 1638 building, already has more than one-and-one-half million artifacts, many dating from the 17th century, others from prehistoric times.
Other living museum highlights include a full-scale, hands-on replica of the Dove, one of the original colonists’ ships; the Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation, where the mistress of the house and her indentured servant will show and tell you about their 17th-century lives; and the Woodland Indian Hamlet, where costumed interpreters will tell you about the native Yaocomaco tribe.
During July’s Tidewater Archaeology Weekend, you can actually work with the archaeologists to search for more treasures. Close to HSMC is Leonardtown, where a major mural depicts various periods in the town’s history and North End Gallery (41652 Fenwick St., 301-475-3130, northendgallery.org) displays the works of 35 Southern Maryland artists.
If you are a fan of lighthouses, take the water taxi (301-769-2222; $5) to St. Clement’s Island State Park, Blackistone Lighthouse (originally built in 1851 and reconstructed after being destroyed by fire in 1951) and Potomac River Museum (38370 Point Breeze Road, Colton’s Point; 301-769-2222; $3 for adults, $1.50 for children). Paddle the Patuxent River on a guided trip ($45, add $10 for lunch or brunch tours) with River Riders Kayaking (Greenwell State Park, 25420 Rosedale Manor Lane, Hollywood; 301-373-9775; greenwellfoundation.org) or go out on your own in a rental ($25 half day, $35 whole).