Tubman, Oakley are good reasons to visit Cambridge

Two women stand out in Dorchester County's past

Trips: road trips, regional events

March 25, 2004|By Melanie Seitz | Melanie Seitz,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As Women's History Month draws to a close, visitors to the Cambridge and Bucktown area of Dorchester County can explore the lives of two Eastern Shore women who became legends of American and Maryland history: Harriet Tubman and Annie Oakley.

Tubman's spirit still breathes through the Bucktown Village Store (Bestpitch Ferry Road in Bucktown; call 410-901-9255 for an appointment). Owners Susan and Jay Meredith bought the store in 1997 because Jay's great-great-grandfather and his great-grandfather had owned it.

Then they learned the history attached to it: Tubman, born about 1820, frequented the shop to buy food and other necessities, and an incident there affected her for the rest of her life.

At age 12, she ran into the store to warn a slave that an overseer was approaching. The outraged overseer picked up a 2-pound weight and threw it at the slave. He ducked, but Tubman was hit on the forehead. Her recovery was long, and she suffered the effects of the incident for the rest of her life.

In 1849, Tubman set out for what she believed in, even at risk to her life: freedom. A network of safe houses -- the Underground Railroad -- helped her escape to the North. But she returned again and again to help liberate family and friends; she came back 19 times and helped lead more than 300 slaves into freedom.

"She never talked to the wrong person or knocked on the wrong door. I could just shiver when I read about the things she did," says Evelyn Townsend, president of the Harriet Tubman Museum and Learning Center (424 Race St., 410-228-0401, www.harriet tubmanmuseum.org). "She has been my heroine ever since I was in fourth grade." The museum offers information on Tubman as well as tours (by appointment only).

A couple of blocks from the museum, memories of a very different woman reside -- markswoman Annie Oakley, an Ohio native who built a home here in 1912-1913. She and her husband, sharpshooter Frank Butler, had passed through Cambridge on one of their Wild West tours and thought of the area as a good place to settle.

Mary Handley knows every detail of Oakley's life: her shooting tricks, her dresses, her marriage to Butler, even her relationship with their dog, Dave.

The Dorchester County Library where Handley works organized the Annie Oakley Riverside Jamboree, and she dressed up as Oakley to tell the tales of her life, after which she became an Oakley re-enactor.

Oakley not only enchanted Handley, but she also charmed royals in England and Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm II trusted her skills so much as to let her shoot the ashes of a cigarette he was holding in his mouth.

Another trick of Oakley's included a pocket mirror and a playing card. She held the mirror in one hand and balanced her rifle on her shoulder with the other. She looked at her mirror to focus on the playing card behind her. Oakley's eyes narrowed, she fired and always hit the playing card dead center.

Today, visitors can still imagine this tiny woman standing on the first floor and shooting ducks from the now privately owned Annie Oakley House (28 Bellevue Ave.) overlooking the Choptank River.

More to see and do

Dorchester County has more historic places to explore. Harriet Tubman was born at a farm in Bucktown. Today the Harriet Tubman Birthplace Marker (Greenbriar Road, Bucktown) reminds visitors where her famous life began.

Take a look at the Bazzel Church (Bestpitch Ferry Road, Bucktown, call for appointments: 410-228-0401), where Tubman's relatives worshipped in the 18th century.

More information on Tubman can be found at the Harriet Tubman Memorial Garden (Washington Avenue and U.S. Route 50).

Where to eat and drink

Portside Seafood Restaurant (201 Trenton St., 410-228-9007): Enjoy local seafood such as steamed crabs, soft crabs and oysters in season while overlooking Cambridge Creek.

Suicide Bridge Restaurant (6304 Suicide Bridge Road, 410-943-4689): Stuffed flounder, grilled tuna, rockfish and crab balls invite guests along with the stunning legend of the Suicide Bridge.

Side Street Seafood Market (204 South 10th St., 410-968-2442): More steamed crabs at this restaurant. Guests can enjoy a meal or visit the downstairs seafood market.

Canvasback Restaurant (422 Race St., 410-221-5177): This Irish restaurant and pub is next to the Harriet Tubman Museum. So drop by for a full dinner or relax with a dessert and a coffee.

The Place on Race Cafe (421 Race St.): Tea or coffee the way your grandma used to make it? This location holds a homey cafe along with books, dolls and more in the Lillyfield Gallery.

Getting there

Cambridge is approximately a two-hour drive. Take Interstate 97 south to U.S. 50 east and cross the Bay Bridge toward Ocean City. Drive past Easton. Cambridge is on the Choptank River.

To visit the Bucktown Village Store, stay on Route 50 through Cambridge. Turn right on Bucktown Road. Follow the road until it hits Bestpitch Ferry Road. The store is on the left.

More information

Explore the lives of Oakley, Tubman and other women during Maryland Women's History Month. The Maryland Commission for Women, the Maryland State Department of Education and the Friends of the Maryland Commission for Women have rediscovered more than 150 historic sites. The Heritage Trail Map and Resource Guide can be ordered by calling 410-260-6047 or visiting www.marylandwomen .org.

For more information on Dorchester County, follow the high white sail to the new Dorchester County Tourism Department (2 Rose Hill Place, 800-522-TOUR, www.tourdorchester.org).

For more regional trips, see Page 41.

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