Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Next weekend, Oct. 9 and 10, you can hop aboard a historic Chesapeake Bay “bugeye,” set sail on a 1930s vintage yacht or a working skipjack, tour a reconstructed Indian village, build a model boat and have it inspected by the Coast Guard, and listen to the kind of music enjoyed by Maryland’s first European settlers. You also can run or walk a 5K charity race, watch an old-time parade and browse a juried arts and crafts show.

It’s all happening in and around the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, and it’s a party with a purpose: to celebrate the 110-mile-long Patuxent River, which has provided transportation, food and livelihood since prehistoric times.

As Karen Stone, curator of education at the museum and chairman of Patuxent River Appreciation Days, explains, it’s a way of giving something back to the beneficent waterway. The money earned at the event, she says, is returned to the river in the form of grants for watershed work, wildlife sanctuaries and other activities that benefit the river.

“This is the 27th year,” Ms. Stone says. “A group of organizations got together to find a way to show support for the Patuxent. The river is an important resource that should be preserved and appreciated.”

• • •

Probably the first European to express appreciation of the river was Capt. John Smith, who sailed into the Patuxent in 1608.

“On the west side of the Bay were five faire and delightful navigable rivers,” Smith wrote in his log. “The fifth river is called Pawtuxent.”

Capt. Smith may have been the first European to admire the river, but he was really a “Johnny-come-lately,” according to archaeologist Wayne Clark, executive director of the Office of Museum Services at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, a 544-acre preserve on the Patuxent in St. Leonard.

“The English weren’t the first to move here,” Mr. Clark says. “The Algonquians migrated here 2,000 years ago. Capt. Smith noted 17 Indian villages along the Patuxent.”

English historians perpetuated the myth that the Indians were not very settled, but they actually had extensive agricultural fields and raised corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and tobacco, Mr. Clark says.

It was a forest environment, and the Indians had no plows. Thus, they used the “swidden,” or slash-and-burn, method: They would cut around the bigger trees and burn saplings, which would create potash for fertilizer. After five or six years, they would move on.

“When the English came here in 1634 to grow tobacco, the Indian ‘old fields’ were much in demand because they were already cleared,” Mr. Clark says.

One benefit of this type of agriculture, according to Mr. Clark, is that it produced very little river-silting runoff. The farm plots were hills rather than flat ground, so sediment didn’t run into the river. It wasn’t until the 18th century, when plows came into use, that runoff was a problem.

Visitors to Jefferson Patterson Park during Patuxent River Appreciation Days will be able to get a graphic picture of the runoff problem by using a kind of topographical sandbox. They’ll be invited to pour water onto “farmland” and watch the resultant sediment seep into the “river.”

The Indians and the European settlers lived side by side and tolerated each other for a time. In fact, the Riverside Trail at Jefferson Patterson Park leads visitors past both an Indian and European settlement site. In the long run, though, the two cultures proved incompatible.

“The English were into pigs,” Mr. Clark says. “They let them run free in the forest, and the pigs would eat the Indian corn.”

There goes the neighborhood.

• • •

As European settlements grew and tobacco plantations took over, the Indians moved on. By 1672, most Patuxent Indians lived on 700 acres of land set aside for them by Lord Baltimore near where Waysons Corner is today, and in 1692, the last of the tribes left the reservation and joined another tribe in Chaptico, on the Potomac side of Maryland. (The Indians who will set up a typical Eastern Woodland Indian village at Patuxent River Appreciation Days are from the Mattaponi Indian tribe in Virginia.)

King’s Reach, which was excavated by archaeologists at Jefferson Patterson Park in the 1980s, tells the story of 17th-century plantation life along the Patuxent. From postholes, fence ditches and cellars — which survived below the level of plowing — as well as nails, brick, glass, ceramics and other excavated artifacts, the archaeologists have a pretty good idea how the “plantation” looked.

As plantations go, this was no Tara. King’s Reach consisted of a one-story, 30-by-30-foot main building with two attached sheds, a fireplace, a kitchen, a parlor and a sleeping loft. A second, smaller building housed indentured servants or slaves.

At first, the grunt work on the tobacco plantations was done mainly by the owners and their families plus indentured servants, who were bound by their contracts to work for seven years, after which they were promised 50 acres of land.

However, the work of rebuilding London after the Great Fire in 1666 produced a labor shortage. With full employment opportunities, the labor pool of indentured servants shrank, and planters turned to slaves. By the early 18th century, the plantations were bigger, the houses were grander, and most of the heavy lifting was performed by slaves.

Sotterley Plantation, the early-18th-century manor house just across the Patuxent from the King’s Reach site, seems light years and a world away. The stately two-story mansion, with a dozen rooms and a mahogany Chippendale staircase carved by indentured servant Richard Boulton, offers sweeping views of the river and a more close-up view of where the people lived who did the work on the plantation.

The 1840s slave cabin was one of probably several slave dwellings on the grounds. It consists of a single room with a sleeping loft and a fireplace.

To get their tobacco to market, plantation workers packed it into large barrels called hogsheads that were rolled down to wharfs along the river.

• • •

“The Patuxent was a highway of commerce,” says Sue Hamilton, an interpreter at the Calvert Marine Museum, leading a visitor through the museum’s maritime history hall.

First sailing ships and then steam vessels plied the Patuxent, ferrying tobacco to Baltimore, where it was loaded onto Europe-bound ships. The vessels also ferried people and served as the area’s main form of transportation until the 1930s, stopping at wharves all along the river, then heading into the Chesapeake Bay and north to Baltimore.

There also was a floating theater, a sort of showboat that played one-night stands in Patuxent ports from 1914 until 1939. Visitors to the Calvert Marine Museum can see models of the boats, along with photographs and timetables.

• • •

In addition to acting as a “highway of commerce,” the Patuxent also served as an avenue of war — specifically the War of 1812. The invading British used the river as a route to Washington, where they burned the Capitol and the White House. Marylanders made a valiant stand here, in the Battle of St. Leonard Creek, to try to stop them.

In their Baltimore-built shallow-draft, oar-powered barges, the volunteers, under Commodore Joshua Barney, harassed the powerful British fleet. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Americans retreated into St. Leonard Creek, which was too shallow for the bigger British boats.

The British blockaded the mouth of the creek and tried to lure the Americans out by burning tobacco warehouses and homes all along the river. American land artillery forces gathered on a bluff overlooking the mouth of St. Leonard Creek — now the site of Jefferson Patterson Park. The artillery turned heavy guns on the British while Barney’s forces attacked the British ships from their barges.

Some of Barney’s ships sank during the battle, and the rest were scuttled in Jug Bay — on the site of the present Patuxent River Park near Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s County — to keep them out of British hands.

Underwater archaeologists have recovered parts of the ships, and visitors can view artifacts — including bowls and ship hardware — both at the Calvert Marine Museum and at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory in Jefferson Patterson Park.

The last steamer left the Patuxent in 1939, and the tobacco loaded onto the ships from wharves along the river also has retreated into the past. In 2001, a state program to discourage tobacco cultivation offered farmers a buy-out, and most of them took it.

The old wooden tobacco barns, with their long vertical doors that let in the air to dry the hanging tobacco, are on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Most Endangered Places list.

You can no longer see tobacco drying in the old barns, but you can see a good example of the species in Greenwell State Park in Hollywood, on the west bank of the Patuxent, near Sotterley Plantation. The hewn-log tobacco barn, encased in another barn, dates from between 1835 and 1845.

• • •

The people who lived along the Patuxent, as far back as the Indians, always enjoyed its fish, crabs, clams and oysters. However, after the Civil War, when slave labor was no longer available and most of the large plantations were broken into smaller parcels, commercial fishing became the area’s economic mainstay.

In the late 1800s, about 10 million bushels of oysters — about one-third of the world’s production of these succulent bivalves — were harvested from the Patuxent each year. The watermen who scraped oysters from the river’s bottom with tongs and dredges sold them to canning houses such as the J.C. Lore Oyster House in Solomons, which is part of the Calvert Marine Museum and open for tours.

“Joseph Lore Sr. came down here from New Jersey in 1888 to scout oyster beds and ended up staying and starting his own business,” says Melissa McCormack, a museum staffer who is one of Lore’s descendants. “The original building was wiped out by a hurricane in 1933. Then he built the current oyster cannery.”

“This is the old ice house,” says interpreter Lori Cole, showing a visitor through the cannery on Back Creek, which flows off the Patuxent.

“They made their own ice here, and all the oysters were shipped fresh. They planted their own oyster beds, but they also bought from watermen, who sold their harvest to ‘buy boats’ like the William B. Tennison. That was the Lores’ boat; now it belongs to the museum.”

The Tennison, a National Historic Landmark, was built as a bugeye, a log-hulled oyster-dredging vessel, in 1899, and was converted to a “buy boat” in 1906-1907. It still plies the Patuxent, taking passengers from the museum wharf five days a week for cruises on the river.

Ms. Cole points to an opening in the roof of the cannery, where the oysters were lifted from the buy boat and dumped into what was known as the recovery room. The oysters were then put in baskets and wheeled to the shucking room. Oyster shuckers, who were mainly black women, stood on low stools and used knives to carefully open each bivalve.

“They were paid a dollar per gallon in 1950,” Ms. Cole says, “and a fast shucker could finish two gallons per hour. When they filled one of these containers, they’d take the oysters to be rinsed, measured and marked on the tally board. Then the oysters were put in cans, labeled and packed in barrels with ice and shipped out.”

• • •

A combination of silt, pollution, overharvesting and disease has effectively ended commercial oystering on the Patuxent. The J.C. Lore Oyster House went out of business in 1978, and most of the others quickly followed. The last, Warren Denton Seafood on Broomes Island, closed last year after Hurricane Isabel delivered the coup de grace.

A few work boats still ply the river, and Stoney’s Seafood House, next to the old Warren Denton Seafood, serves crabs caught by Patuxent watermen. But the role of the Patuxent has essentially changed, from a river of commerce, a working river, to a recreational resource.

Most of the craft on the river are pleasure boats — sailing yachts or sports fishing boats or speed boats, even noisy personal watercraft. But to Charles “Collie” Agle, the best way to experience the river is in a kayak.

“You’re close to the water — there’s a sense of being of the water, and it’s the quiet way to go,” says Mr. Agle, whose Pathfinder Group leads sea kayaking trips on the Patuxent.

Mr. Agle, who says he has paddled “pretty much the entire river,” has two favorite trips. One is up Mataponi Creek off the upper Patuxent near Jug Bay.

“It winds through the marshes where you can see shore birds, migrating waterfowl and nesting ospreys, then enters a swamp with cattails and wild rice. It gets narrower and narrower and finally stops at a beaver dam,” Mr. Agle says.

Another trip leaves from Jefferson Patterson Park and goes up to Broomes Island, then across the river to Sotterley, with a catered lunch on the shores of Sotterley.

“The Patuxent is such an incredible place — there’s thousands of years of history here,” Mr. Agle says. “It’s fun to have people visualize the way the river used to be.”

What to do on, along the Patuxent

It’s time to celebrate and enjoy another of Washington’s historic rivers. Next weekend, Oct. 9 and 10, head for Solomons in Calvert County, where the Calvert Marine Museum becomes the focal point for Admission to the festival is free. Admission to the museum and to the J.C. Lore & Sons Oyster House, as well as cruises on the William B. Tennison and other historic boats, also will be free during Patuxent River Appreciation Days. For more information, see

Here’s a guide to interesting sites associated with the Patuxent and the festival.

14150 Solomons Island Road, Route 2, Solomons. A public, nonprofit museum specializing in the culture and natural history — and particularly the maritime history — of Southern Maryland. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Open house with free admission Oct. 9 and 10. Admission at other times $7 adults, $6 seniors, $5 children. 410/326-2042 or

• Harbor cruises: Onboard the Chesapeake Bay bugeye William B. Tennison, the 73-year-old yacht Lady Patty or the sailing skipjack Nathan of Dorchester. Free during Patuxent River Appreciation Days. Regular cruises on the Tennison leave the museum dock at 2 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday from May through October. Fare free on Oct. 9 and 10. Fare at other times $7 for adults, $4 for children 5 to 12.

• 5K race and 5K walk: To benefit the American Cancer Society. Step off at 9 a.m. Oct. 9 from the Solomons Island Yacht Club. For information, call 410/326-2042, Ext. 41.

2. Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum: 10515 Mackall Road, St. Leonard. A Maryland state history and archaeology museum exploring the cultures and the environment of the Chesapeake Bay over 12,000 years. The park includes a visitors center with exhibits, nature trails and an archaeology trail. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, April 15 through Oct. 15. Events Oct. 10 include a natural dyes workshop with audience participation from 2 to 5 p.m. Free tours of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, which is on the grounds, are given the first Friday of every month all year around. Admission free except for special events, when there is a small parking fee. 410/535-4583 or

3. Sotterley Plantation: Route 245, Hollywood. Dating from 1717, this is the only remaining Tidewater plantation in Maryland that is open to the public with a full range of activities. Tours 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 31. $7 adults, $6 seniors, $5 children 6 to 16. Upcoming events include a Riverside Winefest this weekend and special Ghosts of Sotterley tours Oct. 15 and 16. 301/373-2280 or

4. Greenwell State Park: 25450 Rosedale Manor Lane, Hollywood (just south of Sotterley Plantation). This 596-acre park stands on part of a 4,000-acre tract once known as Resurrection Manor. Hiking trails, a fishing pier, boat launch, swimming beach, historic tobacco barn and Rosedale Manor, a mansion circa 1880 with a Victorian-style garden. Dawn to dusk daily. 301/373-2320 or

5. Stoney’s Seafood House: Oyster House Road, Broomes Island. 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through the end of October. 410/586-1888 or

6. Patuxent River Park, Jug Bay Natural Area: 16000 Croom Airport Road, Upper Marlboro, Prince George’s County. Hiking, camping, fishing, canoe rentals. “Limited use” policy for land protection requires advance reservations or special-use permits. 301/627-6074 or

Sea kayaking on the Patuxent: See or call Charles Agle at 202/546-0269.

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