Kent Island the largest island in Chesapeake Bay, creating the narrowest section of the Bay. So that’s where they put the bridge. Most people who go through Kent Island think of it as a place to stop for gas or snacks before or after the Bay Bridge, but get off Highway 50 and you’ll find an historic town, beaches, crab houses, tiki bars, farm fields, parks and biking trails.
Actually, the island has two towns; an historic one and one full of modern strip-malls and conveniences. They’re about a mile apart. You’ll see Romancoke on the highway signs, but it’s an unincorporated community more like a neighborhood. Many people think it’s named after the rum-and-Coke cocktail, also called a Roman Coke. But Wikipedia says Romancoke is a Native American word for “circling of the wagons.” (There’s a Romancoke in Virginia too.)
A good place to stop for an overview of the island is the visitor’s center, Chesapeake Heritage and Visitors Center (425 Piney Narrows Rd., Chester, MD). It’s on the Kent Narrows side of the island (exit 41 off Highway 50) and generally open 10am-4pm. The center has someone standing by to answer questions, public restrooms, and rotating museum exhibits. Outside, there’s great view of the narrows from it’s observation deck; also a short, nature walking path.
This step-back-in-time crossroads sprouted up from the sale of two farms owned by the Stevens family in the mid-1800s. By 1877 it had about 30 buildings and was a center of trade in the mainly rural island.
Steamboats carried supplies from the West Coast of the Bay to Kent Island. A train took it across the island, where a steamboat picked it up again, and continued to the East Coast of the Bay. Passenger service ended in 1938 and freight service ended in 1948. That’s when Stevensville’s Main Street stopped in time.
The train station is still there with a caboose on the track. However, the track goes no farther than the front of the train station.
City hall, the library, school and fire station left downtown a while ago to the antique stores and consignment shops. Historic Stevensville has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1986.
The Kent Island Heritage Society has a walking tour brochure available online and the buildings have large numbers that correspond with the brochure. It’s a pleasant, short walkabout. The town is literally a crossroads with the historic buildings going about a block or so in any direction.
Many of the shops are closed Sunday and Monday, but not all. You’ll find lots of old stuff and some gift shops with new stuff.
The town isn’t much for sidewalks outside of Main Street. However, the roads are nice for cycling. No shoulders, but the traffic’s not heavy on the weekends.
The center of the island around Stevensville is still mainly farmland growing corn and soybeans. The edges of the island, the shore, have been taken over by new homes, condos and marinas.
Terrapin Park is next to the Bay Bridge on the north side. It shows Kent Island in its natural state with one of the best beaches on the Bay. (north on Romancoke Road off Highway 50, left on Skipjack Parkway) You find the park behind the Chesapeake Bay Business Park. Go through the business park (on Log Cabin Circle) to get there.
A 3/4 mile asphalt trail runs from the parking lot to the end of the park through forest. It’s the start of the Cross Island bike trial. Shooting off the bike trail, near the picnic grounds, is about a three-block long gravel path through dunes to the narrow sand-beach.
On summer days, people wearing swimsuits carry their coolers for a day of sunning and swimming on the free, public beach. They return late afternoon to be replaced in the evening by a different crowd, wheeling coolers to watch the sun set behind the Bay Bridge.
A white path made of crush oyster shells parallels the beach and winds through tidal marsh. Stay to the wide path to get to the beach. A narrower path leads to a stroll through tidal wetland, crop fields and wildlife habitat for a 2.8 mile loop.
The park has a port-a-potty, but no permanent facilities. The parking lot is small, and because cyclists share it with swimmers the lot fills quickly. Parking is available along the circular road in the business park. A Queen Anne’s County Beach Permit is now required to park there.
Matapeake State Park was a privately-owned ferry launch to the mainland. A regal house overlooks the beach and is now used for park functions.
The beach is short, but wide and scenic. One end is set aside for a dog beach. You’ll see a sign pointing the direction of the trail just outside the park gate.
It has public restrooms, drinking water, and often a food stand set up near the entrance to the beach. The parking lot is small and there’s no parking outside the park’s gate. A Queen Anne’s County Beach Permit is now required to park there.
The road to the park starts paved and looks like it ends at an empty turnaround, but keep going down the gravel road. It ends at the park.
Romancoke Pier is basically a long fishing pier with a large parking lot and a restroom. There is a kayak launch area. It’s one end of the Kent Island bike trail that goes across the island, about 28 miles (see the cycling section).
Parking on the Pier lot is $10 for the day. There is no street parking outside the lot.
Old Christ Church & Cemetery
Historic Christ Church in Stevensville is so architecturally unique it stands out among the historic buildings of Kent Island. The parish is Maryland’s oldest continuous congregation, originally started on another part of the island called Broad Creek in 1631.
The Broad Creek community died out as Stevensville was becoming the commercial center of the island. The current church in Stevensville, built in 1880, was the fourth church for the congregation.
The first three were at the Broad Creek Church and Cemetery site (480 Romancoke Road, Stevensville, MD), down a narrow lane off Route 8. Only the corner stones of a previous church remains, along with 12 burial headstones remain. They date from 1746 to 1903. The cemetery is well-kept and a shady, peaceful visit on a hot day.
The Stevensville Christ Church is now a Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church. The original Anglican/Episcopal congregation moved into a larger, modern facility on Romancoake Road.
Crab Restaurants/Tiki Bars
Kent Island is well stocked with crab houses and tiki bars. Most are over on the Kent Narrows side. But here’s a couple on the west side of the island.
Hemingway’s (357 Pier 1 Rd), just across the Bay Bridge is known for its outdoor bar, high-up overlooking the bay.
Down the shore a bit is Kentmorr (910 Kentmorr Rd). To get there, you drive past a private airplane landing-strip edged by homes with airplane garages. During the summer, Kentmorr hosts bands on the weekends. It’s tucked in a neighborhood, so parking can be slim pickings on a nice day.
On the other side of the island is Kent Narrows, a narrow boat passageway separating the island from the mainland. The mainland side is filled with crab houses and tiki bars on either side of Highway 50.
The best is a matter of who you ask and what style you’re going for. There are casual places with motorcycles parked out back and bands playing inside, family places with long, brown-paper covered tables, and others on the dressier side.
The area has large parking lots. And if any restaurant lot is full, there’s plenty of parking under the causeway bridge, if you don’t mind a 5-10 minute walk. Here’s a list of some of the restaurants.
Scattered around Kent Island like crab-pots are small seafood markets. Mr. B’s (114 State Street, Stevensville, MD) is one of them, found on a residential street in the back yard of a small, modern rancher.
Go down what looks like the house’s driveway to a garage, and instead you’ll find a small market with steam from boiling crab pots coming from the back. The market sells local hard and soft crabs, local rockfish and other seafood that’s shipped in.
Customers drive up, pop the trunk and walk in. “Got any big ones,” asks one older gentleman.
In the back, they’re busy steaming and packing crabs. One box = one bushel. The boxes are lined with plastic; bright red crabs tossed in. Sprinkle the layer with water, toss a handful of Old Bay over the top, then repeat. Until the box is packed just short of crabs sliding off the mound.
“Got any more number two’s?” a clerk yells out the door from inside the store. More cars have pulled in and opened their trunks.
The island has two bike paths and a number of bike routes along the island’s roads. Some of roads have wide shoulders making for a nice flat ride. Other roads are narrow country lanes, but with light weekend traffic.
Paved bike trails are short, but can be combined for a longer ride by traveling on the shoulder of the highway a bit. The route then goes from Romancoke Pier to Kent Narrows’ restaurant section, about a 28 mile ride.
Parking on the Pier lot is $10 for the day. There is a big, empty free parking lot at Price Creek Environmental Area, just off the trail. Free parking can also be found at the Park-and-Ride at the Romancoke exit off of Route 50, and under the Kent Narrows bridge.
A bike 23-mile bike route runs through “Quiet Kent,” less travelled roads through farmland and residential neighborhoods and past some water views. It goes through Chester, the busier Kent Island town, so there could be a bit of heavier traffic.
Kayaking, Canoeing & Water Trails
Kent Island has several places to slide a sailboard, paddleboat, kayak or canoe into the water. Here’s a map of water trails. You need a permit to launch from Matapeake Pier or Romancoke Pier. The permits are good for all public landings on the island. You buy the permit at a number of local businesses. At Romancoke Pier, you purchase the $10 fee permit from a machine in the parking lot. However, if you’re looking for free, you can put in at the visitors center (425 Piney Narrows Rd.). If the lot is full, park under the Kent Narrows bridge. It’s a 5-10 minute walk from car to the water.
Free parking is available at Old Love Point Park, Castle Marina Road, the Chesapeake Heritage and Visitor Center and the public lots beneath the Kent Narrows US 50/301 Bridge. These lots are open daily from Sunrise to Sunset.