Goin' Down to Shady Side

Tucked away along the banks of the West River behind an old baseball field is one of the crown jewels of South Anne Arundel County history---the Captain Salem Avery House. Most locals know it as a watermen's museum operated by the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society.

Until recently, the museum was one of the best-kept secrets among avid museum-goers. It is located about 15 miles south of Annapolis, and not hard to find if you follow the signs from Rt. 214 to Shady Side. Once there, you have to slow down quite a bit because the 140-year old building on East West Shady Side Road blends all too well with the surrounding residential waterfront community. It doesn't look like a traditional museum at all---it's not meant to.

Like many small "start up" museums, the Avery Museum had its humble beginnings with a group of dedicated volunteers on a mission to preserve local history back in 1985.

The leading force behind the Society's formation is credited to Ethel Andrews, former principal of the Shady Side School. It was "Miss Ethel's" admonition to other ladies in the community when she said, "You girls have to preserve the history of this area." And they did. Years of sweat, toil, borrowed money and state grants later, the volunteers have accomplished their mission by "putting our museum on the Maryland map," said Mrs. T.C. Magnotti, one of the many energetic women volunteers.

The saga of the Avery House began during the pre-Civil War era when Salem Avery, a Long Island fisherman moved to this area to make his living fishing the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. A successful waterman, Avery and his wife, the former Lucretia Weedon from nearby Edgewater, raised a large family and lived in the house for a number of decades. Many of their descendants still live in the Shady Side-Edgewater area.

In the 1920s, the property was purchased by a group of Masons from Washington, D.C. The group included Samuel Gompers Jr., the son of the famous American labor movement leader, and other Jews. Like other minorities at the time, the group was denied access to public beaches as well as private clubs. They just wanted a place for recreation and for enjoying the Chesapeake Bay.

The group called the Avery House "Our Place" where they held meetings and converted the upstairs of the building into a dormitory-type facility. The descendants of the Mason group held this pristine waterfront property until the late 1980s when they decided to offer it to the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society as a museum.

Under the guidance---and financial help---from the Maryland Historical Trust, extensive renovations resulted in a museum facility that still resembles the old Avery house. A great room comprises much of the downstairs where meetings and museum events are held as well as space for exhibits that focus on the history of the Chesapeake Bay.

A recent exhibit chronicled the golden age of steamboat travel, lodging and summer recreation in this part of the Bay during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Through the use of historical photography and cultural artifacts such as period costumes, the exhibit depicted what life was like traveling up and down the Bay on steamships like the Samuel J. Pentz, Robert E. Lee and Tolchester. None was more beloved, however, than the grandest of ladies, Emma Giles, one of the last steamships that traveled to Parrish Creek in Shady Side.

Another recent accomplishment is the museum's designation as a Gateway Site by the National Park Service. Gateway Sites are primary destinations in the "heart of the Bay" area where people can access, experience, learn about, or contribute to specific Bay-related natural, cultural, historic or recreational resources. The museum is now eligible for federal funding to develop outdoor signage that will describe the contributions watermen and others made to this part of the Bay. Society past president Susan Savage says, "the Captain Avery House Museum is determined that their voice will not be lost."

Considered by many as the cultural center of South County, the volunteers at the museum promote a number of activities that reach out into the community. Whether its Christmas, Easter, or the Fourth of July, there is always a festive occasion sponsored by the "Ladies of Shady Side."

So the next time you want to take a short day trip, go on down to Shady Side and experience part of the past for yourself.

The museum is listed on the Maryland State Inventory of Historic Properties is open to the public from 1 - 4 p.m. on Sundays. You can celebrate the holiday season with two festive events at the beautifully decorated Captain Salem Avery Museum: the Children's Tree Decorating Party on Sunday, Dec. 2, and the annual Christmas Brunch on Dec. 9. The museum closes in late December and re-opens on March 3, 2002. The address is: 1418 East West Shady Side Road. Admission is free. For information, call 410-867-4486.


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

Additional comments ?

Last time we asked, "How many past issues of Inside Annapolis Magazine do you have? " Out of all the responses, we found that most of our readers keep at least 3 issues of Inside Annapolis Magazine around the house, but a couple of our readers have over several years of issues! We're glad to hear that so many of you stay with us!

Thanks to all those that voted!

Results Posted Every Issue!!

Backyard Publications, LLC. ©2004. 433 Fourth St, Annapolis, MD 21403 - Phone 410-263-6300 - Fax 410-267-8668