Summer Memories

A century ago, Chesapeake Country was vacationland.    
    Hundreds of beaches and weekend communities lined the shore. Trains hauled daytrippers from the big, hot cities for Bay waters, fresh seafood and fun and amusements. Steamboats plied the coast, stopping at one pleasure spot after another. Passengers paid $5 each to board the Emma Giles in Baltimore at 4:30 in the afternoon, eat and sleep overnight and arrive fresh at their beach destination the next morning.
    But the Golden Age of Chesapeake summering did not last long. After World War II, everyone bought cars. The steamboats shut down and the trains stopped running. After 1952, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge put ocean beaches within easy reach, and vacationland moved to the east.
    Still, each generation has found its own pleasures in Chesapeake Country.
    We asked Bay Weekly readers and writers to share their memories of where and how they spent summer on Chesapeake Bay. Several octogenarians remind us what a Chesapeake Bay summer was like in the 1920s and 1930s, while younger readers and writers bring us up to date.


Old Fashioned Fun

Jean S. Trott, Galesville

I’ve lived in Galesville all my 85 years. Like most kids, I eagerly looked forward to summertime just to have fun. The fun we had, we created for ourselves — with baseball, hide-and-seek, mumbly peg, badminton and croquet. Swimming was a daily delight. We ran barefoot down Galesville Road and jumped into the West River, our feet burning from the sticky tar that held the gravel surface together.
    There were other activities. One was the annual picnic sponsored by the four Methodist churches making up the Galesville circuit, including Centenary, Owensville, Mt. Zion and Galesville itself. They were welcomed to use the building known as the Club House and its sprawling lawn facing the river. Long tables were set up and fairly groaned with the weight of the fabulous homemade food, including freshly churned ice cream prepared by the Ladies Aid Societies of each church. If we weren’t eating, we were playing games, from relay races to farmer-in-the-dell. When this delightful day came to an end, everyone left looking forward to same time next year!
    Those picnics have long since faded away. The Club House has succumbed to the ravages of time, and trees have overtaken the lush green lawn. But today as I walk along the water’s edge, there are moments when I can almost hear the laughter of the children and the hustle and bustle of the grownups, reliving the simple joys of a happy summer afternoon so long ago.

Old Bay Days

Ann Parker Parks, Holland Point

In 1927, there was more than a hundred feet of land in front of my family’s cottage in southern Anne Arundel County, with many dogwood trees, according to my grandmother. The Bay took away some bank each year, and gradually many trees fell into the water.
    In the summer, we tied an old wooden boat out to a pole and on Sunday mornings my grandfather and dad retrieved it, put on a small motor and went fishing. I fondly remember the fried little spot we had for breakfast when the fishermen returned. My grandmother would dip them in cornmeal and fry them in wonderful grease. I quickly learned how to split them in the middle, take out the backbone and ribs, and relish the delicate white flesh.
    Access to the Bay changed after the hurricane of 1933. Huge poles were sunk and a wooden seawall and jetties were built. There was still a little beach, and we built steps down to it. It was a great place for a child in the summer, even with the sea nettles. My grandmother would put Absorbine Junior liberally on the sting, and I’d go right back to play in the water.
    Our community, Holland Point, was mostly a summer colony then, but our family was lucky. Next door was the Sinyard boarding house, and for many years we could call ahead and order chicken dinner on Sunday. We’d all troop over and enjoy the home-cooked meal. I think it cost a dollar.

The Mysterious Skeleton

Paul A. McDonald, Silver Spring

Most of my early recollections relate to Fairhaven in the 1930s and 1940s, where my family summered all of my childhood years. There was bridge and gab-fests for the women, fishing for the men, crab feasts and oyster roasts together. Homes weren’t air-conditioned, and it was cooler by the Bay, so there were always lots of friends and relatives around.
    If the kids weren’t swimming or hunting sharks’ teeth or catching crabs, we were inventing new things to do. We built rafts from driftwood, which never floated well, and squadrons of toy boats from any scrap lumber we could find. Sometimes we got up really early and walked a mile to the Ward farm to help bring in the cows to be milked. That was the milk that got delivered to your house the next day. We learned to ride and groom horses from Slim, an ex-jockey who had a stable and paddock on the farm. We even took the horses swimming, which they loved.
    The general store at Fairhaven Cliffs was a pivot point for the community. It had a gas pump, an icehouse, as refrigerators were rare, and it housed the local post office. Mrs. Brady brought the mail from Tracy’s Landing in her one-horse buggy and delivered to any RFD boxes on the way. She would sometimes let one or two kids ride with her, especially if they had a bandaged toe or other impairment.
    My friend Mr. Wilson lived at the end of the street. Retired from his grocery store near the Old Soldiers’ Home in Washington, he kept busy fishing, building boats and fixing things for his friends. One day when there were not many people around, erosion of a small cliff near the ruins of the community pier gave up a human skeleton. Mr. Wilson found it and notified the police, who called the Smithsonian Institution to investigate. Their conclusion was that the decedent was an Indian, probably part of a hunting party who had died of natural causes and we would not find other burials in the area.
    The outsiders got in their cars and drove away. Mr. Wilson gathered the bones into a wooden container and buried them in his yard. He carved a stone marker that said, An Indian Known But to God. The last time I looked, the marker was still there.

The Train Trip

Janet Bates, Holland Point by way of Chesapeake Beach

On a hot, sunny July day in 1930, I traveled by train from Seat Pleasant, just outside Northeast Washington, to Chesapeake Beach. I had a small cardboard suitcase, and my grandmother, called Dawa, carried a bag and a little chair for me. We would be going to the cottage she and my grandfather had recently purchased in North Beach Park, now Holland Point.
    It was an exciting trip for a five-year-old. On reaching Chesapeake Beach Amusement Park, we could hear carousel music. Since the jitney bus was not running, we began the two-and-a-half-mile walk to the cottage. We passed the icehouse, elementary school and houses fronting the Bay. Reaching North Beach, we saw two churches, two drug stores, Uncle Billie’s Pier and bathhouse. Near the end of town was Ewald’s Department Store. One more mile to go!
    Then we went by a large swamp and over a small bridge. We were now on a corduroy and dirt road, but much cooler with many large trees and bushes everywhere. Around a bend in the road, we reached Juniper Avenue.
    Our cottage was right on the water, with its own beach. It was rather primitive, like others of its time, with awnings, wooden shutters and an outhouse covered with Concord grapes. Oil lamps, a kerosene stove and an icebox for food and drink were standard equipment.
    Despite some changes, the cottage is much as it was over 80 years ago. It’s now my permanent home, and Holland Point is still the love of us all. My little chair is at the Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum in Chesapeake Beach.

Fun at the Beaches

Students of Southern High School’s 2011 African American History class

Carr’s and Sparrow’s Beaches, located on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula, were founded by two sisters on land inherited from their father, Fred Carr. Elizabeth Carr Smith opened Carr’s Beach in 1929. Her sister, Mary Florence Carr Sparrow opened Sparrow’s Beach the following year.
    The beaches offered plenty of activities like swimming, dancing, and concerts, providing a place where people could go to have a break from the negativity of racial tension during the segregation era. Carr’s and Sparrow’s beaches were so popular that people traveled from places like Washington, Baltimore, towns in Virginia, and even as far as New York and North Carolina to enjoy the entertainment hot spots.
    Celebrity performers and personalities were common at the beaches. Athletes such as boxers Joe Louis and Cassius Clay came for training camps. Carr’s Beach was part of the Chitlin’ Circuit, which brought famous singers like James Brown, Stevie Wonder, the Drifters, Ella Fitzgerald, Otis Redding and the Supremes to perform on Sunday afternoons. On summer weekends, radio station WANN sponsored Bandstand at the Beach from Carr’s Beach, hosted by DJ Charles ‘Hoppy’ Adams.
    Part of the fun of the experience was figuring out how to get in without paying. Some people would hide in the trunks of cars or put their clothes in plastic bags and hold the bags on top of their heads while swimming to the beach from areas such as Eastport.

River Memory

Mick Blackistone, Fairhaven

The Blackistone ancestral home, River Springs Farm in rural St. Mary’s County, was built in 1841, and the land goes back to a 17th century land grant to my family. In the 1950s, I remember it occupied by my parents, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins and more distant relatives. I learned from all of them during those lazy days of summer.
    My favorite times were spent down on the wharf looking for crabs, especially the Chinaman and his wife, for on finding a mating doubler, I went running to the kitchen with bragging rights over a nice soft crab sandwich. Fishing for perch, I hoped for an eel on the line, for that meant a nice fight. I would jump overboard to collect half a dozen oysters off the bottom and present them to my father for shucking and eating right on the spot. And I could dive off the end of the wharf to swim under my uncle’s boat and come up on the other side.
    I liked to watch ol’ Mrs. Bannigan slowly walking along the shore with her dip net out in front of her, a crab basket in an innertube trailing her, and her long skirt flowing on top of the water behind her. She wore a big straw hat and a long-sleeved blouse.
    I watched for Mrs. Bannigan every morning, every day. She never wavered in her approach to her search for crabs hiding in the seaweed that grew thick around the shore. She never spoke when she would reach our pier and duck underneath it. Her only acknowledgement to my existence was a slight wave as she moved down the shoreline to her house.
    I thought she was very mysterious and a bit frightening because she never made a sound. She just did what she did, and I could never see her face because it was hidden under the brim of the straw hat as she constantly looked down.
    In all those years, I never spoke to her. But I wish I had, because I am sure she was not mysterious, only concentrating on the task at hand. I bet I would have liked her a lot.

Lost Loves

John Bowie, Upper Marlboro

Each end of the trotline had a brick and a wooden float. I would drive the boat as Dad played out the line into the 10-foot-deep water just off Chalk Point on the Patuxent. The line was baited with eel. You had to use a crab net of chicken wire because there was a crab on every bait, so many they would tangle a mesh net. Three passes and the bushel basket was full.
    Then Dad would nose the bow of that old, 25-foot, wooden boat into the sand of Chalk Point (sans power plant) and the five of us kids would splash, swim and giggle while Mom and Day stayed aboard and did whatever boring things adults did. We never saw another boat. The whole world was ours.
    A few years later, I was in a 12-foot johnboat whose seaworthiness was suspect, hand on the throttle arm of an old seven-and-a-half that might or might not get me back to shore.
    Annie was sitting alone on a new 12-by-12, floating, wooden dock tethered in the Rhode River for water skiers. Beautiful, colorful bikini. We were in love at first sight, both 16. She was a good kisser.
    I never knew her phone number or where she lived, but she was always on the float each weekend I’d putt-putt-putt out to see her. By the next year, I had upgraded to an outboard runabout that had a helm! I flew out to the float and there she was. Learned her to water-ski.
    Then one weekend Annie wasn’t on the float, and I never saw her again. But she is still with me.

The Start of a Sailing Life

Steve Carr, Ferry Farms

In 1966, I turned 13, and my parents decided it was time for me to learn to sail. I spent the next four summers sailing a variety of small boats out of Severn Sailing in Eastport.
    I have many wonderful memories of my days, battling our arch rivals, the kids from the Annapolis Yacht Club in their sleek little Penguins.
    In those days Annapolis hadn’t figured out that it was the sailing capital of the world, and we could race around the harbor without getting in anyone’s way.
    Once I became fairly proficient, my parents bought me a used Cadet, and I began racing every weekend. I learned the geography of the Eastern Shore by traveling to regattas in places with exotic-sounding names. Oxford was the Tred Avon River; Centerville was the Corsica River; Miles River was St. Michaels; and Cambridge was the Choptank.
    My most vivid memory also involved learning a very important lesson. One day we decided to sail from the club over to Bay Ridge. We left in the late afternoon, and as we slowly tacked out of the Severn, the sky turned black. Before we knew what hit us, a Chesapeake line squall came barreling out of the west and blew us into the shoals off of Greenbury Point, where we eventually capsized.
    We were terrified when we found ourselves suddenly swimming in ocean-sized waves. I thought I was going to drown … until I stood up. I remember standing there in the storm, laughing in the rain as I realized the Chesapeake is very big but very shallow.

An Old Timer After All

Bonnie Lefkowitz, Holland Point

I never thought of myself as an old timer. My real love affair with this area began in 2003, when my husband and I bought the rambling old Bayfront house in Holland Point we’d been eyeing. Every year since then, we watch for the progress of the rising sun from south to north, announcing the arrival of summer. In no time at all, Chesapeake Beach fireworks will sparkle over the water, the grandkids will find treasures along the shore, and we’ll kick back at a favorite dockside bar.
    Before we moved here there were visits to Annapolis relatives, a carefree summer when I rented a house in Fairhaven with three other single women, even a few childhood excursions to Herald Harbor, where the beach was more welcoming to a Jewish family than those at Beverly and Mayo. But compared with my neighbors whose parents and grandparents lived here, I was a greenhorn.
    Imagine my surprise when my uncle, the last of his generation, came to visit. Passing Fishing Creek, he said, “You know, Aunt Ida had her camp around here in South Beach.” He proceeded to regale me with tales of close quarters and mistaken identities in two crowded cabins built on a boardwalk over the marsh. I had never heard of South Beach, but the Calvert County preservationist found it on an old map.
    I dug into an unexplored box of family keepsakes. Sure enough, there were photos from the 1920s of my uncle and my mother at Pell Mell, a small children’s camp run by my great aunt, a registered nurse, and her husband, a veterinarian. And in my mother’s autograph book, this poem:

You know sea nettles can be a trial,
Because their sting remains for a while
We both got stung the very same day,
In the waters near Pell Mell, Chesapeake Bay.


Taming a Different Creature Each Summer

Elisavietta Ritchie, Broomes Island

Not enough to have a white angora stray adopt us. I tamed a family of mute swans, who snatched bread from my fingers, although their hisses didn’t sound like gratitude.
    Raccoons, likewise, wanted handouts. One young one slipped through the cat door for Pusscat’s kibbles. I lectured him sternly: “Raccoons are not invited.” He sat on his haunches, extended his miniature palms. I offered an Oreo: Accepted.
    If Pusscat’s dishes sat unfinished outside the glass door, a possum finished them every evening. Pusscat watched unperturbed.
    I raised mallards who, even grown, followed me around as if their mother. They shunned the river, frantic when we launched our little sailboat and set off. Finally the female dove in to save us. Scolding, the male followed. Discovery: Rivers are great.
    My triumph was taming two foxes who came up the garden steps at six for handouts. Pusscat, who never chased birds or squirrels, would glare through the glass and, if outside, like a white whirlwind chase them away. Yet the next afternoon they’d return.
    A squirrel came through the flue, desperate to exit chewed window frames, hid three days, terrified my spouse. Then husband opened the window, practiced Bach on his violin: squirrel fled.
    So far no coyotes. I hear they’re in the county, envision taming them.

Then and Now

Mary Colby, Fairhaven

My father fell in love with the Bay communities when he was a young man playing semipro baseball. When he married, he dreamed of a cottage on the Bay and in 1939 bought a place in Fairhaven, where my sister and I spent part of every summer until we sold our homes in the city and moved down full-time. Our children spent summers here with us. Now they visit each year with their kids.
    My 11-year-old granddaughter, Grace Holleman, explains why Fairhaven is such a special place:

When the salt water settles
In my nose,
On my tongue,
Surrounding me …

When happiness flutters in my stomach,
When my bathing suit itches under my clothes,
When we see the lone fisherman
Checking his crab traps one last time

Then I know.
The summer has begun,
We have arrived,

When the aunts and uncles crowd around me,
Cousins and second cousins,
Old friends
They line up and give hugs
Till I can stand it no more …

I swim until my lips turn blue,
My legs wobble
I climb across the driveway of sharp rocks

The Fourth is spectacular
The day begins with a parade,
Up and down a hill, back to the beach.

Boom! Boom!
Off go the fireworks.
We party until everyone’s too tired to continue,
Falling into our welcome beds.