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is king in the "Seafood Capital of the World."
to sum up the small town of Crisfield, Maryland, in one word, Crisfield
Area Chamber of Commerce Office Manager Valerie Mason obliges:
are loaded down with oyster shells at the Crisfield City Dock in
front of Captain's Galley Restaurant, a popular waterfront dining
that’s not the general atmosphere in this fishing village of 2,500, but
crab processing is one of the major industries that helped build the
town’s economy in the 1800s and early 1900s, earning it the nickname
“Seafood Capital of the World.”
at the southernmost point of Maryland in Somerset County on the Eastern
Shore, the town pays homage to its heritage by including the crab on
everything from its water towers and street signs to its police uniforms
and official seal. Even Crisfield High School gets into the tradition,
including crabs on its band uniforms and paying tribute to all things
crustacean with a large crab monument just outside its front doors. The
monument represents the school’s mascot, the Crabber.
Area Chamber of Commerce Office Manager Valerie Mason answers
visitors' questions and helps coordinate local festivals at the
chamber's office on West Main Street.
a strong connection to seafood is inherent in most small towns along the
Chesapeake Bay, Crisfield owes most of its success in this area to its
namesake, John Woodland Crisfield. As president of the Eastern Shore
Railroad shortly after the Civil War, he extended the tracks into the
fishing village of Somers Cove.
Easy access to refrigerated shipping
cars led to a boom in the export of seafood. In 1867, residents of Somers
Cove and the adjacent area known as Annemessex joined together to create a
single town, named Crisfield in honor of the man who helped build the
early exports included crabs, clams, waterfowl, terrapin and most
predominately oysters, about one million gallons of which were
daily from Crisfield through the early 1900s. The southernmost portion of
Crisfield is built on a bed of oyster shells, piled out into the
Chesapeake to give early seafood processors more solid ground on which to
build their packing houses.
1915, 88 seafood processors lined Crisfield’s shores. Legend has it a
person could walk from one end of Crisfield Harbor to the other using the
decks of various boats vying for positions to dock and sell their daily
catches. Today, a decline in crabs and oysters in the Chesapeake Bay has
left fewer than a dozen local seafood packers and only a handful of
in 1962, Somers Cove Marina serves as a temporary home for many
boaters in the summer and a year-round home for a number of
not to say the seafood industry is dead in Crisfield. Hundreds of watermen
still go out early most mornings during crabbing season and return later
in the day with their catches just as their fathers, grandfathers and
great-grandfathers did throughout the past century.
Each Memorial Day weekend during the
Soft Shell Spring Fair, the Crisfield Area Chamber of Commerce and
Crisfield Lions and Lioness/Lions clubs induct four locals into the
Watermen’s Hall of Fame, paying homage to the hard work that goes into
making a living on the water.
“The Soft Shell Spring Fair serves as
a kickoff for our summer events,” Mason says. “We like to celebrate
The chamber does just that the third
Wednesday of every July during the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake.
Named for the late Crisfield native who was Maryland’s 54th governor,
the event offers an all-you-can-eat sampling of local seafood from steamed
clams to hard crabs. Since its inauguration in 1977, the bake has become
one of the premier political events in Maryland, serving as the official
beginning of a number of campaigns every even-numbered year. Every bake
day, the town’s population nearly triples.
max out at about 5,000 participants,” says Crisfield City Councilman
Daniel Thompson, who has co-chaired the bake for the past 14 years.
crane makes his temporary home among a few relics left to die in
the marshes of Jenkins Creek.
that’s nothing compared to Crisfield’s biggest annual event, the
National Hard Crab Derby, which draws about 10,000 every Labor Day
weekend. Serving as a homecoming for many Crisfield residents since its
inception in 1948, the event includes such traditional fare as a carnival,
fireworks and a Main Street parade.
However, Crisfield adds a twist to its
festival. Crab cooking and picking contests, a boat-docking competition
and even a Miss Crustacean beauty pageant all lead up to the main event: a
350-crab race down a specially designed ramp known as Crab Cake Track.
such events welcome visitors, Crisfielders know who Crisfielders are. In
the local vernacular, strangers are either “foreigners” (just passing
through) or “come-heres” (moving in), and once a “come-here” is in
Crisfield long enough to be recognized, his or her name will probably come
up at least once or twice among the crowd at Gordon’s
portion of Maryland 413 known in Crisfield as "The
Strip" serves as the city's main drag and gathering area. On
any given evening, dozens of cars cruise the highway with no
particular destination, beginning at one end, making their way to
the cul-de-sac at the Crisfield City Dock, then starting all over
in 1927 on Main Street near Ninth Street, Gordon’s is the place to find
watermen and other locals stopping in for a quick bite and a cup of
coffee. Its official opening time is “quarter to 4-ish” a.m.
Gordon’s is said to be the birthplace
of the chocolate zip, a confection consisting of milk, crushed ice and
chocolate syrup, and the fact that the restaurant championed such flavors
as cherry, vanilla and ammonia Coke long before at least two of those
flavors came in bottles is well documented. Those flavors are still
available at Gordon’s today, hand-mixed from the fountain as they always
Most Wednesdays, Charlie Adams stands
just outside Gordon’s as he has nearly every week for the past 64 years.
At age 69, he may well be the world’s oldest living paperboy, hawking
the Crisfield Times from that location since he was five. He signs
autographs for those who ask politely.
“I’ve met a lot of nice people while
I’ve been selling papers,” he says. “I’ve signed a lot of
many, in fact, that city officials have designated the corner of Ninth and
Main as “Charlie Adams Corner” in his honor.
crab monument in front of Crisfield High School is a tribute to
the school's mascot, the Crabber.
is also caretaker of the Crisfield Veterans’ Cemetery, where an original
E.M. Viquesney “Spirit of the American Doughboy” statue stands watch
over the graves of fallen Crisfielders from the Civil War to present day.
Adams keeps the cemetery neat every day of the year, but one day is
The week before Memorial Day, Adams
follows in the footsteps of his father, Upshur, who began the tradition of
placing American flags and roses on the graves of each veteran. His
mission: to make the cemetery look its best for the annual Memorial Day
ceremonies held by the local American Legion and VFW posts and
auxiliaries. He hasn’t failed yet.
Adams, most Crisfielders value hard work. But in the evening, many let
their hair down, relaxing at home or cruising “The Strip.”
Heritage Foundation Executive Director Chris Tyler points out the
details of an early aerial photograph of Crisfield on display at
the J. Millard Tawes Museum and Visitors' Center..
day, “The Strip” looks like about a three-mile stretch of Maryland 413
leading to the Crisfield City Dock. By night, dozens of headlights line
this road, making the same circuit through Downtown Crisfield hundreds of
times. Drivers and passengers chit chat, listen to the radio or remain on
the lookout for friends or potential friends who might also be on The
Strip, with no particular destination in mind.
At twilight, The Strip is the only road
leading to the City Dock, the best spot in town to catch a glimpse of the
sun setting on the Chesapeake Bay.
course, driving is just one way to get to Crisfield. The presence of the
Confectionery co-owner Kenny Evans makes change at the register of
Crisfield's oldest surviving restaurant..
County Airport off Jacksonville Road and Somers Cove Marina in the heart
of Downtown Crisfield makes the town accessible by land, sea and air.
While Crisfielders enjoy their small
part of the Earth, they are not afraid to share it with others, whether
they be “foreigners” or “come-heres.”
Thompson explains: “I’ve done a lot
of traveling and seen a lot of places, big cities and small towns.
Crisfield has something unique. We’ve got a small-town atmosphere. You
get up in the morning and you just feel good.”
And it would be a shame not to share
something like that.