Small though it is, Maryland has such a dazzling variety of natural and man-made features – remote mountains, crowded urban areas, fertile farmlands, scenic shorelines, modern industrial centers, old tobacco plantations – that the state has been called an America in miniature. It seems fitting, then, that America’s national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was written in Maryland, and that its capital, Washington D.C., was built on land donated by the state.
THE BOUNTIFUL CHESAPEAKE BAY
The most striking of Maryland’s natural features – and a great national treasure in itself – is the Chesapeake Bay. This 200-mile-long estuary, which bisects the state, has so many arms, inlets, and islands that its total shoreline is greater than the distance from Maryland to California. It is also a mammoth nursery and feeding ground for wildlife, so replete with birds, fish, shellfish and other creatures that Baltimore writer H. L. Mencken once facetiously dubbed it a protein factory.
A giant peninsula (called the Delmarva Peninsula because it is shared by Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia) separates the Chesapeake Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. While throngs of vacationers are drawn to beaches in and around Ocean City, on the Atlantic, the rest of Maryland’s share of the peninsula, called the Eastern Shore, manages to preserve the flavor of its agricultural and maritime past. On the Bay side, major highways pass through expansive fields of wheat, corn, and soybeans, and smaller country roads wind through old villages whose names – Oxford, Cambridge, St. Michaels – reflect the area’s British heritage. The countryside’s gracious brick mansions and venerable churches, some more than 200 years old, cannot, however, match the age of a local tree, the magnificent Wye Oak, which has been casting its ample shade for some four centuries.
When the Wye Oak was a mere century old, a visiting Dutchman remarked on “a great storm coming through the trees,” a thunderous sound made by the flapping wings of thousands of ducks. He was, of course, an early witness to one of the huge migrations of waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds that – attracted by the abundant food, water, and shelter provided by the Chesapeake Bay – pause here every spring and fall.
GRACEFUL MOUNTAINS, GENTEEL TOWNS
Western Maryland, a narrow strip of land bordered by the historic Mason-Dixon line on the north and the Potomac River on the south, contrasts dramatically with the flat coastal plain. Here the scenic Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains, where wealthy Americans once built idyllic retreats, now draw hikers, skiers, and white water rafters.
In southern Maryland, just west of the Chesapeake, are miles of tobacco fields that have been a part of the landscape since colonial days. The tobacco crop built the elegant town houses and mansions of Annapolis, just to the north, which in its 18th-century heyday was called the genteelest town in North America by an English visitor.
In the next century it was Baltimore that grew and prospered, becoming a preeminent center of shipping and manufacturing. Even so, the city retained what visiting author Henry James called a perfect felicity. Though linked by commerce to the North and to ports throughout the world, Baltimore even today manages to preserve the gentle airs of the South – not surprising in a state where so many contrasting elements blend to form a miniature America.
THE PEOPLE AND THE LAND
Area: 10,460 sq. mi.
Largest city: Baltimore
Major rivers: Patuxent, Potomac, Susquehanna
Elevation: Sea level to 3,360 ft. (Backbone Mountain)
Bird: Baltimore oriole
Flower: Black-eyed Susan
Tree: White oak
Motto: Fatti Maschii, Parole Femine (Manly Deeds, Womanly Words)
Song: “Maryland, My Maryland”
Nicknames: Free State, Old Line State