When the long-running Maryland Seafood Festival was first held at Annapolis City Dock, it was 1966 and it was called the Maryland Clam Festival. This weekend, the food lovers’ event finally returns to downtown Annapolis for the first time in decades—with a little more emphasis on crabs and oysters.
When you think of Maryland’s prized seafood harvests, clams are not exactly the first Bay delicacy that come to mind. But back in the 1960s, the state had a robust clam industry.
In the 1960s, Annapolis was experiencing a golden age—it had just been designated a Historic City by popular vote. Small boat races, Eastport’s first high rise building, and the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater opened.
So when the Maryland Department of Chesapeake Affairs’ Joan Baldwin was charged with promoting the state’s seafood industry, she chose Annapolis City Dock as the venue for the new Maryland Clam Festival.
Maryland was the third largest supplier of soft-shelled clams in the nation (behind Maine and Massachusetts). Maryland boasted annual sales of 460,000 bushels.
By 1969, the Clam Festival at City Dock was named the largest seafood festival in the U.S. and recognized as one of the nation’s top festivals by the U.S. Association of Travel Organizations. Its family fun, arts, crafts, music, and shellfish flourished in downtown Annapolis.
The clam industry eventually declined, however, and lost its appeal on the Bay. Its present supply is measured in the hundreds of bushels and not the hundreds of thousands.
More than 30 years ago, the Clam Festival moved to Sandy Point State Park and showcased a variety of “The Best Seafood in the World”, with cook-offs and chef’s specials. It remained at Sandy Point until 2023.
This year, ABC Events is bringing a celebration of our Bay Bounty back to City Dock where it began in 1966 under the state Staff initiative of Joan Baldwin for the States then leading clam industry.
Clams will not, however, be on the table. Crabs, oysters and rockfish are the seafood industry’s staple today.
So on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 19 and 20, come down to Annapolis City Dock. Park at the USNA Stadium (purchase tickets in advance) and shuttle downtown to sample the “Best Seafood in the World”.
Many seafood vendors including Annapolis restaurants, local craft beer and kids’ activities will all be on hand. The popular Crab Soup Cook-off returns on Saturday. New for this year is the Naptown Seafood Sampler, a combo of eight samples from local restaurants plus a drink (beer, water or soda) for $25.
Chesapeake Bay Magazine Editorial Director Meg Walburn Viviano will be among the judges for the Crab Soup Cookoff.
There will be free deck tours on the Chesapeake buyboat Mildred Belle or paid sunset cruises.
And if you haven’t gotten enough local flavor onsite at the festival, walk the streets of downtown Annapolis for shopping, food and drink.
While enjoying this festival, you may want to silently give a toast to the lonely and forgotten clam that started this celebration 57 years ago.