Ties That Bind on the Eastern Shore

Pier on Coulbourne Creek in Marion Station - Somerset County, MD

Pier on Coulbourne Creek in Marion Station – Somerset County, MD

Most people rushing to the beach don’t realize the rich culture that exists on either side of the highway. They don’t know that Annie Oakley and her husband once chose to live here as did Tom Clancy, John Barth, Sissy Spacek, Tallulah Bankhead, the Motts family (Motts Apple Juice), and the Boiardis (Chef Boyardee). What drew these people to settle in this open, desolate landscape? Before I lived here I saw everything between the bridge and the beach as a repetitive obstacle. I only had a mind for the beach.

There is so much more between the Bridge and the beach. There’s a vacation full of stops along the way.

 

Annie Oakley House in Cambridge, MD

Annie Oakley House in Cambridge, MD

 

Annie Oakley and Frank Butler

When Annie Oakley and her husband Frank Butler decided to retire from their Wild West Show days, they built a house in Cambridge – Dorchester County. It overlooked Hambrook’s Bay and the Choptank River. They designed it so that they could step out of a second story window, onto a landing and shoot waterfowl right out of the sky from the comfort of a bedroom porch. They only lived a few years in Cambridge before they went back to performing, but while they lived in this house, Annie wrote her autobiography. It is now a private home, but the unique design of a second-floor “shooting porch” is worth taking a look if you’re a wild west fan.

The house is on Bellevue Road in Cambridge just before it turns left and becomes Maple Avenue.  GPS coordinates are  38.589740, -76.089184
NOTE: The Annie Oakley House is a private home, so please do not trespass on the property. It’s easy enough to grab a snapshot from the road, so don’t be jerks and annoy the owners by lingering.

 

The land on either side of every Eastern Shore highway is rich in historical sites, natural wonders, artists, story-tellers and politicians (so H.L. Menken says – about the politicians, I mean). Every traveler cheats herself if she doesn’t make a point to stop at one new place on the way to the beach. Your vacation will be far richer.

Blackwater Wildlife Refuge - Dorchester County, Maryland

Blackwater Wildlife Refuge – Dorchester County, Maryland

I’ve written several books on Eastern Shore destinations, and I’ve had to pour through scores of books, documents and folklore collections. I’ve personally conducted over one hundred interviews.

One thing in that research process never gets old –  the personal interviews. I’ve talked to old people, young people, come-heres, born heres, wealthy folks or poor folks, black folks and white folks – one common thread runs through every storyteller. And that is a sense of belonging to the land. This place – the Eastern Shore – that I write about, has a draw, a magnetism that makes people want to come here, to return here, and when they can’t be here, to return in their minds.

 Poem by Frank Butler

Frank Butler expressed his sentiments about the Eastern Shore and its magnetic draw so simply in a short poem he wrote from the road. In it he refers to calling the Governor “Phil” because during the Butler’s years as residents in Cambridge, Governor Phillips Lee Goldsborough who lived on High Street was serving as Maryland’s 47th governor. So it’s clear that the Butlers had developed relationships and felt at home. Annie wrote about the parties they hosted at their Cambridge home and the hunting expeditions they organized for friends.

While on a train headed back to the Eastern Shore, Frank Butler wrote this simple poem. It expresses that “Eastern Shore” state of mind and longing to be walking in that landscape again.

Here I am on the Great White Way,
Where night is turned into day;
The awful racket of trolley and train
All make me long for home again.
There I watch the sun at early day
Climbing over the river and bay,
Where the air is pure and minds are, too.
No hard times, and plenty to do.
They may have the city, with its riot and roar,
But for me its back to the Eastern Shore.
Were oysters are big and plenty, too,
You don’t pay a dollar for a church fair stew;
Where girls are as pretty as any you’ll find.
And, better yet, they are the right kind.
Where men are good enough, but not too good –
Where our neighbors are just Jim and Bill –
We even call our Governor Phil —
Where the latch string hangs outside each door,
A welcome awaits you on the Eastern Shore.

~Frank E. Butler, New York, October 3, 1914

 

Frank Butler’s poem appears courtesy of the Dorchester County Library

100 Things to Do Between the Bridge and the Beach

Every year millions of people cross a bridge to travel to the Atlantic Beaches on Delmarva. It may be the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel or a bridge over the Delaware Canal. They may be headed to Ocean City, Chincoteague, Rehoboth, Bethany, Dewey or Assateague, but most don’t know about the fabulous sites and attractions they are passing by. This 100 Things  to Do Between the Bridge and the Beach series shows  fun things to do on your way there and back, encouraging visitors to pull off the highway, take a day trip, and widen your vacation scope of activities – or make the Eastern Shore a destination when you’re not headed for the beach.

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