Out & About Magazine -- Oct 2012

Page 55

Chesapeake City A Jewel on the Canal By Scott Pruden

M

uch like that low-key coworker who ends up dancing on tabletops at the office holiday party, Chesapeake City, Md., has over the years found herself with a bit of an unwanted

reputation. That reputation can be summed up in two words: Canal Day. Begun more than 35 years ago as a celebration of the tiny town’s history along the C&D Canal (and a fund-raiser for the local civic association), it eventually morphed into “Mardi Gras on the Canal,” notable for its teeming flotilla of drunken, bead-tossing, boob-flashing humanity amassed in the Basin, the town’s tiny harbor. But if all you know about Chesapeake City is this tawdry side, you’ll miss the charm and amenities the lovely Eastern Shore village has to offer. First, there’s the history. Chesapeake City is one of the last vestiges of the huge infrastructural undertaking that is the C&D Canal. Originally hand-dug to connect the shipping and manufacturing centers of the Delaware River and the Chesapeake Bay, the canal opened in 1829 and featured a system of locks to gradually move ships across the peninsula. The original settlement of a few buildings for those who manned the locks on the south bank of the canal grew as the waterway’s use expanded, and in 1839 the town

photos by Mitchell Hall

was incorporated. A decade later, the town limits stretched across the canal to the north bank. Transit continued for the next 75 years, only partially impeded by the Civil War, during which the canal helped supply Union troops battling a Confederate advance on Washington, D.C. During this time, Chesapeake City grew with the canal’s popularity and served the expanding needs of each ship’s crew and officers. In 1927, increasing traffic demands and larger ships led to the entire canal’s dredging to sea level across its length, eliminating the need for locks and rendering obsolete many of the services Chesapeake City originally provided. According to one historical account, “with the canal’s decline, [Chesapeake City] lapsed into the backwater status of picturesque country villages.” Though the town did see some hard times through the latter half of the 20th century, within the last two decades it has remade itself into a unique destination for pleasure boaters, outdoor enthusiasts and tourists who crave a little taste of that Eastern Shore magic without the two-hour drive. In keeping with its maritime history, Chesapeake City is one of those places—much like North East or Annapolis—that is appreciated best when you arrive by water. Fortunately it’s an easy prospect. Both the town and the Chesapeake Inn ►

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