Oyster festival celebrates maritime heritage


October 08, 2001|By Kimbra Cutlip | Kimbra Cutlip,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THROUGHOUT Chesapeake Bay country, the water carves out little peninsulas where land's-end communities form strong identities and residents hold tightly to maritime traditions.

That community spirit inspires events such as the West River Heritage Day Oyster Festival, scheduled for Sunday in Shady Side.

"It's such a caring community," said Mavis Daly, a resident of Shady Side for nearly 20 years. "They have such pride in their heritage and the people who have lived here."

Daly and her husband, George, served as co-presidents of the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society for six years.

The society held its first oyster festival three years ago. It has become an annual event - and the perfect place to witness Shady Side's sense of community and watch its waterfront history come alive.

About 500 people attended last year, Daly said, and community leaders are expecting a similar turnout Sunday.

The festival is held at Captain Salem Avery House Museum, a historic property with a beautiful view of the West River and the bay. On a clear day, the Bay Bridge is visible from the museum.

Avery was a 19th-century waterman who came from Long Island to fish for oysters in the 1860s.

His home was bought in the 1920s by a Masonic fishing and hunting club, which expanded it to its present size before selling it to The Shady Side Rural Heritage Society in 1989.

The original home makes up about a third of the museum building, which houses the museum, a library, a gift shop and the society's offices.

Tea will be served in the museum during the festival, and docents and performers will be dressed in period clothing. Games and activities, including historical re-enactments, will be offered for children.

The festival will feature performances by Them Eastport Oyster Boys, Janie Meneely, the Ship's Company Chanteymen, Miriam O'Connor, the Mountain Oyster Boys and a Punch and Judy show.

Them Eastport Oyster Boys - Jeff Holland on baritone ukulele and Kevin Brooks on banjo - are well-known around Annapolis boatyards and sailors' pubs, where they find inspiration for their humorous songs, stories and narrative poems.

Meneely is a founding member of the Chesapeake Bay folk group Crab Alley.

The Ship's Company Chanteymen is a group of musicians and actors who perform in period costume.

Planners of the event were hoping to sponsor a regatta for historic Chesapeake 20 sailboats, but the president of the Chesapeake 20 fleet for the West River Sailing Club, Robert Blomquist, said the race was canceled because many of the sailors were unavailable.

"Our season usually ends around the first week in October," he said. "But we've done it many years in the past with them, and hope to again."

Blomquist has sailed with the fleet for 11 years.

Although the boats won't sail Sunday, the boating community will be represented on land. Vendors at the festival will include boat builders, artists, and wood craftsmen.

And, of course, there will be oysters -raw, fried and puffed - fresh from local caterers such as Pam Offer.

But Daly expects the highlight of the day to be the $10,000 raffle.

She said the society hopes to sell enough $10 tickets to pay the prize and raise $7,000 for the heritage society. They're still working toward that goal, she said, but the $10,000 prize is assured.

Admission to the West River Heritage Day Oyster Festival is $3. Children younger than age 6 are admitted free. Captain Salem Avery House Museum is at 1418 E. West Shady Side Road.

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