- - Thursday, December 8, 2011

Though owning a waterfront home is a dream for many Washington-area residents who long to see the glint of sunlight on a lake, stream, river or the ocean outside their windows, few would contemplate the idea of purchasing a private island.

In the world of luxury homes, private islands typically are reserved for those with extreme wealth who can afford to pay tens of millions of dollars or more. But for the price of a landlocked luxury home - $3,950,000 - one buyer with island dreams can purchase an island in the Chesapeake Bay.

Jefferson Island, about a 10-minute boat ride from the mainland in Sherwood, Md., is a 20-acre island with a 750-foot dock and about 7,050 feet of waterfront land. The dock provides plenty of space for visiting boats and enough water depth to keep boats from becoming beached.

This Talbot County island’s documented history began in the 1600s, when it was used as a farm and plantation. Historical maps show the island once was part of the larger nearby Poplar Island. English settlers farmed the land in the late 1630s, and later the island was the site of a large Indian massacre. Two hundred years later, during the war of 1812, Poplar Island was used by British troops as a campsite.

One of the more unusual uses for Poplar Island began in the 1840s, when the grandson of Charles Carroll, Maryland’s only signer of the Declaration of Independence, purchased the entire island and opened the Great Poplar Island Black Cat Farm.

Carroll stocked the island with male black cats and, according to historical accounts, purchased female cats for 25 cents each and then turned them loose on the island. There was high demand in China at that time for black feline fur, and Carroll intended to make a fortune on the cats.

A local Chesapeake Bay waterman was hired to supply fresh fish for the cats, but an extremely harsh winter froze the bay and prevented the waterman from delivering fish. The cats walked across the ice to the mainlandin search of food.

By the late 1800s, weather-related erosion and rising sea levels caused Poplar Island to split into three sections. The piece now known as Jefferson Island was given its name in 1930, when a group of Democrats purchased the land and built a hunting retreat they called the Jefferson Island Club.

For a time, Jefferson Island was dubbed the “Playground of Presidents” because Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, as well as other well-known politicians, used the island for frequent short holidays.

When the retreat was destroyed by fire in 1946, members of the Jefferson Island Club decided to rebuild it on nearby St. Catherine’s Island, where it is still in operation.

Today, the partially wooded Jefferson Island has numerous structures, including a five-bedroom main house that could be upgraded into a year-round home, plus a three-bedroom guesthouse. Other structures include buildings that housed Secret Service agents who accompanied visiting presidents to the island.

The main house and the guesthouse were built in 1950 on the remains of the Jefferson Island Club, and a new hunting and fishing camp was opened. For a time, Jefferson Island was owned by the Smithsonian Institution, which used the land as a living classroom for the study of water birds and other species. Now the property is privately owned.

For more information about Jefferson Island, contact Clifford E. Meredith, a sales associate with Lacaze Meredith Real Estate in Easton, Md., a Long & Foster company, at 410/822-6272 or visit www.ExtraordinaryProperties.com.