Smith Island, its famous cakes and all

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes – SBFL*4 – PLANNED – “Smith [Island] has no municipal building, no jail–indeed, no government,” wrote Allan C. Fisher, Jr., in his 1973 book, America’s Inland Waterway
. The book is one of two information resources of the National Geographic that I am using for planning a journey and comparing how it was then versus how it is now in selected spots of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). I want to see how much, if any, the passing decades have changed these locales. You can reach Smith Island, as with all of my locations that I write about, by boat, of course, or by land, first going to Crisfield, Maryland, then catching a passenger ferry boat to Smith Island.

Smith Island Cake – Courtesy of State Symbols USA

Okay, let’s start with the sweetest part of Smith Island, the famous Smith Island cake. A ‘must to eat,’ of course! It’s 8 to 15 thin layers of cake with fudge icing. Yum! However, did you know that until 2009, Smith Island had no bakeries, even though Smith Island cake was born there? Then Brian Murphy, a former commodity trader turned entrepreneur, partnered with local bakers to create a premiere national gift company right on tiny Smith Island. If you are not near and want to taste Smith Island cake, try the Smith Island Baking Company. They will ship one to you, seriously.

Maryland’s only remaining sparsely habited offshore island group, Smith Island, had a population, as of the census of 2010, of 276 people residing there. It was named after an early land owner, Henry Smith, and was chartered by Captain John Smith in 1608 as “The Russell Isles.” During the revolutionary war, the British used the island as a base of operations.

The island, probably the most remote and isolated spot on the Bay, with its elevation of 0, has been sinking and shrinking in size for centuries. It is shrinking because of a combination of its low elevation, rising seas, and storm erosion. In the last 150 years, Smith Island has lost over 3,300 acres of wetlands because of erosion, as well as post-glacial subsidence into the Chesapeake Bay.

“Smith Island has no doctor; none will live there. But it does have Schim Becker, a young Australian nurse who came to Baltimore to marry an Australian physician and instead married an artist and moved to Smith,” says author Allan C. Fisher, Jr. He continues, “Schim sends cases she can’t handle to Crisfield by boat. In emergencies, she summons a Navy helicopter.” I am wondering what happened to nurse Schim? Who took her place, if any? I read a bit more of the book and a photo of a cute blond boy and the captions of the photos surrounding it take my attention. “Don Bradshaw can’t keep a straight face for the photographer during class in Tylerton, another village on the island. Older children ride in Ullie Marshall’s ‘school boat’ from Tylerton to Rhodes Point, where a bus takes them on to Ewell [the main entry village in the Island]. After eighth grade, students take another boat to high school on the mainland.” I now intend to ask around and find about them and schooling on the island. I am going there this year, for sure.

I hope to say hello to you if you spot my boat, Life’s AOK in one of my locations that I will be visiting.

Do you have a past or present close relative or friend still living on Smith Island? I would love to stop by and say hello. Drop me a note, will you?

4 things I learned

  • Fun fact – There were no bakeries until 2009 in the birthplace of Smith Island Cake. 
  • More fun facts for kids can be found here in the Kiddle Encyclopedia
  • Not all of Smith Island is in Maryland. The southernmost tiny portion of the island, consisting of marsh, lies in Accomack County, Virginia. How and why did that happen, go figure?
  • The demise of Smith Island is far from inevitable.

2 things I recommend

How easy?

Marina where you can tie your boat up

  • Smith Island Marina   38 N, 75 W The only private slips available on the island. Since the region is shallow, you need to calculate the time and tides. Call Captain Steven Eades ((410) 425-4220) in advance and coordinate!

Places to stay at, besides your boat

*SBFL stands for Slow Boat to Florida. It is a series of my blog posts, which started with a posting that had the same title. Each numbered heading has two parts. The first is “Planned,” and when I visit the planned location, a “Visited” label appears at the beginning. The series represents part travel, part current and historical anthropological highlights of the locations. I invite you to visit the same locations by boat or by land, or simply follow my slow journey. I love to hear from you on any current or past insights about the locations that I am visiting. Drop me a note, will you?

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