Swanendele Inn – A Southern Maryland Gem
By Bob Tagert
For this month’s Road Trip we decided to head south in St. Mary’s County to where the water meets the road where our ultimate overnight goal was Swanendele Inn in Ridge.
The drive down Maryland Route 5 is about one and a half hours through St. Mary’s County and it takes you past scarred fields from this year’s harvest and the many remaining tobacco Barns from the days when Maryland was a top producer of tobacco. In comparison to those barns standing like headstones to a lost industry, you will pass beautiful Amish farms and maybe catch a wave to an Amish family out for a buggy ride.
When we arrived at the town of Ridge we turned into the driveway of the Inn and were met by owner Gerald Meyerman. This proper Dutchman walked with us to the front entrance and explained that Swanendele was Dutch for “Valley of Swans”” and named after the resident pair of swans.
The property was purchased in 2001 by Meyerman and his wife Victoria O’Hara – Alexandria residents at the time. The couple were impressed by the natural beauty of St. Mary’s County and the property features 800 feet of waterfront on St. Jerome Creek. The couple planned and built the Inn between professional assignments overseas, resulting in the opening of Swanendele Inn in June of 2019. Although the Inn resembles a beautiful building from yesteryear, the house also features modern systems and conveniences, including geothermal heating and cooling, ultraviolet filters in all air handling units while preserving the warmth of a large loved and lived in family home. Both Gerald and Vicky have lived and worked all over the world in professional capacities. The furnishings and artwork at Swanendele represent the many destinations of their travels.
On one of their travels to Ecuador, they discovered one of the country’s leading Andean Inns where they met the Inn Keeper, Miguel Gavilanez. A fast friendship developed and after some negotiations the pair convinced Miguel to move to the United States where he graduated from high school in Alexandria as Valedictorian. He is now a US citizen with an Associate Degree in Hospitality, he was instrumental in building the Inn and developing the menu and food service found at the Inn today.
As we continued our walk with Gerald, we found our way to the front entrance of the Inn. Set at a slight angle, the entrance seemed smaller than the actual size of the Inn. This illusion quickly faded as we ascended the stairs and entered the main room. A large two sided stone fire place greeted us. Either looking through the hearth of the fireplace or a little to each side you could see the wooded lawn and St. Jerome Creek through the glass wall on the other side of the room. This place is massive with verandas as well as wrap around porches. The suites and bedrooms are on the second floor and appear to wrap around the main room as there is a balcony that encircles the entire floor.
Gerald led the way to our accommodations for the night – the Lord Leonard Calvert Suite. The Suite offers a king-size bed, natural stone (gas) fireplace, built in bookshelves and ceiling fan. It also features a huge bathroom with a two-person jacuzzi, built-in champagne bucket, shower, separate private toilet, Keurig with complimentary coffee/tea, and a wet bar with a small fridge. Bathroom finishes are natural stone/marble/granite, European ceramic and oak. The exclusive, south facing sunny private deck with roll down awning offers a panoramic view from sunrise to sunset through the forest which “filters” the views of the Chesapeake Bay and St. Jerome Creek. The total space is 623 square feet. I might add, there is no TV in the suite, however, there is a massive big screen in the bar.
For dinner we took a short drive to the Potomac River side of the peninsula to a true throwback restaurant…Courtney’s. This place is the quintessential Southern Maryland “dive bar” and has been around since 1955 and certainly sells fresh seafood as the bountiful waters surround the place. There is another restaurant, the Pier 450 next to Courtney’s that is said to be very popular. Will give it a try on our next trip.
Arriving back at Swanendele, we retired to the Bar/party room/TV room in the bottom floor. We were met there by Gerald, who assumed the role of bartender as well as gracious host, and made us all a wonderful cocktail. He also turned on the massive flat screen TV so I could watch the MLB playoff game. As is the rest of the Inn, this room is massive, yet very warm, with a walkout patio up to the grounds. By the end of the night we felt like Gerry and Vicky were old friends.
The next morning, sadly, it was time to depart but first, breakfast – which is included with the overnight stay. Sitting in the dining room on the veranda while enjoying eggs, bacon and fresh fruit with yogurt, I gazed out across St. Jerome Creek to the cut that open into the Chesapeake Bay. It was so serene and timeless, I could almost imagine the African Queen chugging into the creek with smoke billowing across the sky and Katharine Hepburn smiling on the bow with Humphrey Bogart at the helm. As the image faded like a puff of smoke, I realized it was more likely Captain John Smith who sailed these waters in the 17th century and actually made camp where I currently sat. With this we took our leave as Gerald walked us to our vehicle.
The Swanendele Inn is a place that you can just immerse yourself and never leave the property. They have canoes and kayaks for your use to paddle the creek. Walks around the property and down the street are very pleasant. In fact, we made the trek next door to the True Chesapeake Oyster Company who farm their oysters in St. Jerome Creek. Look for their popular “Skinny Dippers” the next time you order bivalves – they have Northern Virginian distribution.
We had one more stop to make. Seven miles away, where the Potomac River meets the Chesapeake Bay is Point Lookout. For many years I have sailed through this spot with Virginia and Smith Point 23 miles south. This State Park has history going back hundreds of years. One significant point is that this was the location of Camp Hoffman, a northern prisoner-of-war camp that held as many as 50,000 confederate soldiers. One of the three forts remain today that the Union soldiers used to protect the camp and escape of prisoners.
Other places to check out on your drive on Route 5 is St. Mary’s College of Maryland as well as Historic St. Mary’s City – Maryland’s first City.
November is still a great time to catch the leaves changing color as Mother Nature puts on her annual show. It seems, nearer the trees are to water, they change more slowly. It is also a great time to visit Swanendele Inn and introduce yourself to Gerald and Victoria. You will be impressed by the Inn as well as the beauty of St. Mary’s County.
49946 Airedele Road