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.