Located approximately 12 miles off the coast of Crisfield, Maryland, Smith Island is the only inhabited Maryland island within the Chesapeake Bay that can only be reached by boat, offering cultural attractions, overnight accommodations, and restaurants serving the island’s famous eponymous layer cake.
Smith Island was first charted by Captain John Smith in 1608, though it was named for Henry Smith of Jamestown in 1679, who was granted a large mass of land on the island. The island is one of the oldest English-speaking areas in the region and is known for its relic accent, which preserves original speech patterns of early British colonial settlers that are similar to the dialect of Cornwall, Wales. The island remains a traditional Chesapeake Bay community today, with most industry tied to the fishing and oystering industry. Due to erosion, the island has been gradually shrinking over the past several centuries, with more than 3,300 acres on the island lost within the past 150 years. Restoration efforts have been put into place to prevent the island from being lost to erosion, including the restoration of more than 1,900 acres of submerged aquatic vegetation.
The island is best known today for its unique Smith Island cake, which is similar in recipe to Prinzregententorte and features eight to 15 thin layers filled with cream or frosting and a chocolate outer frosting. The cakes gained popularity during the 19th century, when residents began sending cakes to area watermen during the autumn oyster harvest season. Cakes are most commonly made with yellow cake and chocolate icing, though variants such as strawberry, lemon, and coconut flavored cake are also common. In 2008, the cake was officially designated as the state cake of Maryland.
Today, Smith Island is the only inhabited Maryland island within the Chesapeake Bay that is not connected to the mainland via bridge. The island is located approximately 12 miles off the coast of Crisfield, Maryland along the territorial water border between Maryland and Virginia, with a portion of the island’s uninhabited southern point located within Accomack County, Virginia. The island is accessible via ferry service from Crisfield, which also transports resident mail and supplies back and forth to the island daily. Passenger ferries may also be caught in Point Lookout, Maryland and Reedville, Virginia.
Three inhabited communities are located on the island, including Ewell, Rhodes Point, and Tylerton, comprising a total population of more than 275 residents. As the island is actually comprised of several small islands, each community is located on an individual island, with the communities of Ewell and Rhodes Point offering road travel between each other. The majority of the island’s attractions are located within Ewell, including the Smith Island Center visitor center, which offers walking tour maps for visitors. A short documentary film about the island’s history is shown periodically, and a display of historical items is showcased, with many items on loan from islander families. A large wraparound porch circles the visitor center, offering public access for island visitor relaxation.
Smith Island is home to the Smith Island Museum, which offers historical exhibits about the island’s history, along with displays of artifacts related to the island’s crabbing and oystering industries, including a full crabbing boat and skipjack models. Restaurants on the island include the Bayside Inn, which offers family-style luncheons and traditional American fare with a focus on seafood dishes. The Bayside Inn Carry Out and Ice Cream Shop is located at the back of the restaurant’s complex, offering hand-scooped ice cream, snow cones, and slices of Smith Island cake in a variety of flavors. Other restaurants include Ruke’s Store and Seafood Deck, which serves seafood dishes such as Maryland crab cakes and soft-shell crabs, and the Drum Point Market, which offers crab cakes and submarine sandwiches and sells groceries and convenience items. Crab meat and products are also sold at the Smith Island Crabmeat Co-Op in Tylerton, which offers tours of the factory’s crab picking area.
Island accommodations include the Chesapeake Fishing Adventures hunting and fishing lodge, the Chesapeake Sunrise Bed and Breakfast, and the Inn of Silent Music, which serves gourmet breakfasts and seafood dinners. Island transportation is generally accomplished by golf carts, which may be rented from the Bayside Inn restaurant. More than 4,000 acres of the island are protected as part of the Glenn Martin National Wildlife Refuge, which serves as a home for a wide variety of migrating waterfowl species. Other outdoor activities include kayaking opportunities and tours through the Smith Island Water Trails Paddling Guide service.
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