The tenth Maryland county on Diane and Jeff Caslow’s twenty-three counties and Baltimore City day trip exploration was Somerset.  They continue to focus adventures on staying outdoors, expanding exploration around landscape preservation through trails, conservancies, preserves, and old railroad lines converted into trails. Read on for more from Diane!

rails, Rails and Vitamin N for Nature

Some counties, like Somerset, take longer to get to from our home in the Baltimore area.  We still manage to do each county in one day.  Somerset County was founded in 1666. However, as with many counties in Maryland, Native Americans, principally the Algonquian tribes, were here well before that time, with several tribes recognized by the state. An interesting fact is that the geography of the county is nearly equal parts land and water. Of the county’s 610 square miles, 320 is land and 290 is water. So off we went to explore equal parts too!


We started our exploration in Crisfield, the southern-most tip of the county.  “The site of today’s Crisfield was initially a small fishing village called Annemessex Neck. During European colonization, it was renamed Somers Cove, after Benjamin Summers. When the business potential for seafood was discovered, John W. Crisfield decided to bring the Pennsylvania Railroad to Crisfield, and the quiet fishing town grew. The city’s success was so great that the train soot and oyster shells prompted the extension of the city’s land into the marshes. City residents often claim that the downtown area is literally built atop oyster shells.”  Our first stop was prompted by Jeff looking at a store window as he was drawn by a life-sized carving of a swan.  The owner of The Weathered Porch, a life-long resident of Crisfield, was just opening the store. She was a great storyteller and gave us some wonderful history of the area while we did some shopping on her store.  We did our own walking tour around the town.  We saw a working skipjack coming in with a morning catch at the town dock, along with the folks that were loading up for the daily boat trip to Tangier Island and Smith Island.  On our last visit to the county, we ventured to Smith Island. It is great trip and where you can get authentic Smith Island cake, the state cake of Maryland.


We checked out Jane’s Island State Park, part of “Somerset County’s Original Trail Mix” with over 2,900 acres of saltmarsh and 30 miles of water trails that would be fun to explore during the warmer months.  “In the early 1900’s, Janes Island featured a dance hall, summer cottages and a bath house for visitors to enjoy the large sandy beach.  Passenger boats would take people from Crisfield to the island for 50 cents, round trip.  A fire on the island in 1932 destroyed the fertilizer plant, leaving only the smokestack, which can still be seen on the southern end of Janes Island.  This is all that remains to indicate that the island was ever developed.”  We had to stay on the mainland portion of the park as there was no access to the island in the off season.  We walked around the campground and climbed the lookout tower for a panoramic view of the island.

We took a walk on a portion of the 413 Rail to Trail, built on a former railroad bed, that parallels Route 413.  When finished it will be a 12-mile trail from Crisfield to Westover.  The Eastern Shore Railroad-Crisfield Branch was built in 1866, moving seafood from Chesapeake Bay to markets in the northeast.  Crisfield was the second largest city in Maryland for a time, but the Great Depression combined with overfishing the oyster beds halted economic development and an end to the railroad’s prosperous years.  The Crisfield Branch was abandoned in the 1970’s – just waiting for a reuse like a number of the abandoned rail lines across the state.


Princess Anne

Princess Anne was established in 1733 and serves at the county seat. We had lunch at the Washington Inn, built in 1744, and currently undergoing a revitalization project.  It is believed that George Washington stayed at the Inn several times and the Inn was named in his honor.  There is a self-guided historic walking tour that gives a is a nice guide to numerous buildings preserved as part of the Princess Anne Historic District.  We used the guide to take a nice afternoon walk around town and appreciate the buildings that span three centuries, from early churches to a lovely boxwood garden, and even a more modern preservation of a gas station converted into an antique shop.


Deal Island

Our last stop was Deal Island.  “Deal Island was historically known as Deal’s, Deil’s, and Devil’s Island. At least one source also attributes these nicknames to the area’s use by pirates. Since 1959, Deal Island has hosted an annual Labor Day weekend Skipjack Race. The race features skipjacks, which are traditional wooden sailing vessels with triangular sails, designed for dredging oysters. They are two-sail bateaux, and the term ‘bateau’ is still preferred by watermen. These vessels were operated extensively between the 1880s to the 1960s. Deal Island was once the home port for a large fleet of skipjacks and today has most of the few remaining skipjacks operating commercially for oystering on the Chesapeake Bay.”  We were in luck, as there were at least six working skipjacks anchored at the marina, a rare sighting to see that many in one place.  Oyster shells were everywhere, even embedded in the cement bulkheads to protect the shoreline.  We finished up with a trek through one of the sections of the Deal Island Wildlife Management Area.  There are 2,800 acres of tidal marshes, with a portion designated as a waterfowl refuge.  It is easy to see how you could get lost in the miles of trails.  For bird nerds, there is a Birder’s Guide to Maryland and DC with over 200 species of birds reported in this area.  We spied, but too slow to take a picture as proof, a blue bird.

I think spotting a blue bird was a fitting way to end our tour of Somerset County.  The blue bird has been “considered a symbol of good luck and happiness since ancient times in many world cultures.” Being outside, exploring and walking for nearly the entire day, made for a happy day.