Shady Side offers a great escape from city life


May 11, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

When folks speak of "South County," they're most likely talking about the little hooked--shaped Anne Arundel County peninsula, which lies about 15 miles south of Annapolis on the Chesapeake Bay.

Bounded by the West River and Herring Bay, the peninsula is also home to the picturesque and quaint villages of Galesville, Deale, Churchton and Shady Side.

Next month, the Steamboat Days Festival, a celebration and exhibit at the Capt. Salem Avery House in Shady Side, will recall the late 19th and early 20th centuries when vacationers arrived aboard a fleet of steamboats for a welcome respite from the hellish heat and humidity of Baltimore summers.

In those days in Baltimore, women in lightweight cotton dresses and straw cloche or wide-brimmed straw hats, accompanied by men sporting boaters or Panamas, tried to control excited children as they made their way to the docked Emma Giles, the popular Tolchester Steamboat Co. steamer that regularly called at Shady Side.

As the Emma Giles' whistle blew announcing its departure, its walking-beam engine began its rhythmic up-and-down motion, as passengers lined the deck and rails to bid farewell to Baltimore.

Once in Shady Side, visitors stayed in cottages or lodgings like the Rural Home Hotel, which lasted until the 1980s when it burned. They took advantage of the cooling bay breezes while swimming, hiking, fishing or snoozing away the afternoon on a broad front porch or under a tree.

"It is one of a number of residence and resort settlements in this section which have done a great deal to impress folk with the idea that the whole purpose of this region is to furnish Baltimore, Washington, Pennsylvania and Virginia summer tourists with a place to fish and swim and keep cool and have fun," said The Sun in a 1941 article.

The first settler to arrive here was Edward Parrish, who was deeded 150 acres, known as the Great Swamp, along the bay in 1671. He was followed by Hallocks, Nowells, Basts, Fords and Parrishes, whose descendants still live there.

Avery, whose former home is now a museum, abandoned the oyster beds of Long Island and moved to Shady Side in 1860 to take advantage of the Chesapeake Bay's rich oyster beds.

Besides fishing, crabbing and oystering, tobacco farming was an important local industry in those early years.

By the 1920s, as automobiles and improved roads brought more visitors to the area, summer homes began to appear on the rural landscape. By the 1930s, the local population doubled in the summer with vacationers, including Beebe H. Castro, a Washingtonian who first visited with her family during those years.

"That 35-mile drive from Washington made you think you were going to the end of the Earth. This place was always far removed from our other lives," said Castro, a permanent resident of the peninsula since 1953.

The peninsula is now 98 percent inhabited by year-rounders who live there and work in either Baltimore, Washington or Annapolis.

"Terence Smith, former CBS reporter and now with PBS, lives there. So does Tom Abercrombie, former editor of the National Geographic, Marlin Fitzwater, former Reagan press secretary, and artists Jackie and John Douglass who designed and made the glass crab that is on display at BWI. There really is quite a mix of people here," said Castro.

"Shady Side is like a little town where everyone knows you," said Mavis Daly, the festival's publicity chairperson, and herself a transplant from Webster, S.D., who retired after working on Capitol Hill.

The Steamboat Days Festival will be held June 15 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Call 410-867-4486.

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