Celebrating Maryland's many charms, from topiary teacups to Ma's Kettle THE STATE WE'RE IN

May 08, 1994|By Victor Paul Alvarez | Victor Paul Alvarez,Contributing Writer

Baltimore is a city that thinks like a small town.

I like it that way.

Everything I need is in Baltimore: a great library, some peaceful bars and plenty of neighborhood ethnic restaurants. There are parks and boats and people everywhere.

Like many visitors from outside Maryland, I have seen the National Aquarium, walked about in Fells Point, shopped at the Gallery at Harborplace.

But to get the complete picture of Maryland, residents as well as out-of-state visitors should see a bush sculpted like a teacup, walk along a Civil War battlefield, try to retrieve a space satellite and taste one of the area's best barbecue sandwiches.

It's easy, and it's cheap.

Here are a few suggestions to help you get acquainted (or re-acquainted) with Maryland:

* Smith Island. Tangier Sound, Somerset County; (410) 651-2968. All boats leave at 12:30 p.m. from Crisfield; Call for details.

People have gone to Smith Island to cleanse their souls, claiming the purity and peace found there is a spiritual catharsis.

Others have gone to simply spend a day crabbing, fishing or just looking around this timeless island. Its simplicity seems to put life back into perspective.

Claude Brooks of the Maryland Tourism Committee says the story of Smith Island is the people. Descendants of English and ** Cornish settlers, they mostly make their living on the water.

You must take a boat to Smith Island. There are cruises that can take you there, and you can arrange to have dinner on the island when you arrive. Or you can ride over with the mail and some fruit and groceries on the ferry.

* Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art. 909 South Schumaker Drive, Salisbury, Wicomico County; (410) 742-4988. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

If duck decoys make you think of big men with big guns tricking helpless animals into death, think again.

Designed to resemble a bird perched on the shoreline of Schumaker Pond, this museum houses a $2.5 million collection of some of the finest contemporary wildfowl art and antique duck decoys worldwide. The building itself is breathtaking.

The museum is aptly named after the men who transformed decoy carving from craft to art form, the late Lem Ward and Steve Ward. Interpretive galleries allow you to trace the evolution of this art from the hunter's decoy to works of sculpture. The history of wildfowl art is displayed beautifully.

Many of the carvings at the museum are extremely realistic; you might catch yourself watching for one of the wooden beasts to fly away.

* Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. St. Michaels Harbor, Talbot County; (410) 745-2916. Spring schedule: daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Summer schedule: Sunday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"Heaven and Earth never agreed better to frame a place more perfect for man's habitation."

That's what Capt. John Smith had to say about the Chesapeake Bay. The Maritime Museum was founded in 1965 to celebrate the culture and heritage of the bay and its tributaries. Here you will find the largest collection of Chesapeake Bay watercraft in existence. There are crabbing skiffs, work boats, log canoes and larger vessels on floating display at the museum docks.

Visitors can see some of the rarest work boats and pleasure boats being built and restored at the museum, along with the century-old Hooper Straight Lighthouse.

* Ladew Topiary Gardens. Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton, Harford County; (410) 557-9466. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; closed Mondays.

Harvey Ladew's 22-acre estate has been called one of the classiest bachelor pads of all time. Heir to a New York manufacturing fortune, Ladew acquired the estate in 1929 and devoted his life there to hunting, collecting antiques, painting and writing. Some features at the gardens suggest Ladew embodied the eccentricity sometimes associated with the rich. Look for the secret passage among the thousands of volumes shelved in the library. Ladew used the passageway to avoid unwanted guests. Some of the sculptures in the garden, such as the teacup and Winston Churchill's top hat, add to the quirky nature of the estate.

Ladew created more than a dozen thematic gardens with the help of two full-time gardeners. The grounds are dedicated to green topiary but are sprinkled with the color of roses, waterlilies and seasonal berry bushes.

Be sure to order the cold blueberry soup in the cafe, and to catch an evening of music on the Sunday summer concert

series. The Garden Club of America recognizes the estate as one of the country's best topiary gardens.

* St. Mary's City. St. Mary's County, Southern Maryland. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.

The story of Maryland's beginnings unfolds in St. Mary's City. About 350 years ago, 140 English settlers sailed to the edge of the world and established Lord Baltimore's colony. St. Mary's City was the fourth permanent English settlement in North America, and it served as Maryland's capital until 1695.

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