Don’t let your GPS take you to the wrong place. It wants want to guide you to the post office surrounded by a state college. That’s about there is to THAT St. Mary’s City.
Historic St. Mary’s City, the one that began in 1634, is on top of the hill overlooking the beautiful St. Mary’s River. That one is amazing.
The National Park Service says St. Mary’s City is “probably the most intact 17th-century English town surviving in our nation.”
Except it wasn’t intact exactly, which is why it’s not on some maps.
The story of how it rose from the dead is nearly as fascinating as what was found.
A Bit of Background on Historic St. Mary’s City
The town was largely abandoned after the Maryland colony’s capitol moved to Annapolis in 1695. Over time, the abandoned buildings collapsed and were reclaimed by the land.
Amazingly, much of the waterfront property was owned by one family, which farmed the topsoil. That left the colonial town center foundations hibernating under the crops until found again by archeologists starting in the 1960s.
Residents of the local farming community joined forces with the state and got the area designated a National Historic Landmark in 1969.
Since then, they’ve been excavating the city and rebuilding.
What’s in Historic St. Mary’s City?
If you think Mt. Vernon, Old Town Alexandria and Annapolis are somewhat cool, well, St. Mary’s City is about 100 years older.
However, buildings in St. Mary’s had to be recontructed. It’s taking a lot longer than the originals.
The church is a prime example. According to diaries and letters, it took seven years to build the original church.
It took the non-profit group that runs the historic site 14 years to reconstruct the walls and roof.
They’re still working on the interior. As the guide points out, the original builders didn’t have the 40-hour work week and evenings off in front of the TV.
While the church is relatively new, more than 500 people were, and are still, buried under and around the church according to scientific searches. After nearly 350 years, they’re too long-gone to track.
This was a Catholic church. Maryland started as a protected colony for Catholics who left England.
A half mile away from the church, the Maryland state assembly passed the Act of Religious Toleration in 1649 to protect Catholics.
Catholics started to come down hard on Protestants who were also encouraged to colonize Maryland. When Protestants gained control of the Assembly five years later, the political climate flipped and Catholics had to practice their faith discretely with priests holding secret services.
These are just some of the stories you’ll hear at St. Mary’s City.
Local volunteers dress in period costume and are happy to answer questions. They knowingly launch into what life was like and what it took to recreate it.
It’s an easy walk of about one-mile round-trip through the experience.
An asphalt-paved walk goes along a bluff overlooking St. Mary’s River, and down to a dock where the Maryland Dove, a “tall-ship,” is tied. ‘Tall-ship’ is what sailors call boats with tall wood masts and lots of sails.
The path winds past a working farm, former tobacco fields, a print shop and an Indian hamlet.
There is as much detail recreated inside as outside.
Visitors step into the buildings as they were during that period; there’s no rope, or Plexiglas barricade, blocking your experience.
There is a fee to walk through.
Pay either at the visitor’s center (18751 Hogaboom Land), at one end of the city, or at Farthing’s Ordinary (47414 Old State House Road), a re-creation of a colonial inn at the other end.
Farthing’s Ordinary is closed on Sundays.
To get a overall picture of historical park, check out this interactive map of St. Mary’s City.
Outside the Museum
St. Mary’s City actually continues down Trinity Church Road.
Trinity Church in St. Mary’s
Next to the recreated capitol building is Trinity Episcopal Church (47477 Trinity Church Road) built in 1829 from the brick of the original state house.
The Trinity Church cemetery is actually where the Maryland state house stood.
The cemetery overlooks St. Mary’s River and is an amazing, peaceful view. Follow the gravel road down the hill to get to the waterfront.
St. Mary’s College
Next to Trinity is the historic section of St. Mary’s College (18952 East Fishers Road), the real reason the post office still exists.
The small liberal arts public college was founded in 1840 and now covers 361 acres.
Near Calvert Hall is a gorgeous walk down to the St. Mary’s College boatyard.
Across the street from the boatyard is that post office. The official city center of the current St. Mary’s City.
In August, it’s the end point of the Governor’s Cup Yacht Race, from Annapolis to St. Mary’s City (the current state capitol to the first state capitol).
It’s the oldest and longest overnight race on the Chesapeake Bay (2013 was the 40th year). It turns into a party on Saturday morning, as people wait for the sailboats to come in, then again in the evening when the crews awake from their nap after sailing through the night.
Much of the rest of the year, it’s available for day-trip docking – sun-up to sun-down – no overnight stays. Just tie-up and check in with the dock master.
It can get busy on Friday, so call ahead to the dock-master (240-895-4291). There are no electrical connections.
The main college campus is across Point Lookout Road. It’s a pretty campus with newer historic, brick buildings.
Shopping in St. Mary’s City
Despite St. Mary’s being a college town, there’s no nearby restaurants or hotels. And very few shops.
The St. Mary’s City museum’s shop, The Shop at Farthing’s Ordinary (47414 Old State House Road), sells colonial recreations – pottery, housewares, colonial games, as well as nautical gifts. (open Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm). You can also get your Historic St. Mary’s City pass there.
St. Mary’s College campus store, located in the Campus Center (18952 East Fisher Road) has the standard college clothing and merchandise.
Next door is The Daily Grind, a coffee shop and convenience store where you can get beverages and snacks. They’re open normal weekday hours and on weekends. During the summer: 10am-3pm on Saturday, closed Sunday.
If you’re coming to St. Mary’s City by boat, be aware there is no grocery or supplies store nearby.