Back In Time

I post a lot about trips far afield, but adventure can be found close to home, too. A good example is last weekend’s bike ride to St. Clement’s Island in St. Mary’s County. The island is small, just 40 acres, but it’s got some big history. In 1634, the first Europeans landed here–in what is now Maryland–on ships named the Ark and the Dove. It was a four month journey through the height of winter; it couldn’t have been an easy passage.

Well, a few things have changed in 400 years. For us, the journey was just a 90 minute drive (although we were only coming from Virginia). And we navigated with Google Maps instead of using constellations.

We started the biking portion of our trip at Seventh District Park, a lovely green space with restrooms, pickleball courts, and ample parking. We planned for about 15 miles, although we could have stretched it out a bit if we’d wanted. The area is relatively flat (just one big hill at the beginning/end). We were on rural roads the whole time, and the few cars we encountered gave us a wide berth.

It was about eight miles to our halfway point at St Clement’s Island Museum in Coltons Point. From there, we locked up the bikes and crossed over to the island on the water taxi. The ride was $7 a person and about ten minutes dock to dock. Our plan was to enjoy a walk and a bit of history and then break for lunch. The water taxi was quite busy, with a lot of day trippers headed over to fish and/or picnic (just like us, except they weren’t in bike shorts).

There’s plenty to see on this tiny little island! For starters, there’s a lot of bird life, and there are lovely views across to Virginia’s Northern Neck. There are also walking trails, a small beach, and interpretive signage to help you along.  

As for the island’s name, St. Clement’s Day (November 23) was the day that the Ark and the Dove launched from England in 1633. It’s also fitting that Pope Clement I is the patron saint of mariners.

At the center of the biggest green space on the island is a forty foot high cross, built in 1934. A marker tells us that this was the site of the first Catholic Mass in English America in 1634. We said a prayer at the cross for Souzz’s nephew, who left us way too soon. We also remembered a late friend whose birthday was on the day of our visit. We think of them often, and it seemed fitting to remember them here.

Another highlight of our trip was a visit to a beautifully constructed replica of the 1850 Blackistone Lighthouse. The lighthouse was in operation from 1851 to 1932, and it was the centerpiece of the island during those years. It burned down in 1956, but the St. Clement’s Hundred (a local historical society) built a replica in 2008 using the original plans. As we walked through the new structure, we appreciated the chance to read about life on the island in the 1850s. There were extensive bios of each of the lighthouse keepers, and the St. Clement’s Hundred puts a lot of effort into keeping their stories alive.

We stayed on the island for an hour and a half–much longer than we were expecting–but there’s lot of history packed into these 40 acres. For starters, we learned about the English negotiating with Yaocomico Native Americans for the land that eventually became St. Mary’s City. We also learned that the island was a base of operations for the British during both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Lastly, we read about how the lighthouse was raided by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, spared only through negotiations by the lighthouse keeper. So much has happened here–and yet I’d never even heard of the place until I planned our ride.

Before biking back to our car from Coltons Point, we spent more time on the mainland at the St. Clement’s Island Museum. There are paintings and exhibits across a wide range of topics, as well as a very knowledgeable staff. The museum is well worth a visit.

All in all, our outing was about 17 miles and five hours car-to-car. Afterwards, we stopped briefly at a local farm festival, and then headed home to share dinner with good friends in Virginia. It was a full day, with a bike ride, an island, a lighthouse, a museum, and a ton of history.

Once back home, we shared a few photos and stories with our friends, and they weren’t familiar with St. Clement’s, either. It’s funny that it’s just 90 minutes away and it wasn’t even on our radar. You’ve gotta love a trip through time that’s full of discovery–especially one that can do all of that and get you back in time for dinner.

4 thoughts on “Back In Time

  1. Love the inspiration. To escape your quotidian world with such a short distance. To stay in touch with your potential for awe. You two are time-traveling wonders.

  2. This is so wonderful and interesting. Don and I have been to many areas in Maryland on the Maryland House and Garden spring tours and found places that were much like this. Thanks for sharing this wonderful day. Wish that we could bike around like you young people.

    1. Thanks for reading! feel like I should have learned this Maryland history during the year I spent in school at Fort Meade…but it was all new to me! I think most of what I know of Maryland I must have absorbed during various trips to Annapolis. Hope to see you soon!

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