to Shady Side
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.
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
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
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.