Smith Island is actually a collection of several marsh islands 12.5 miles off Crisfield, Maryland. The highest point is about four-feet above the waterline. More than half the main island is salt marsh.
The northern part is the Martin National Wildlife Refuge, while the southern part of the island is Virginia. Most islanders live in the central portion.
The island is the home to a little more than 300 people divided among three communities: Ewell, the main village; Rhodes Point, once called Rogues Point due to privateering out of that village; and Tylerton, a water-locked village requiring a boat to get to there.
The harbor is located in Ewell. It’s protected by breakwater on the north and south sides, and there are some twists and turns through the marsh to find the harbor.
That’s what made it a good place for privateering. Dry land is hard to find. If you’re arriving by boat, the harbormaster will guide you in.
Life is different on Smith Island.
Its not an easy place to get to and, once you do land, there’s not a lot there. It’s a good place to visit if you’re looking for a different kind of adventure, traveling a little farther and out of the ordinary.
While up-to-date, Smith Island lives a slower, more easy-going pace. There are no bars or beaches; you go to experience Maryland as it was lived a generation ago.
Be aware that cell phone service can be spotty in places.
Most of the homes are wood frame structures that appear to have used the same architectural plan with only a few changes to make them unique. White picket fences are common. Many homes have been boarded up and abandoned as the population drops.
You won’t find a baseball or football field on the island; the land is too marshy. Visitors are warned to not walk across marshy areas. But if you do and become stuck, islanders recommend the following solution: lie on your back and use your elbows and hands to pull yourself back to solid land.
Crime is rare. If there’s a dispute, rather than go the mainland, the locals head to the island’s Methodist minister, who has a service each Sunday in the three villages.
Soft-shelled crabs are main industry in the summer. You’ll see metal mesh boxes stacked all around the island. Those are crab traps — called “crab pots” — that are used to catch highly prized and expensive Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.
Watermen rake the grasses for crabs and store them in shanties. The crabs are held in tubs, where they’re checked every three or four hours until they molt. Then, islanders gather the soft shells, pack them and send them to the Eastern Shore for distribution throughout the U.S.
The island’s seafood is amazing. The crab cakes really are the best on the Chesapeake Bay because you know they’re made entirely of the bay’s tender, flakey blue crab meat. And, the soft-shell crabs are really soft. The crunch comes from the tasty coating.
Once tourists leave the island, islanders may change to a different way of talking. The accent gets stronger, leaning more toward the Welsh/British heritage of the original colonists.
The road between Ewell and Rhodes Point is about 1.5-miles on a single lane road. Along the way, you’ll come across the island’s version of a Wal-Mart, a 20-by-40 foot concrete general store containing boat parts, fishing needs and groceries. What’s there depends on the last delivery.
That’s how it goes on Smith Island.