Bay Life
Boat Rides on the Bay
Steamboat Memories On Exhibit
by M.L. Faunce

photos courtesy of Maryland Historical Society Steamboats like the Louise, above, provided summer relief to folks like those at Tolchester Beach, 1943.

"Escape the monotony! Escape the heat! Escape the indoors!"

beckoned posters and newspaper ads a century ago to city dwellers sweltering through summer heat in Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia. Promising cool breezes and the tang of salt air, steamboat lines plied Chesapeake Bay and nearby rivers offering excursions to amusement parks and picnic spots.

"Every passenger a guest," one line assured, boasting of the rejuvenation in store for those who cruised the "the Mother of Waters."

As summer 1999 heats up, consider escaping the outdoors for the indoors of the Maryland Historical Society where the exhibit Steamboat Vacations: Excursions on the Chesapeake will rejuvenate some and jog memories of others about the history of the Bay as both vacationland and vital link for supplies and transportation throughout the region.

Through photos, written history and memorabilia, today's excursion-takers join the crowd as 3,000 happy souls climb aboard the Dreamland for the 50-cent trip from Baltimore to the boardwalk and souvenir stands of Chesapeake Beach. Chug along on slower river steamboats as they thread their way to tiny rural settlements. Pack a wicker basket of fried chicken and potato salad for an afternoon picnic at Tolchester Beach, a popular Eastern Shore destination. Take a day trip to Annapolis or plan to stay at a boarding house in Bay Ridge.

If you're African American, you'll be heading for Brown's Grove, from the Patapsco River in Baltimore to Anne Arundel County, for a moonlight cruise on the steamer Starlight with Captain George Brown at the helm. Like other recreational activities, steamboat outings were segregated.

Steamboats that brought leisure to city folks were also a lifeline to those living in isolated river and Bay landings throughout the area. The Emma Giles plied the Bay for 50 years, steaming her way into history and the hearts of the communities in Southern Anne Arundel county where her visits were like a day at the circus for local kids. This exhibit honors that service and the memories that live still.

Recalling that 185-foot steamboat, Laurence Hartge of Galesville told New Bay Times, "she looked like the Titanic when she came into the West River. It was the highlight of our lives. We'd hitch a ride to Chalk Point and swim back - about a 100 yards."

Built in 1887, the Emma Giles had a top speed of 13mph, carried passengers until 1932, then freight and finally was sold for scrap. A part of her remains in Southern Anne Arundel County to this day: Her huge captain's wheel fills a wall at the Galesville Community Hall and a faithful model is on display at the Captain Salem Avery Museum in Shady Side.

A portrait on display at the Maryland Historical Society exhibit offers a view most have never seen: the painting of the five-year-old namesake Emma Giles in a blue frock with lace sleeves. Painted in 1887, this image of the owner's daughter had hung on the landing of the steamboat's grand stairway.

World War II and the automobile boom ended the era of steamboat vacations. But at this exhibit - and its companion exhibit at the Chesapeake Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Steamboat Vacations: Destinations on the Chesapeake - you can steam back in time in an excursion fitting for a summer day.

The exhibit may not be virtual reality, but it is hands on. Check out the latest fashions on display: women's bathing shoes, made of cotton and suede, and a bathing suit of red wood with mother-of-pearl buttons. Youngsters might want to try on some clothes kids wore back then, like a hundred-year-old sailor suit. After you've been everywhere, done everything on a hot steamy day on the Bay, share your experiences by sending a postcard, compliments of the Museum.

Steamboat Vacations: Excursions on the Chesapeake runs thru Jan. 30, 2000 in the Heritage Wing at the Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument Street, Baltimore. $6/family w/discounts: 410/685-3750.

Steamboat Vacations: Destinations on the Chesapeake runs thru April 16, 2000 at Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels: 410 745-2916.

| Issue 29 |

Volume VII Number 29
July 22-28, 1999
New Bay Times

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