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Visit this historic port divided by the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal and on any given day you can witness a parade of vessels gently gliding by: freighters flying flags of exotic ports, tugs pulling heavily laden barges, military ships en route to their assignments and pleasure craft of every size and design. Residences cluster north of the waterway and to the south the town center embraces visitors with hospitality, warmth and sophistication.
Chesapeake City history revolves around the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal whose story unfolds through photographs, artifacts and models in the stone buildings that now comprise the C&D Canal Museum. The main exhibit room served as the original pump house in the days when the canal still had locks. In a wing abutting the room, visitors get an awe-inspiring look at the nation’s oldest and largest steam engines, still on their original foundations, and the mammoth waterwheel that they powered, which could lift 1.2 million gallons of water per hour into the lock.
For more local lore, pay a small fee and take a guided walking tour (five-person minimum, call 410-885-2415 for information) featuring a number of historic landmarks. Sinking Springs Herb Farm, a 130-acre farm at the edge of North Chesapeake City, conducts garden tours, some that include a luncheon featuring herb dishes (call 410-398-5566 for reservations and transportation information). Canal and upper Bay history come alive on narrated cruises aboard the Miss Clare, a deadrise berthed at the town dock (reservations required, call 410-885-5088). Miss Clare also offers free ferry service to North Chesapeake City from mid-April to mid-October. Take a ride around town courtesy of the city’s free bicycles (sign up at Canal Lock Antiques, 105 Bohemia Ave.). Or make an appointment to tour the Hersch Mini Museum, showcasing household items from the late 1800s (call 410-885-5889).
Chesapeake City is eminently walkable. Nearly a dozen antiques shops and art galleries share the spotlight with one-of-a-kind ventures tucked into the compact business district, along with a variety of restaurants and B&Bs (www.bedandbreakfast.com). The restored Bayard House offers Eastern Shore cuisine and canal views as well as pub fare in its Hole in the Wall Tavern. The more casual Bohemia Cafe, which offers fresh baked goods and take-out, is the only place in town that opens for breakfast. Waterfront dining is available at the Chesapeake Inn Restaurant and Marina. The Canal Creamery scoops up ice cream.
Chesapeake City is a fairly low key place where activities tend to revolve around the arts and local heritage. On Sunday evenings in July and August, the Summer Music in the Park concert series takes place in Pell Gardens (bring a blanket or lawn chair). An annual Ghost Walk takes place at the end of October (reservations recommended, call 410-885-2415). But all heck breaks loose in Chesapeake City during Canal Day, a gala waterfront extravaganza that attracts a loud and raucous boating crowd on the last Saturday in June. Things get very quiet in town the next morning.
Boaters should be stocked up before they transit the C&D Canal, but if they do run short of basics, they may be able to hitch a ride to a convenience mart just south of town along Route 213.
Information: Chesapeake City Civic Association, 410-885-2415; www.chesapeakecity.com.