Historic St. George’s Island in southern Maryland
Last months’ road trip was to visit Virginia wineries and enjoy their products by the fire. With recent temps hitting the sixties, I thought it a good time to head for the quiet waters of southern Maryland. Checking the weather channel, this decision might be premature…but no worries…St. George’s Island is a great road trip no matter what time of year.
Although now I keep my sailboat in Solomons, Maryland, I have sailed the lower Potomac River for the better part of 15 years. My boat was berthed at a marina on Herring Creek about 4 miles from St. George’s Island, so clearly, I knew a lot about the area. When I took my road trip I was unaware of how much things had changed. Hurricane Isabella had wiped out three restaurants…Oakwood Lodge, Evan’s Seafood and Swann’s. These were throw back restaurants and bars dating back to the 50’s. Casual is an understatement.
But just like in nature, out of ruin there springs new life. Where Evans used to be there now stands the new Island Inn & Suites and the Ruddy Duck Seafood and Ale House. Out on the point beyond where the Oakwood Lodge stood, the Piney Point Lighthouse and Museum has breathed new life. Before venturing on to St. George’s Island, lets’ take a visit to Piney Point Lighthouse and Museum.
When I first discovered Piney Point Lighthouse the property had only been deeded to St. Mary’s County by the Federal government in 1980 and the first preservation work began in 1990. Back then there was just the lighthouse, a keeper’s quarters, and a small building which, in the day, was a petty officers quarter. When I first located my boat in the area I became friends with a couple who lived in the petty officers quarters. Butch and Joanne hung out at the marina where I kept my boat.
Since that time the small house has been torn down and an extensive renovation project has been ongoing for years, with the latest facelift ending this past fall. The lighthouse was built in 1836 along the Potomac River about 14 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and the light had a range of 10 nautical miles, or about 11 and one half miles. The lamp was replaced in 1855 with a Fresnel lens upgrading the range to 11 nautical miles or a little over 12 and half miles.
The Piney Point Lighthouse Museum houses museum exhibits, the Lighthouse Lens Museum Store. Museum exhibits focus on the construction and operation of the lighthouse, lighthouse keepers, the role of the United States Coast Guard, and the story of the Black Panther U-1105 German submarine sunk in the Potomac River that now serves as Maryland’s first historic shipwreck dive preserve. The U-1105, a modified Type VII-C German submarine was launched on April 20, 1944. U-1105 was one of fewer than ten submarines produced during the war outfitted with an experimental synthetic rubber skin designed to counter Allied sonar devices, the forerunner of stealth. The black rubber coating had earned it the nickname “Black Panther.” After the war the sub was obtained by the U.S. Navy for study, and ultimately ended up being sunk in 95 feet of water in the Potomac River off Piney Point in 1949. A team of sport divers from Virginia rediscovered the wreck on June 29, 1985.
Also housed on the property is the Potomac River Maritime Exhibit with its’ collection of four historic wooden vessels on loan from the Paul Hall School of Maritime Training and Education. The collection is comprised of a 67-foot skipjack Joy Parks, and 84-foot bugeye Dorothy A. Parsons, a log canoe, and Potomac River dory boat. The exhibit focuses on the life of the watermen who sustain a livelihood working the waters of the Potomac for crabs, fish and oysters.
To get to St. George’s Island, continue south on Route 249. As soon as you cross the bridge at Straits Point you are on the island. The Potomac River is on your right and St. George’s Creek is on your left. With the prevailing winds coming out of the northwest, there is usually good wave action on the river. With the island breaking up the fetch (distance wind travels across water), the waters of the creek are usually calm. As you drive down island the scenery is breathtaking. New and older homes are either built on the bay or river side guaranteeing a beautiful sunrise or sunset every day, and I will tell you, southern Maryland along the water has some of the most beautiful sunsets anywhere. If you travel to the end of the island and take Thomas Road to the right, you will come to Camp Merryelande, a family oriented campground with beach cottages, beach activities, picnic tables, and beautiful views of both the Potomac and St. Mary’s Rivers. This is a great place to bring the family for an overnighter.
But…if you want to avoid the crowds and kids, head back up the island to the Ruddy Duck Seafood and Ale House. This restaurant is the St. Mary’s cousin to the popular Ruddy Duck Brewery & Grill in Solomons. The tap room serves the award winning beers that are brewed in Solomons. The restaurant is new and well appointed. Not too fancy and not too rustic. Maybe in 20 or 30 years it may obtain that classic watering hole and weathered restaurant look, but now the place is just too new. The restaurant side has large window views of St. Georges Creek. There is also a deck for your dining pleasure that touches the waters edge. The bar and casual dining area has views of both the Potomac River as well as St. Georges Creek. This time of year is a good time to visit. The air is crisp which makes for blue skies and incredible sunsets. The tap room also boasts a large gas fireplace for those cool nights of enjoyment.
I didn’t try the menu, but I did have their award-winning crab cake sandwich. True to the hype, this southern Maryland specialty is all lump crabmeat and plenty of it. When I go back I will order the platter…the bun just gets in the way of this delicious meal. The pineapple slaw and French fries were great but proved too much for me to eat. This serving is a lot of food. The secret of the restaurant is that everything they serve is made from scratch. I was lucky because the seafood delivery truck arrived the same time I did and the crabmeat I ate was in all likelihood swimming the rivers the day before. All of their foods are locally sourced with the oysters coming from 150 feet off the beach. Now that is fresh. In addition to the regular menu, the Ruddy Duck also offers nightly specials. Even in these cold months the Ruddy Duck showcases some of the best local and regional musical talent to round out the evening.
If you are too tired to drive home, right next-door is the Island Inn & Suites. Like the Duck, this boutique hotel is new and has all of the comforts you desire…not to mention a balcony that provides for a sunset or sunrise over water…your choice. Too bad that Valentine’s Day is past, this would make for a killer trip. Well, go any way…every day is Valentine’s Day. Check out the hotel online for rates and see what kind of deals Kyle has going on any given day. The rates are notoriously inexpensive and worth every cent.
To get to Piney Point and St. George’s Island take Maryland Route 5 from the beltway, through Leonardtown to Callaway, Maryland. Here make a right turn on Route 249 and go to lands end where the St. Mary’s River and the Potomac meet.
Written by: Bob Tagert