Cambridge: A Classic Chesapeake Town Brimming with Maritime History
Cambridge, MD, located on the banks of the Choptank River, is the fourth most populated city on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, just a stone’s throw from St. Michaels, Easton, and Oxford. This town is full of history and countless opportunities to get out on the water, as Dorchester County has more waterways and shoreline than any other county in Maryland.
Settled in 1684, Cambridge is one of the oldest colonial cities in Maryland. The English colonists began farming on the Eastern Shore, with the largest plantations devoted to tobacco and mixed farming. The town pier was the center for slave trading in the region, and Cambridge later became a stop on the Underground Railroad, which had an extensive network of safe houses in the area.
During the late 19th century, the development of food processing industries in Cambridge led to a great deal of growth in the town. This was led by the Phillips Packing Company, which eventually became the largest employer in the area. As many as 10,000 workers were employed during its peak, but by the 1960s the company shuttered.
Today, Cambridge is currently in the midst of a comprehensive revitalization of the downtown Main Street district, which helps to preserve the rich history of the area and boost tourism to the city.
Points of Interest
Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, located just 12 miles south of Cambridge, protects more than 28,000 acres of woodlands, tidal marsh, freshwater ponds, and managed cropland. The refuge is home to a full service visitor center, a butterfly garden, observatory, and the four-mile Wildlife Drive and walking trails, popular with hikers, paddlers, and cyclists.
The Choptank River Lighthouse is located on Pier A at Long Wharf Park. The screwpile lighthouse is a faithful replica of an earlier beacon that once guided vessels up and down the Choptank. From May to October, the lighthouse, which is home to a small museum, is open daily for self-guided tours.
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, located just 15 minutes out of town, serves as an orientation center and gateway to the larger Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Scenic Byway. The Byway’s landscapes, marked by rural roads, dense forests, vast marshes, and acres of farm fields, remain largely unchanged since Tubman’s time. The Byway offers more than 30 points of interest—from the Dorchester County Visitor Center, to the marshes of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, and on to more places where Tubman lived and worked as an enslaved child. The Harriet Tubman Museum, which offers exhibits on Tubman’s life, is located right downtown on Race Street.
The J.M. Clayton Company, located along the water at the end of Commerce Street, is the world’s oldest working crab house. For over five generations and 126 years, the company has been preparing live Chesapeake Bay blue crabs delivered fresh daily by local watermen.
The Richardson Maritime Museum on High Street celebrates Dorchester County’s watermen and boatbuilding heritage with intricate models of traditional Bay boats, boatbuilder’s tools, waterman’s artifacts, and more.
The skipjack, a traditional wooden sailing vessel, is the official state boat of Maryland, and Cambridge is home to the skipjack Nathan of Dorchester. Launched in 1994, the Nathan is likely to be the last skipjack ever to be built as a sailing dredge boat. Two-hour public sails are held most weekends May through October, giving guests the opportunity to learn first-hand the fascinating history of oystering in the area.
- May 18: Downtown Cambridge Beer Festival
- May 18-19: 109th Cambridge Classic Power Boat Regatta
- June 2: Chesapeake Cowboys Boat Docking
- July 13: Taste of Cambridge Crab Cook-Off
- August 10: 40th Annual Rescue Fire Company Seafood Feast-I-Val
- August 17: Groove City Culture Fest
Yet to be Announced: Thunder on the Choptank, Choptank Heritage Skipjack Race, Cambridge Schooner Rendezvous
Arriving By Boat
The Cambridge Municipal Yacht Basin is located on the Choptank River near the mouth of Cambridge Creek. This is the only marina with direct access to the heart of downtown Cambridge and can accommodate boats big and small, even super yachts up to 200 feet. Find daily and weekly slip rates, and book a slip online at cambridgeyachtbasin.com.
Cambridge Yacht Club is adjacent to the Yacht Basin, and offers transient slips for those visiting town. Reservations are required. Learn more at cambridgeyachtclub.org.
The 150-slip River Marsh Marina is part of the larger Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort. Boaters who choose to dock overnight at the marina can enjoy guest’s privileges throughout the resort. Slips range from 30-feet long and 16-feet wide to 80-feet long and 25-feet wide, and have electric, cable, wireless internet, and water hookup available. Visit hyatt.com and search ‘Chesapeake Bay’ for more information and to book a slip.