What to Do in Maryland

Chuck Darrow

It’s hardly news that Maryland is filled with popular tourism destinations. Baltimore and its Inner Harbor, Annapolis and its almost 400 years of history and Ocean City and its wide, clean beach and festive boardwalk have long been favorites of South Jersey residents. But the Old Line State (as its known to its inhabitants) offers more than the above points of interest. Below are three more that are worth considering for day and overnight trips:

 

Antietam National Battlefield

Ask most Americans familiar with this period of history and they will likely identify the Battle of Gettysburg as the turning point of the Civil War. But it can be argued that had the Union not prevailed at Antietam some 10 months earlier (technically, the battle is considered to have been a draw, but it did force Gen. Robert E. Lee to retreat), by July 1863, Lee and his Confederate forces would have been enjoying cheesesteaks in Philadelphia.

Prior to the Sept. 17, 1862 conflagration that stands as the single bloodiest day ever on American soil—some 23,000 soldiers were wounded or killed in 12 hours—things were not going well for President Abraham Lincoln and the North. The South had been rolling up decisive victories and as a result, both France and England were considering throwing their support (financial and otherwise) behind it—moves that surely would have spelled doom for the Union.

In addition, Lincoln’s plans to issue the Emancipation Proclamation freeing more than three million Southern slaves were being opposed by his brain trust, which argued that such a move would be impotent and irrelevant without a reversal of battlefield fortunes to prove the North had the military muscle to enforce it.

And so it was on that late-summer’s day in and around the southwestern Maryland hamlet of Sharpsburg, Md.—which is just about three hours from Cherry Hill--that Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac under the command of Gen. George McClellan engaged in a day of incomprehensible carnage.

The battlefield’s Visitor’s Center is closed for a major renovation project (although the bookstore remains open), but important sites remain open. They include:

  • The Cornfield, where the fighting began at sunrise and where thousands of men perished in just three hours.
  • Dunker Church, where legendary Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s troops staved off a Union offensive.
  • The Sunken Road, also known as the “Bloody Lane,” where a slaughter of Confederate troops occurred.
  • Burnside’s Bridge, named in honor of  Union General Ambrose Burnside, who commanded Union troops during what proved to be the battle’s turning point.
  • The National Cemetery, which holds the bodies of 4,776 Union soldiers who died at Antietam.

While certainly fascinating and deeply moving, a visit to Antietam is, perhaps above all, jarring and thought-provoking because of the disconnect between the now-serene, bucolic landscape of rolling hills and green-covered mountains, and the bloodshed on an unimaginable scale that took place here.

As such, it is a perfect place to contemplate the barbarity of war and the blessings of peace.

For more info visit: nps.gov/anti/index.htm.

 

Berlin

Thanks to the success of such television programs as Antiques Road Show, American Pickers and Pawn Stars, antiquing may be a more-popular-than-ever pastime. And for those whose idea of heaven is spending a day going through collections of vintage furniture, toys, etc., a visit to this quaint-but-funky town about eight miles west of Ocean City (and just about three hours from Cherry Hill) is a no-brainer.

The Victorian-era burg (population 4,500) bills itself as the antiques capital of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Quite a boast, considering the region’s reputation in that department. But being something of a vintage-item capital is just one of Berlin’s charms.

It would be wrong to label Berlin a “hidden gem” or “undiscovered treasure;” in 2014, BudgetTravel.com proclaimed it to be “America’s Coolest Small Town.” And this year, USA Today readers named it the Best Small Town for Shopping in America. And no wonder: Its Main Street shopping strip—which is a quintessential, late-19th-century small-town thoroughfare—is lined with picturesque brick buildings housing more than 50 shops and boutiques—from a chocolatier to a purveyor of hand-built guitars--as well as all manner of dining- and-drinking establishments.

Beyond shopping (or merely browsing) on Main Street, visitors can court Lady Luck at the nearby Ocean Downs Casino, a full-service gambling den also located in Berlin.

But the attractions aren’t all indoor: Even in these COVID-dominated times, numerous, free outdoor activities and events are scheduled as al fresco fun is considered a year-round obligation by Berliners. And of course, when the weather permits, Ocean City is but a hop, skip and jump down the road.

Overnight visitors can stay at the Atlantic Hotel, a 125-year-old inn that transports guests to a more gracious and slowly paced time, and whose Bistro Bar is among the town’s most celebrated culinary outposts.

For more info: www.berlinmainstreet.com

 

St. Michaels 

From the eastern (Atlantic Ocean) end of the Eastern Shore we move to the western (Chesapeake Bay) end where St. Michaels sits. Located less than two-and-a-half hours southwest of Cherry Hill, St. Michaels epitomizes the Eastern Shore, with its spectacular nautical scenery, water-borne activities, historic architecture, easygoing pace and seafood-intensive cuisine.

While St. Michaels, is primarily a warm-weather destination, it shouldn’t be ruled out for off-season getaways, especially if a respite from the relentlessness of everyday life is required, as the Eastern Shore offers a quiet, low-key environment.

Indoor attractions include the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, which celebrates the region’s centuries-long dependence on the bay and the Classic Motor Museum, whose inventory of vintage automobiles includes mid-20th-century “muscle” cars.

St. Michaels is also something of a foodie destination as it boasts a diverse and vibrant restaurant scene offering everything from casual spots to acclaimed fine-dining outposts.

The town’s most famous hotel is St. Michaels Inn, which was featured in the romantic comedy, Wedding Crashers.

For more info: www.stmichaelsmd.org.

 

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