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A couple of months back I had a great time reading Trappe: The Story of an Old-Fashioned Town by the historian Dickson Preston. Trappe is in Talbot County, Md., across the Choptank River from Cambridge. Preston spends some pages in there discussing the steamboats that used to ride up and down the Choptank, including the Avalon and the Joppa. The section at hand here begins with a quoted memory from local resident Mary Hart:

“Going to Baltimore by steamboat was the greatest thrill in the world. You’d get on at Kirby’s Wharf at 6 in the evening, be in Baltimore the next morning, have a day’s shopping and come home again. You always had dinner on the boat, and it was perfectly delightful Eastern Shore cooking …—all you could eat for $1.25.”

In those days, she recalled, there was always a piano aboard the boat, and somebody who could play it among the passengers.

“We’d dance all night. There were staterooms for sleeping, but who could sleep with all the bawling, squealing and squawking from the calves and pigs and chickens they carried down below?” Anyhow, moonlight nights on the bay were perfect settings for romance.

At Kirby’s Wharf, Chancellor’s Point, Trappe Landing, Clark’s Wharf, Windy Hill, and Lloyd’s Landing … the arrival of the [steam]boat was a time of excitement even if you weren’t going anywhere. There’d be the toot of the whistle, laughter and farewells, shouts and curses as dock hands tried to get balky cattle and hogs aboard.

Sometimes handling livestock was risky as well as hilarious. One old-time resident recalls watching two dock hands at Kirby’s Wharf as they pushed and tugged at a stubborn steer, one grasping its horns and the other its tail.

“Suddenly it jumped right off the wharf and started swimming toward the other side of the river, a mile away. The man at the head let go, but the fellow who had hold of its tail couldn’t swim. So he hung on and it took him all the way to Cambridge. I’m telling you, he was one scared boy.”

–posted by Jim Duffy on Nov. 21, 2019–thanks for reading!


Trappe: The Story of an Old-Fashioned Town is out of print, I believe, but I bet you could find copies by checking with one of two great bookstores near the subject area here–Unicorn Bookshop in Trappe and Vintage Books & Fine Art in Easton. Here is an online description of the book.

• The photo up top here shows the steamboat Joppa on the Choptank upriver from the action in this episode–it’s at the wharf in West Denton, Md.

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