Maryland and Virginia: Old Bay

Text: John M. Flores • Photography: John M. Flores

More than 150 rivers and streams wind their way from New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland, and empty into the Chesapeake Bay. At 200 miles long and 30 miles wide at its widest point, this estuary’s shallow waters (average depth is just 21 feet) and countless bays, inlets, spits, and sandbars can prove challenging for boaters. For decades, lighthouses helped guide the way for a young nation; the history of both can still be found along the bay’s shores.

Across the Top

Wedged between the industrial edges of Baltimore, I-95, and the bay, the roads along the northwest section of Chesapeake Bay are the busiest and most congested part of this trip. I wander through a gritty industrial area between pothole-dodging dump trucks in search of the Craighill Channel Upper Range Rear Lighthouse before being turned away at the security gate of an industrial facility; I remind myself that long before lighthouses became selfie magnets they were navigation aids for commerce. I manage to find that lighthouse’s companion, the Craighill Channel Upper Range Front Lighthouse, on an adjacent peninsula. It sits off of Fort Howard, an old military installation. A British invasion (decades before the Beatles, the Who, and the Rolling Stones) of more than 4,000 troops landed here during the War of 1812 and marched toward Baltimore. They were rebuffed, but prior to the Spanish-American War, a military installation was built to defend the city from another attack.

Things mellow out as Baltimore gets smaller in my mirrors. Havre de Grace is a stately, quiet small town just minutes from I-95. Among the town’s attractions are a duck decoy museum and, less than half a mile away from that, the stout Concord Point Lighthouse, which looks out onto the bay, its conical shape and thick coat of white paint more like the picture postcard that people expect. After lunch, the ride through Elk Neck State Park is wooded, peaceful, and undulating, ending in a gravel parking lot. It’s about a 3.5-mile walk out and back to the Turkey Point Lighthouse (a near carbon copy of the Concord Point Lighthouse) on a bluff overlooking the bay. 

I’m on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) Peninsula now—a combination of flat, fertile farmland and towns with marinas and maritime traditions. The Chesapeake Bay is a “ria,” or drowned valley of the Susquehanna River, so there are many bays, inlets, peninsulas, and spits—land and water interlocked like fingers. I cut arrow-straight over farmland then arc high over water on bridges of concrete and steel. I get to Cambridge, MD, in the fading light, and after a fine dinner downtown, admire the Choptank River Light at the marina. It is a replica of a screw-pile lighthouse, where wooden pilings are screwed into the muddy river bottom and upon which a wooden lighthouse is built. It’s a unique architectural form that is, thankfully, preserved.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the September/October 2019 back issue.