Chesapeake City is a 19th century village that from, outside appearances, hasn’t changed all that much. It began as a rough and tumble shipping port in 1839 when the colonial farming community “Bohemia Village” was renamed a city after the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal was built. The town never quite lived up to “city” expectations, but hung on to a lot of the original buildings and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
The city was split in two when the C & D Canal was built, creating north and south Chesapeake City with a draw bridge connecting the two sides. Over the years, the canal was widened and deepened for cargo ships. A new bridge was constructed in 1949 when a tanker smacked into the old bridge. And over the years the two sections took on different vibes.
South Chesapeake City
South Chesapeake City is the main village. That’s where you’ll find City Hall and downtown merchants. The general store and other such shops are now boutiques, artist galleries and antique stores that cater to tourists.The main street, Bohemia Avenue, starts at the canal and the shops go about three short blocks.
The residential area surrounds the business district for about two blocks on three sides of the district. It’s a mix of clapboard houses, some small Victorians and a few merchant mansions. A number of them are B&Bs.
Most of the homes have been restored and colorfully painted, making for a pleasant stroll for historic house gazing. Some homes are a bit down on their luck and awaiting a new rehab, but not many.
Pell Gardens is one of the prettiest town parks around the Chesapeake Bay region. It overlooks the canal. A section of the black metal fence was the railing of the bridge that once crossed the canal.
The town has put together a “walking tour” map, but it just points you to all the local shops and is not really a tour. You’ll come across some metal plaques as you walk about town that explain the history of the buildings.
You can set up a walking tour by one of the locals if you call ahead, and the town has a well-known ghost tour the last weekend of every October. (Call 410-885-2415 for tour information.)
The quaint churches greatly outnumber the bars in this town, but you’ll still plenty of nightlife for weekend getaways.
Chesapeake Inn (605 2nd St., Chesapeake City, MD 21915) specializes in seafood and has a large outdoor seating area on the deck overlooking the water. It’s also a popular boating stop with its large tiki bar and colorful signs. They feature live music on the weekends and specialize in orange crushes and rum drinks.
Chesapeake Inn also has a no frills marina, used mainly as a stop-over to dine and party on the deck. You’ll be able to get ice and t-shirts/hats, but not water or other supplies. And there’s no grocery or convenience store anywhere within walking or easy cycling distance.
The other large restaurant in the north section of town is the Bayard House Restaurant (11 Bohemia Ave., Chesapeake City, MD 21915) located next to the canal. It’s a former tavern and inn, and believed to be the oldest building in town. It was restored in 1983 and is now a slightly shabby kind of elegant, attracting a more mature crowd.
The restaurant is upstairs, and downstairs you’ll find the “Hole in the Wall Bar.” Not because it’s divvy, but because there was a hole in the back of the bar when it was the Harriot Hotel in 1911. African-Americans would reach through the hole for a drink because they weren’t allowed inside.
Outside on the lawn sloping toward the canal is the Big Umbrella bar. You’ll find a fine wine list and a good martini at either bar.
Both the Bayard House and Chesapeake Inn are great places to sit and watch the enormous ocean-faring cargo ships go by on the Canal. It’s an impressive site.
For a place to relax and chill by the water, check out the Canal Creamery (10 Bohemia Ave., Chesapeake City, MD 21915). It’s a little ice cream shop that also has baked goods and other treats. You can sit at a picnic table with your cone and watch the ships go by.
Worth mentioning is the Bohemia Cafe and Bakery (401 2nd St. Chesapeake City, MD 21915), specializing in a traditional small town breakfast made by a couple bearded, tatted guys working the grill behind the lunch counter. The baked goods are made by one of those grill guys and he rocks the eclairs and strudel. They’re open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Across the street from the cafe is the third bar in town, a locals hang-out called The Tap Room (201 Bohemia Ave., Chesapeake City, MD 21915). It’s actually a crab house. They serve crabs year-round, but specialize in Maryland crabs & oysters. They also serve other Bay-style pub food (Maryland crab soup, chowder, mussels & Old Bay fries).
About a mile outside of city center is the Army Corps of Engineer’s headquarters that oversees the C & D Canal. They also run the C & D Canal Museum (815 Bethel Road, Chesapeake City, MD 21915).
It’s walkable if you have about 20-minutes to get there. Continue down 2nd Street, past the Chesapeake Inn, and circle around Back Creek (the harbor). If you prefer to drive, there’s museum parking inside and a small lot outside mainly for the boat ramp.
The museum tells the story of the canal’s creation and has the massive waterwheel and steam engines that filled the locks that raised and lowered the boats. Those locks have been removed as the Corp enlarged and restructured the canal.
Outside the museum is a replica of the lighthouses that lined the canal. Since it’s a Corps of Engineers museum it’s only open during weekday business hours — Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm.
The view from the bridge is spectacular. It is possible to walk or cycle across the bridge. Doable, but not easy. For walkers, there are staircases on both sides with a six flight hike to get to the top.
The sidewalk on the bridge is about a foot higher than the road, but it’s narrow. Cars whiz by closely and large trucks make the bridge shake. If you want to cycle across be aware that the bridge is narrow and there are no shoulders.
For those who just want to see the view, there’s parking under the bridge by the steps.
North Chesapeake City
This side of town is best known for Schaefers Restaurant and Canal Bar (208 Bank Street, Chesapeake City, MD 21915), a huge restaurant on the canal that specializes in seafood.
The Canal Bar is an outside circular bar along the lines of a modern tiki bar. The open deck has cushioned cubana lounge chairs. They also have live music on the weekends.
If you’re coming by boat, Schaefers has a bulk head for short-term dining, a marina for overnight stays and a fuel dock with a marine store that has boat supplies.
Next to Schaefers is Miss Clare Cruises (64 Front St., Chesapeake City, MD 21915) where you can catch a ride on a traditional watermen’s boat for a tour of the canal.
It also provide free ferry service from April to October across the canal five times a day on Saturday and six on Sunday. Check the Chesapeake City ferry schedule.
And next to the Miss Clare on the canal is the Ben Cardin Recreational Trail. It’s the Maryland end of a new trail (in 2015) connecting the newly-opened Mike Castle Trail in Delaware. Together they become a 17-mile, end to end, specially paved run/walk/bike trail from Chesapeake City to Delaware City.
There are about four parking spots — if everyone parks compactly — at the trail head, but you’ll find more parking under the bridge. There are also a number of other nearby Chesapeake City cycling trails. The highways in that area have wide shoulders and gently rolling hills, making it a great cycling region.
A note for boaters: the town has free 24 hour docking between Chesapeake Inn and the city park. There is a charge for water and electric. You pay at nearby city hall.
Other Things to do Nearby
Mount Harmon Plantation, Earleville (600 Mt Harmon Rd, Earleville, MD 21919)
A restored tobacco plantation dating from 1651. They offer guided tours of the house and self-guided tours of the nature trails. Open Tuesday and Thursday, 10am to 3pm, Sunday 1pm to 4pm. They also have special events throughout the year. Check their website for a calendar of seasonal events.
Embrace opulence at Mount Harmon Plantation (WashingtonPost.com)
Drown in real estate envy with a tour of Mount Harmon Plantation’s centerpiece, a really, really, really big house restored to its late-18th-century appearance. A former tobacco plantation, Mount Harmon sits on 200 acres and includes a Georgian manor house, a colonial kitchen, a formal boxwood garden and a tobacco prize house, where the leaves were treated before being packed into barrels and shipped overseas. The Revolutionary War and Colonial Festival, featuring battle re-enactments, a colonial marketplace and all the breeches you can shake a stick at, is coming up on Oct. 29 and 30. K.P.K.
Mount Harmon Plantation, 600 Mount Harmon Road, Earleville, Md.; Thursdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., through Oct. 31, $10