At The River's Edge


July 19, 1992|By RAFAEL ALVAREZ

The important part, says Robert Law Hartge, is being on the water.

If you are in Galesville, you are on the water.

There is a Main Street here, but the key artery is the West River.

"Galesville has been a village on the river for a long time," said Mr. Hartge, whose family has lived and worked here for more than a hundred years. "Other towns around here were for people with summer homes, but Galesville has always been year-round."

Galesville, which existed before the American Revolution, today is a community of about 500 people whose lives are tied to the shaded inlets of the Chesapeake Bay some dozen miles south of Annapolis.

The remains of a Colonial shipyard that provided American rebels with fighting ships made of oak were found here with the help of Mr. Hartge's older brother Emil. He guided archaeologists to the site and related to them stories his grandfather had told about ships being slipped into the channel with oxen and pulleys.

"It used to be that working people had smaller homes on the water; now they're more palatial homes and you don't see too many work boats tied up in front of their houses," said Robert Hartge. "But there's not so much use for the work boats anymore anyway; the oystering is no longer here."

There is a piano bar in Galesville and fancy restaurants on piers, but a better taste of the flavor of this little town at the end of Route 255 would be found at one of the outdoor fish fries the old families hold in the summer. The fish is the centerpiece, of course, but don't miss the fresh green beans flavored with hambones.

The post office proclaims "Galesville, Md. 20765"; a small park on the riverbank honors the memory of Capt. J. Edward Smith; and a historical marker tells about the days when William Penn walked down to the shore to hop a ride across the bay.

It says: "William Penn attended a meeting of the Friends (Quakers) at Thomas Hookers, December, 1682 on this tract called Brownton. Penn sailed from here across the Bay to the Choptank River for a general meeting of the Friends."

Which is exactly what Roger Brown likes to do: Sail from here to there and back.

Mr. Brown was washing down his sailboat on a recent, beautiful Sunday filled with sun and breeze. (If his boat were a car, a crew up the road at the Galesville Volunteer Fire Department would have run it through their weekly carwash for $5.)

Washrag in hand, the New Carrollton resident stopped to talk about one of his favorite spots on Earth.

"This bay is considered one of the three best places in the world to sail, and Galesville is a natural shelter on it," said Mr. Brown. "Off the bay you have rivers and off the rivers you have creeks; there's a thousand miles of shoreline to gunkhole around here."

That's sailor talk for poking around on a lazy day, and landlubbers looking to do the same in Galesville can mosey down dirt roads to see boats on blocks with names like Miss Bingo, have a look at art inspired by such vessels in the River Gallery, or get a great cheeseburger or a pastrami and Swiss sandwich at the 130-year-old West River Market, an old-fashioned general store on Main Street.

Inside the store, look up and you'll see duck decoys ringing shelves near the ceiling.

"Everybody knows everybody here," said Gabe Nurmi, the teen-ager working behind the counter. "You walk down the street and everybody says hi."


Population: 450+

No. of police cars: 0

No. of churches: 2

No. of traffic lights: 0

Age: 340 this October

Longest-married couple: Nelson and Ruth Smith, 72 years

Area historical sites: Quaker Burial Ground at entrance to Galesville, established in 1672; Tulip Hill Mansion, where George Washington passed the night a few times.

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