We recently took a trip through the Eastern Shore of Maryland and explored St. Michaels and Easton, then Ocean City, and back to Cambridge before heading home. Today, I am sharing our experiences in Cambridge, Maryland along with the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center just south in Church Creek. I am also featuring a recipe for the Black-Eyed Susan cocktail at the end of the post.
Disclaimer and Disclosure: I worked with the Dorchester County Office of Tourism in preparation for this post and received a tasting menu at The High Spot Gastropub. All comments and opinions are my own. This recipe for the Black-Eyed Susan contains alcohol. It is intended only for those over the age of 21 (in the United States). Please drink responsibly.
We left Ocean City early in the morning and it was an easy hour drive to Cambridge. Before checking into the resort (we stayed at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay), we spent some time at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center and the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Along Church Creek Road, between Cambridge and the visitor centers is Emily’s Produce.
Emily’s Produce is a great place to stop for a bite to eat or to pick up snacks to enjoy while at the Refuge (the Harriet Tubman Visitor Center has a covered pavilion with tables perfect for picnics). They are opened seasonally from 9-6 and have an assortment of freshly baked goods, salads, meats, fruits, vegetables, dairy, sandwiches, and local specialties. You can also pick your own berries or feed the farm animals. We left with some strawberry jam, produce, bagels, and sweet potato biscuits. Chad also grabbed a jar of Apple Butter Barbecue Sauce to take back home.
Evan and Claire especially loved the playground behind the store. It was already quite hot by 10 am, so they quickly gravitated to the sandbox covered by a large tractor hood. The play area is so unique with the recycled farm equipment and kitchen utensils to play with. Two large game boards were also set up with pallets to sit on and potatoes as the playing pieces. We could have easily spent a couple of hours here.
Our next stop was the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Church Creek, Maryland.
This Visitor Center just opened to the public in March 2017 and was about 80% completed at the time of this post (June 2017). It is a great primer to learn about Harriet Tubman’s life before driving to other sites along the Underground Railroad Byway and is open daily to the public from 9-5 with closures on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Every part of this remarkable building was planned with a purpose from the orientation to the style and the types of materials used. The center itself is aligned from south to north to represent the movement north away from slavery and towards freedom.
Inside, you will find exhibits dedicated to life of this incredible woman. There is a small room off to the side near the entrance that features an introductory film, “The Life and Legacy of Harriet Tubman.” The center also holds a research library and the bookstore has an assortment of reading material and other items related to Harriet Tubman and this time period in history, including guides and activities for children (here is a suggested list for young readers).
Harriet Tubman was born a slave in Dorchester County near the present day site of this visitor center and made 13 return trips after escaping to freedom to save around 70 of her friends and relatives. She is most often associated with the Underground Railroad, but she was also an abolitionist, Civil War spy and nurse, suffragist, and humanitarian.
As I walked through the exhibits, I was surrounded by her words and intimate details of her life from the pain of her childhood to her incredible accomplishments. I was blown away by the amount of detail put into the artwork. The sculptures and paintings are absolutely breathtaking and completely encompass you. One section even has the illusion of stars hanging from above. The plaques describing each of the exhibits have miniature 3D recreations of the sculptures (and there are also plans to include braille) which helpful for the visually impaired to touch. As a note, my five-year old son has Autism and these were also helpful for him as a focal point to begin to ask questions and learn more about the exhibits.
Behind the center is an open legacy garden with looping walking paths for reflection. The landscaping needs some time to grow, but highlights the local flora. There is also a 2,700-square foot open air pavilion nearby with picnic tables and a fireplace.
Other areas of interest:
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway: Features 35 sites along 125 miles. Here is an interactive map to explore the Byway.
Bucktown Village Store in Bucktown, Maryland- the site of Harriet Tubman’s severe head injury after being struck by a two pound iron weight which caused lifelong seizures and other difficulties. She refused to help tie up another slave and as he ran, the overseer threw the weight at him. It missed and hit her, cracking her skull. She received no medical treatment and was still forced to work.
The Harriet Tubman Museum & Educational Center in Cambridge, Maryland.
Harriet Tubman Memorial Garden in Cambridge, Maryland.
Note: If you plan to walk through the garden or spend time outside here, be sure to pack insect repellent. There were plenty of mosquitoes in June.
Above: View of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center from the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
Just one mile down Key Wallace Drive from the Harriet Tubman Visitor Center is the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, 12 miles south of Cambridge, Maryland. It is open from 8 am-4 pm from Monday to Friday and 9-5 Saturday/Sunday, closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Wildlife Drive is open year-round from dawn to dusk with occasional closings due to inclement weather.
There are a few activities for children inside the center including the touch table and interactive exhibits on the first floor and the observation area on the second floor to get a closer view of osprey nests (the nests had babies when we went in June) along with wildlife displays. You will also find a bookstore (they sell binoculars if you forgot to bring a pair from home), a library, plus a Butterfly and Beneficial Insect Garden outside the center.
The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1933 as a way to establish a sanctuary for migrating and wintering birds. It is home to 1/3rd of the state’s tidal wetlands, over 28,000 acres. The refuge is known for holding the largest breeding population of American Bald Eagles on the eastern coast, aside from Florida, and they also have the largest natural population of Delmarva peninsula fox squirrels.
To access Wildlife Drive, a daily permit is required and can be found at the entrance to the road with a self-pay system, 3 dollars per private vehicle and 1 dollar for pedestrians/bicyclists. We drove the 4 1/2 miles along the paved road and were able to get a closer view of the wildlife and surrounding area (this section is mostly undeveloped and will also show you the type of environment Harriet Tubman had to navigate).
As long as there are no cars behind you, you can stop as needed for photo opportunities and there are also periodic pull-off areas for those who want a little more time for observation.
With the help of our binoculars, we were able to see a couple of bald eagles and ospreys in their nests.
The best time for viewing waterfowl (including Canada and snow geese, and more than 20 species of duck) is between November and February as many species migrate north during the summer. The refuge is also home to hundreds of other birds and mammals such as woodpeckers, owls, great blue herons, egrets, muskrats, raccoons, otters, opossums, skunks, red fox, and deer.
Blackwater Paddle and Pedal is located near Wildlife Drive with an additional location at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay. Our kids aren’t quite there yet, but you can rent kayaks and bicycles to get a little closer to nature. They also offer guided kayak, bicycle, and nature hiking tours.
Note: During the warmer months, Blackwater is home to mosquitoes, ticks, and other biting insects. Also stay alert for poison ivy. Protective clothing and insect repellant are recommended.
After checking into our resort and relaxing for a bit, we went to The High Spot Gastropub for dinner. We were able to find street parking right outside the restaurant (free, 2 hour limit).
A tasting menu was arranged so I was able to try a few of the seasonal and permanent menu items.
We started with cocktails. I had the Black-Eyed Susan, a citrusy drink with orange juice, pineapple juice, Shady Fruit Vodka, and rum. Chad tried the Blueberry Ginger Mule- Skyy Blueberry, lime juice, and ginger beer.
The cocktails were followed by appetizers: Buffalo Oysters and Smoked Fish Cakes. The Buffalo Oysters may have been Chad’s favorite. The fried oysters were topped with hot sauce and paired with a creamy ranch dressing and crumbled bleu cheese. I loved the flavor of the fish cakes. They were fried, but still light with hickory notes and served over a roasted tomato aioli with a little corn salsa and kale sprinkled over the top.
For the main course, we had the Hooper’s Island Soft Shell Crab and Filet Mignon. Like the Smoked Fish Cakes, the soft shell crab was flash fried, but didn’t leave any heaviness or greasiness. It was served over a bed of dirty risotto basmati along with a pork belly & black bean corn salsa and a roasted tomato cream sauce. The Filet Mignon was cooked perfectly at medium rare and served over a potato cake with sautéed kale and a garlic shallot & cognac pan sauce.
We finished the incredible meal with the Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Bomb. I can see why this dessert is a favorite at the restaurant. A chocolate chip cookie is topped with a vanilla cheesecake mousse and coated with a silky chocolate ganache. I loved the texture of the mousse to help add a light and airy layer between the ganache and the cookie.
Towards the end of our vacation, we started only ordering food for Evan since Claire would mostly stick to sharing a few bites from everyone’s plates and we would finish the meal with extra food. So this time, we ordered the macaroni and cheese just for Evan with the idea that Claire would only have a bite or two. After taking a couple of bites, she asked for the rest so we ended up ordering a second one for her. There wasn’t a single drop left on either plate. They both thoroughly enjoyed their Hot Fudge Sundaes for dessert.
Evan was also particularly appreciative of the paper covering on the table to help display his art.
After checking out of the resort the next morning, we explored a little more of Cambridge before heading home. We started with the Choptank River Lighthouse.
As the name implies, the lighthouse is located on the Choptank River at Long Wharf Park. It was completed in 2012 and is a replica of a six-sided screwpile lighthouse that once stood between Castle Haven and Benoni Points. The lighthouse is open to the public from May 1 to October 31st, daily 9 am-6 pm. There is a small museum inside with a little history on the area. Dozens of boats line the pier including the Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester (last of the Chesapeake Bay’s skipjacks to be built for oyster dredging) and we even (surprisingly) came across a groundhog.
After the lighthouse, we took a short drive to downtown Cambridge. There is street and public parking available and the surround area is lined with a few shops and restaurants.
For quick snacks and coffee, we stopped by Black Water (owned by the same chef, Patrick Fanning, as The High Spot Gastropub and also Stoked and Rock Lobstah). Evan and Claire were especially fond of the homemade pop tarts.
The Wine Bar on Race Street features a variety of wine, cheese, chocolate, and kitchen gifts along with table service for wine and liquor tastings, cheese boards, and desserts. I loved the hand-painted crab glasses and local pottery.
The Butterfly Boutique is on Poplar Street is another place to find local and unique items. I loved the added touch of the plate of cookies in the front. There are plenty of crab and seaside-related items and children’s clothing/toys.
We only got a glimpse of Cambridge and the rest of Dorchester County, but there is much more to explore. Other notable sites in Cambridge include the Dorchester County Visitor Center, Richardson Maritime Museum, RAR Brewing, and more.
On Saturday mornings from April to October, there are historic High Street Tours led by guides in Colonial period dress. During the start of our trip, the IRONMAN 70.3 Eagleman half triathlon, precursor to the Ironman Maryland on October 7th (also in Dorchester County), was taking place. If you are traveling during either of these times plan accordingly since hotels book quickly.
The Black-Eyed Susan was created in Baltimore in 1973 as the official cocktail for the Preakness (the second leg of the Triple Crown). It was named after Maryland’s state flower, the Black-Eyed Susan, which is used to drape the winner’s neck. As I was searching for recipes, I came across an incredible amount of variation from the type of alcohol used to the ratio. Some were mostly orange juice with just a little vodka and rum added while others were mostly vodka with a sprinkling of other ingredients.
I tried a few concoctions and this was the closest to what I had at The High Spot Gastropub. Many are topped with orange slices, lime slices, and a cherry. I simply added orange and lime slices to the side of each glass.
The recipe below fills one of the glasses photographed.
Adapted from Creative Culinary
4 ounces pineapple juice
2 1/2 ounces orange vodka
1 1/2 ounces fresh orange juice
1 ounce rum
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
In a cocktail shaker, add a few ice cubes and the pineapple juice, orange vodka, orange juice, rum, and lime juice. Shake well until combined and chilled, then strain into serving glasses.
Serve immediately with desired garnishes.