Thursday, December 24, 2009

In the Burbs: Arnold, Maryland

Arnold, Maryland is an unincorporated area in the Baltimore/Annapolis suburbs with a population of about 23,000, located along the Magothy River. It’s a place with lots of big 1970s style colonials on hills and cliffs overlooking the river and the creeks that flow into it. The Baltimore-Annapolis bike trail passes through the area along the former route of the now defunct B&A Railroad.
The town is named for Arnold’s store, owned by Thomas Arnold, a prominent local citizen in the latter half of the 1800. Mr. Arnold donated land for the Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church which is still an active congregation today, and then started the store which the town was named for. Unfortunately the store apparently no longer exists. In 1997, a group of students at Magothy River Middle School decided to do a project on the history of their town, and the result is preserved in a delightful website: By interviewing older residents, they learned that electricity didn’t arrive in Arnold until the 1930s, and the area consisted mostly of farms and a 4 room school until after WWII. They note that the cemetery behind the Asbury M.E. church contains many tombstones with the name Arnold. One of Thomas’s sons, John was buried on the property adjoining his home instead, giving rise to some local lore: “There are many stories about why John Arnold is not buried with the rest of his family in the Asbury cemetery, but we will never really know. As the stories go, it is said that John Arnold requested to be buried right near his house so he could always keep an eye on his young widow Rebecca. Other stories say that he was buried with his money, and if you kept quiet while digging for it, you would be able to get it, but if you spoke, it would sink deeper into the earth. “
Above: Asbury M.E. Church, looking like a Christmas card; the Magothy River; and docks and boats along Mill Creek in Arnold.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

snowed in

Well, I have the entire weekend off for only the 3rd time since July 1, and we got a delightful 20 inches of snow for the occasion. I love snow, and would have been royally pissed to be stuck at work during this. Chowder likes snow too but he isn't so crazy about it being up to his shoulders and prefers for Mommy to break him a trail. Expect a future post with gratuitous pictures of my house, neighborhood and dog in a foot and a half of snow.

Back on the virtual walk, minus the snow, we have made it across the long, long bridge, and now find ourselves in Sandy Point State Park. This 768 acre park is where the western end of the bridge touches down, located at the site of a former ferry for the Chesapeake Bay Ferry System. The ferries ran from the 1920s until the day the bridge opened. That summer the ferries closed and the park opened. In the summer the park features a beach, hiking, fishing, crabbing and picnic facilities. There is also the historic Sandy Point Farmhouse, not currently open to the public but visible from the main road. Too bad I can't find any pictures of it. Reportedly it is on the National Register of Historic Places and dates back to a time when the property was a seaweed farm. This time of year, we're just in time for Lights on the Bay, a drive-through display of holiday lights along the shore sponsored by Anne Arundel Medical Center. $14 per car but free for virtual walkers.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Walking Across the Bay

No, I didn't fall off the bridge. And I didn't give up my walk. It just got really, really bad at work. Sigh. So here is my entry completing the trip across the Bay Bridge.

It's a good thing this is just a virtual walk, or Chowder and I would have to hitch a ride, because the bridge is only open to foot traffic once a year. That occasion is for the Annual Bay Bridge Walk, held on a Sunday in the spring when the eastbound span (the older, 1952 bridge) is closed to cars so that people can walk across it. The event has been held since 1975. Unfortunately the walk has been cancelled for 2009 due to bridge construction, but hopefully it will be back in 2010. I actually did the Bay Bridge Walk in 1970something, with my girl scout troop. I remember feeling very uneasy looking down through the gratings to the water 186 feet below.

That 186 feet height has bothered a lot of people over the years. State troopers used to be stationed at the bridge to drive scared motorists across. In more recent years the state has contracted this job out to a private company who charges $25 each way to convey gephyrophobics to the other side. About 4000 people a year use the service.

Lane's Folly: the Chesapeake Bay Bridge

It's time to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Since the thing is 4.3 miles long, it will take a couple posts for Chowder and I to get across it. Which is good, because I found so many beautiful pictures of the bridge that they can't all fit in one post.

For today's post, a little historical perspective. Proposals to build a bridge across the bay go back as far as the 1880s. In 1907 there was a proposal for an electric trolley line to link Baltimore and the Eastern Shore. In 1909 there was an even more ambitious plan for a 235 mile network of trolley lines crisscrossing the bay and connecting the mainland to countless little towns on the other side. No one was willing to put up the $13 million dollars, so that didn't work out. In 1918, the Governor wanted to build a double decker bridge, with freight trains on one level and trolley cars on the other, but again it was just too expensive, so a new ferry service was put in place instead. In the late 1920s, the bridge almost happened - the legislature approved plans for a road bridge across the bay and even appropriated some funds, but then the stock market crashed and we got a Great Depression instead of a bay bridge. They were getting close to reviving the project 10 years later, but World War II got in the way.

Baltimore writer H.L. Mencken thought the idea of a bay bridge was foolish, saying "There is not the slightest reason to believe that any such structure could ever earn enough to pay the interest and amortization on $10,000,000, to say nothing of the heavy costs of maintenance. There is simply not traffic enough between the Eastern and Western Shores, and there is no evidence that there will ever be enough hereafter." Ha. He should see the bridge on a Friday afternoon in July. Some folks on the Eastern Shore weren't too crazy about the idea either, apparently not wanting to be all that closely associated with the rest of Maryland.

Another winner in the Predicting the Future Badly department is this Baltimore Sun editorial from 1947: “It’s a good thing they didn’t build that trolley bridge forty years ago. It would have been out of date and just a piece of junk now. If they wait another forty years before they build this bridge, they won’t need it. Automobiles will be as out of date as trolley cars. People will have flymobiles and won’t need bridges to cross the bay.”

Governor William Preston Lane disagreed, or maybe just didn't want to wait around for flymobiles to be invented, and got a plan approved by Congress to build the bridge in 1948. His critics called it "Lane's Folly" but he got the last laugh when the bridge was eventually named in his memory in 1967. The first span cost 45 million dollars and used 42,500 pounds of steel. It opened in 1952 with a five hour ceremony followed by a motorcade across the new bridge led by the Governor. It was at the time the longest steel structure over water in the world. Traffic far exceeded expectations, and in 1973 a second span was added. Above are pictures of the 1952 span under construction, Governor Lane on the bridge on the eve of its opening, and opening day.

Kent Island

Having crossed the narrows, we now find ourselves on Kent Island. At 4 miles wide and 15 miles long, it's the largest island in the Chesapeake Bay. Originally it was a remote farming community, with access to the mainland only by ship or later by ferry boat. In 1952 that all changed with the building of the Bay Bridge. The bridge is still the only route across the bay by car in Maryland, so everyone on their way to or from the beach drives through Kent Island along route 50. Nowadays some people live on the island and commute to jobs in Annapolis or Baltimore. We will be travelling along the Cross Island Trail, a greenway and bike path which opened in 2001. The photos above are all from the trail.

Kent Island was first settled in 1631, making it the first European settlement in Maryland. William Claiborne, surveyor of the Jamestown Colony, purchased the island from the Susquehannock tribe in that year and established a settlement and trading post. In 1632, the Calvert family (who you may remember from the Mason-Dixon line controversy several posts back) was granted a license by the King to establish a colony in Maryland. Looks like those Calverts were always fighting with someone about their land. Their charter included all lands surrounding the bay north of the mouth of the Pocomoke River, which included Kent Island. Meanwhile the Virginia Assembly backed up Claiborne in claiming it as his property and part of Virginia. The ensuing dispute involved lawsuits, naval battles, and an unfortunate ship's captain being hanged for piracy. But in the end it all came down to business. Claiborne's investors were unsatisfied with the profits they were seeing from fur trade on the island, and in 1637 Claiborne had to return to England to deal with the lawsuit they filed against him. As soon as he left, the attorney for the investors invited Maryland to come take over the island by force, which they did.

Things are a bit more peaceful on Kent Island today. Recent headlines from the Kent Island Bay Times include the crowning of the homecoming king and queen at Stevensville High School, some post office boxes being broken into, and "windshield broken by hurled oranges." My personal favorite, with photo above: "Back on the Playground: Kent Island Elementary School students play on the school playground after new mulch was put down under the play equipment."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Kent Narrows

Pictured: the Kent Narrows Drawbridge built c. 1910; workers shucking oysters at the Harris Seafood plant; cans of locally processed seafood from years gone by; the Fisherman's Inn in 1939 and in 2009.

Kent Narrows is, well, the narrow part of water you cross to get from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, aka the Delmarva Peninsula, to Kent Island. In colonial days it was a marshy area shallow enough to wade across. Nowadays there's a bridge, which is good since Chowder hates to get his feet wet.

For most of the 20th century, this area was the center of the booming Maryland seafood industry. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, Kent Narrows was a slum where the African-American employees of area seafood packing plants lived in conditions that the Maryland Department of Health bluntly described as unfit for human habitation. A report to the US Commission on Civil Rights in 1971 describes the area in pretty grim terms: "Living accommodations for workers and their families in Kent Narrows consist primarily of rows of frame or cinder-block shacks located in clusters around the several packing houses... The often flooded with rain and tidewater which frequently collect in the walkways and areas between the shacks and underneath some of the housing units...there are no indoor toilets or running water in the workers' shanties. Water for drinking, cooking, and washing is carried by workers to their houses from spigots near the packing houses or from a pump centrally located among a group of dwellings. There is no apparent method for the disposal of waste water other than throwing it outside the door onto the ground."

Over time harvests of oysters and other seafood from the bay dropped, putting a crimp in the seafood packing business. As their packing business dwindled, many of the plant owners started up restaurants next door. Nowadays Kent Narrows is mainly known for its seafood restaurants, conveniently located to attract summer beachgoers on their way to or from the shore. Only one packing plant remains, and I sincerely hope their employees now have indoor toilets.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Every Place Has a Story. Except Grasonville, Md.

That's the whole concept of this blog, right? Every place has a story. But today we are in Grasonville, Md, a little town on the Chesapeake Bay that I was not able to find a single interesting thing to tell you about despite scouring the internet. It was named for William Grason, 1786-1868, who was the 28th governor of Maryland. And that's all I was able to find. But Grasonville shouldn't feel bad. It may not have a story, but it apparently has some very pretty scenery. These pictures were posted on a hotel-rating website by someone who stayed in a hotel in Grasonville. (Maybe I could email them and ask why they were there....) Pretty, huh?


well, we're not doing so well with the walking, mostly because I have been stuck working 80 hrs a week and the walks have been forced to be short. At this rate, I feel like we're never going to get out of Maryland. But don't give up on us. This crappy work schedule can't last forever and we're determined to get a little further down the trail.

But in the meantime, I thought I'd share some pictures of Chowder in his Halloween costume. He was a spider. He tried to eat the first few trick or treaters, but he settled down after that and was a good boy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wye Mills, Maryland: Where Stuff Lasts a Really, Really Long Time

First of all, my apologies for the long hiatus. I've been under the weather, and also working about 7,000 hours per week (ok, technically 80 hours per week) and between the two I haven't been feeling up to much walking. Chowder is pretty fed up with the short around-the-block walks he's been settling for. But we're getting back on track now, and find ourselves in Wye Mills, Maryland today, at mile 74 of our walk. Estimated population 414. (You'd think that in that kind of population size, you could get an exact population, not just estimated, wouldn't you?)

Wye Mills was settled in 1668 and was named for its grist mill powered by water from the Wye River, which still grinds flour on two Saturdays a month using two massive grindstones and a water-powered wheel. Not bad considering it was built in 1682. Wonder if any of our current technology will still be running two Saturdays a month in 327 years. It's apparently the oldest operating grist mill in Maryland, and I'm guessing one of the older ones anywhere.

Wye Mills is also famous for the Wye Oak tree, the official state tree of Maryland, and the oldest living thing in the state until it finally collapsed in a thunderstorm in June 2002. It is believed to have sprouted around the year 1500. It was officially recognized as the largest white oak tree in the country in 1940 and continued to hold the title til its demise. It stood 96 feet tall, with a trunk 31 ft 8 inches in circumference, and a crown spreading 119 feet across. Valiant efforts were made to preserve it; cables were installed to brace its massive crown and its hollow trunk was filled with cement in an effort to prevent further deterioration, so that toward the end, it was getting to be a bit more like a sculpture project than a tree.

Fortunately the Wye Oak gave rise to a few clones and lots of baby acorns; seedlings can periodically be purchased from the state Dept. of Natural Resources. There is even one, shown above, growing from within the remains of the trunk of the original in Wye Mills.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Since we're in a long stretch between towns, I thought I'd do a post to properly introduce my walking partner, Chowder. He is 6 years old (we think) and is a mix of Chow and Golden Retriever (we think). Unless the guy from my homeowner's insurance asks, in which case he's a Golden Retriever mix and we have nooooo idea what other breeds might be in him. We found Chowder running through the street in front of our house, dragging a chewed off tie-out behind him. He was terrified of people at first, and it was apparent he hadn't been treated very well, so we didn't exactly try to find his original owners. Four years later he is fat and happy. He still doesn't trust strangers at first, but once he's been properly introduced he does fine.

When not walking across America, Chowder's hobbies include sleeping, scratching himself, and trying to get the cats to play with him. He loves our cats, and will jump around in front of them with his front half down and his butt up in the air, in the international dog signal for "Let's play!" The cats, for their part, stare at him blankly in the international cat signal for "whatever is wrong with you?"

He is a very sweet dog although definitely not the smartest dog God ever made. He has, one more than one occasion, mistaken lawn ornaments for fellow animals. I think he's pretty handsome. However, my mom's first words upon seeing him were "well, you're a funny looking critter, aren't you?" I'll let you judge for yourselves.

Miles to date: 70.5

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Heading out of Ridgley

As we leave Ridgley, I have to mention Chowder's favorite feature of this little rural town - the historic fountain in the park. Back in 1915, a group of young ladies in the town decided they wanted to do something to benefit their community. They called themselves the Forget-Me-Not Band of Mercy, and raised funds to put up a fountain in the town park. It was intended not only for people but the also the local dog population and the horses and mules that pulled wagons through the dusty streets. The fountain remains in the park today; it was repaired in 2000 and thirsty dogs, humans, and I suppose horses and mules, can still get a drink there. It will be about 8 miles before Chowder and I hit another town so that drink is much appreciated. I love the sentiment on the original plaque:


Ridgley, MD

Ridgely, MD, population 1352, was conceived as a planned city in 1867 by a company from Philadelphia called the Maryland and Baltimore Land Association, during a land speculation boom that followed the Civil War. They funded a 200 acre survey and produced an elaborate map of the future city to attract settlers. Unfortunately, the infrastructure was not there to support their plans. The company went bankrupt within the year, and Ridgely was left with 4 buildings: a railroad station for the railroad which would not arrive for another year, a hotel, one house and one combination house/general store. That last building, the Ridgely house, is still standing and is shown above. The green house above is also one of the very early buildings of Ridgely. The town did start to grow once the railroad arrived, and in the second half of the 19th century little Ridgely became the “Strawberry Capital of the World,” home to the Armour Strawberry Preserving Plant. This was at the time the largest strawberry canning factory in the world and employed about1000 people during strawberry season. Strawberries are still a major crop of the region, and Ridgely has a strawberry festival every May.

Miles to date, 61.99

Monday, September 28, 2009

Crossing the Choptank River

Miles to date: 58.56

The current bridge for cars over the Choptank river was built in 1986; the older bridge which it replaced is now a popular fishing pier. It was recently renamed the Bill Burton State Park Fishing Pier, after a local outdoorsman and journalist who convinced the state to keep it open for fishing. For over 30 years, Burton wrote columns about the outdoors for the Baltimore Sun, the Annapolis Evening Capital and the Bay Weekly. He also did a weekly fishing report on local channel 2: dressed in fishing gear, he would stand in front of a map which had little magnetic fish to show where the fishing was good that week. He is credited with educating Marylanders about the outdoors, promoting conservation, and fostering an appreciation of our natural resources. He died in August at the age of 82. His daughter reports that he was fishing up til the end.

Since Bill's not here to do it, here is this week's fishing report for the area, courtesy of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources: channel catfish have been very active in the Choptank and other local rivers, due to recent rains that have cooled many of the Eastern Shore’s rivers and also flushed them out, leaving clearer water.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Martinak State Park

Only had time for a short walk today since I'm off to start a 30 hr shift at work. So we'll just hang out right outside Denton in Martinak State Park. According to two online reviews, Martinak park gets 5 stars. It has campgrounds, a playground, a boat ramp and a beatiful river, perfect for fishing, kayaking, canoeing and jet skiing. Chowder was also happy to hear that it's dog friendly. The land was deeded to the state by George Martinak in 1961. Thanks, Mr. Martinak!

Total miles to date, 56.06