English and Welsh settlers arrived on this nine-square-mile Chesapeake Bay island in the 1600s, yet more than 350 years later, Smith Island remains a place apart. Officially in Somerset County, 12 miles away on the Eastern Shore, it is the only inhabited island in Maryland accessible solely by boat.
Tylerton Aerial with Rhodes Point in the Background; Photo by Nancy Lewis
Just about 150 people live on the island year-round, down from a high of 800 in the early 1900s. Most are descendants of those early settlers, and they retain an accent and dialect reminiscent of Cornwall, England. In 1872, the Reverend James Massey described the island’s inhabitants as “an amphibious race,” and the moniker remains apt. The majority of Smith Islanders earn their living fishing, crabbing and oystering, though tourism contributes to the economy as well.
There are houses available to rent as well as a few bed-and-breakfasts. While many visitors come on a half-day cruise, the bonus of staying overnight is that most B&Bs have canoes or kayaks for guests to explore Smith Island’s many waterways. Use the marked trails and the map available at paddlesmithisland.com to avoid getting lost in the marshes.
Smith Island from the water; Photo by Tracey Finch Johns
Cruise boats for half-day tours operate from summer to early fall from Crisfield on the Eastern Shore and Lookout Point State Park in Southern Maryland. Those in their own boats can dock free at the county dock in Ewell, the island’s largest town, or in privately owned slips for a fee. The Smith Island Marina plans to reopen Memorial Day Weekend 2022 after renovations.
It’s a short walk from the wharf in Ewell to the Smith Island Cultural Center & Museum. A well-done film by the Maryland Historic Trust introduces visitors to Smith Island, and museum exhibits focus on island history and culture, traditional watercraft and crabbing.
Smith Island Center; photo courtesy of the Crisfield-Smith Island Cultural Alliance
From the cultural center, take a stroll along Smith Island Road, binoculars in hand, to bird-watch in the marshes bordering the road between Ewell and Rhodes Point. Golf carts can be rented in Ewell for a jaunt around the neighborhoods, or bring your own bicycle or rent one in Ewell for a slower-paced tour.
Smith Island Cake; Photo by Carrie Samis
Smith Island is noted for its crab cakes, softshell crabs and Smith Island Cake, the official state dessert. You can get all three at Bayside Inn & Restaurant, located near the wharf. Lovers of the 8- to 10-layer cake can also pick up a half or whole cake from Bayside Inn or Smith Island Bakery; you’ll need to order your cake at least three days in advance from the bakery.More information: visitsomerset.com