James Michener's Chesapeake
Spanning over 300 years, Michener's Chesapeake follows the lives and fortunes of four families who both shaped and were shaped by the Eastern Shore. The village of Patamoke is a composite of several towns in the area, but the Choptank River and other sites are authentic. Spend a day tracing the real footsteps of James Michener and the fictional ones of the Turlocks, Steeds, Paxmores, and Caters.
Easton: The original manuscript for the novel is kept at the Talbot County Free Library, 100 W. Dover Street. It's not on public display, but the Maryland Room, where Michener did much of his research is open during the library's normal hours. Monday 9-9, Tuesday & Wednesday 9-6, Thursday & Friday 9-5, and Saturday 9-1. Open until 9 on Thursdays and 5 on Saturdays in the Summer. Closed on Sundays.
The Third Haven Meeting House mentioned as the place the Quaker family Paxmore worshipped is located at 405 S. Washington Street. It's the oldest religious building in continuous use in the country.
Oxford: Michener wrote the original outline for the novel in the tavern of the Robert Morris Inn. He frequently ate there, and declared more than once that the crab cakes served at the Inn were the best on the Eastern Shore.
Stop at Cutts and Case Shipyard to see Byeberry, the oldest house in Oxford, possibly dating to 1668, as well as several other historic houses. Visitors can watch workers build elegant wood yachts, combining traditional materials with state-of-the-art engineering and design.
Cross the Tred Avon River via the Oxford Bellevue Ferry and head for the Jean duPont Shehan Audubon Sanctuary. Use the nature trails to get close to the herons, osprey, deer, geese, and other creatures so loved by Michener and his characters.
From there, continue to Tilghman Island. This waterman community is home to the skipjacks, the Retrievers, and the independent people who are more at home on the Bay than on its shores. Continue through town to Black Walnut Point. Park in the lot at the end of the road by the Naval Radar Station, and amble through the refuge maintained by the Department of Natural Resources. It's open 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily. The view east across the Choptank River includes the spot where the fictional Devon Island was located.
Returning through Tilghman Island, stop to see (and even cruise on) the skipjack Rebecca T. Ruark, the oldest skipjack on the Bay, at Dogwood Harbor. The "Rebecca" has a schedule of cruises in the summer.
St. Michaels is another town that was incorporated into Patamoke. This town actually was bombarded one early morning during the War of 1812. But the wily locals hung lanterns in the trees, so the British aimed too high and mostly missed the buildings. Only the Cannonball House on Green Street was hit.
The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is the perfect place to see log canoes and other wooden boats that played such a vital role in the life on the Bay. There's always a vessel under construction in the Boat Building Shed. Buy boats, like Mr. Jim, were used to circuit the Bay and purchase the day's catch from the watermen. These boats carried their purchases into port while allowing watermen the opportunity to continue with their harvest.
The Museum's efforts to save the remaining working skipjacks helped to earn one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Eleven Most Endangered Places for 2002. The skipjack Rosie Parks is docked at the Museum, while the E.C. Collier, is the focal point of the exhibit called "Oystering on the Chesapeake", which demonstrates the hard work of harvesting the bivalves. In town, the H.M.Krentz takes passengers on daily cruises in season.
Leaving St. Michaels, look for Railroad Avenue. Michener lived in a house at the end of this street while working on Chesapeake.
The Choptank River is as much a character in the novel as any of the people. Spend some time with it by visiting the fishing pier off Route 50. It's a good place to have a picnic while appreciating the wide river. The site of the fictional Patamoke is approximately where the bridge crosses the river. It's a good place to contemplate the saga of the Chesapeake and its people.