Centreville, Maryland: Much More than Middlin’
by Wendy Mitman Clarke
Centreville, Maryland, is a vibrant small town that just happens to be at the navigable end of one of the upper Eastern Shore’s prettiest little rivers.
Full disclosure: Centreville and the Corsica River have been my hometown and home-river, respectively, since 2012—a mere moment by Eastern Shore standards, but long enough to know that it’s an overlooked little gem in the Chesapeake boating world. A town with roots digging back to 1782, when the powers-that-be decided it would best to move the Queen Anne’s County seat from Queenstown to a more central location. Centreville was never a deep-water port as influential as neighboring Chestertown. But it still retains its share of stately old homes on Commerce and Liberty streets and, these days, a thriving community that supports everything from a kids’ fishing derby and family drive-in movie night in the wharf-side park, to a new brew pub and a Saturday-morning farmer’s market stuffed with the freshest Eastern Shore produce. True, you will need to leave your mothership if it draws over three feet and meander up to the wharf via dinghy or other shallow-draft vessel. But then it’s a simple matter of tying up and, in a pleasant day’s ramble around town, meeting nice people, soaking in a little history, enjoying a local pub or three, and getting to know Centreville.
Up the River
The Corsica is one of the Chester’s prettiest tributaries, but its main claim to dubious fame these days is that the Russian dacha, used by Russian diplomats until the Obama administration ordered it shut down in 2016, is located prominently on Pioneer Point, the tip of land that marks the river mouth’s southwestern side. You’ll cruise right on by as you come into the river, and that big bay on the right, facing the dacha, is one of the Corsica’s most spacious and popular anchorages. But you can meander up much farther, passing the small boat fleet and beaches of the Corsica River Yacht Club to port, and further up, the rowing shells and racing boats of the Gunston School to starboard. (Here, you probably should think about stopping and getting into something shallower-draft for the rest of the short trip to Centreville Wharf.) You will see no end of eagles, osprey, blue heron, and terns as you traverse this river. Back in the 1700s, ships made the same trip to bring critical supplies to the American rebels during the Revolution up to Centreville, and by the 1800s, it was steamboats and trading vessels moving produce and grain. Not a very big river by Chesapeake standards, the Corsica still flows with more than its share of history and beauty.
On the Wharf
The first thing you’ll find as you disembark at the wharf is Centreville Outdoors (101 Water Way, 410-991-8468, cdollaroutdoors.com), and if you’re wondering how to catch what’s swimming in the Corsica, or the rest of the Bay for that matter, look no further. Owner Chris Dollar (yes, he’s a columnist for this magazine) has been in this shop overlooking the river for four years, catering primarily to anglers but also carrying basic safety equipment for the general boating public. Here you’ll find everything from lures and rods to kayaks designed for fishermen. “It’s a Chesapeake-centric store, so any species you want to target, from white perch to bluefish or rockfish, we carry the gear,” Dollar says. Dollar also offers guided light-tackle, fly, and kayak fishing. And if kayaking or paddleboarding is your thing and you want to rent one, he provides that as well, along with information about the local water trails. “What I really like about it here is you can take advantage of the quaintness of the town, get a good meal, and not be worried about a lot of boat traffic,” Dollar says. “And the aesthetic is beautiful. The river is so dynamic, you really see everything here.”
A Little History
You’ll want your walking shoes, since it’s about a half-mile, easy stroll from the wharf up Chesterfield Avenue to the main part of town. Along the way, take in some of the pretty Craftsman-style homes on this street. They’re among several architectural styles you’ll see in Centreville, and you can learn more about all of them at Tucker House (123 South Liberty Street, www.qachistory.org). Circa 1794, the Federal–period Tucker House was built on the second lot sold in Centreville, and now it’s home to the Queen Anne’s County Historical Society. Across the street (and right next to the beautiful public library) is Wright’s Chance, a 1744-era plantation house with original paneling and glass windows. Both buildings are open for tours the first Saturday of the month, May through October, 10-2, or by appointment through the historical society.
Here You Go
Time for a nosh, or perhaps just a latte? Smoothie? Irish coffee? Hand-dipped ice-cream or homemade milkshake? Commerce Street Creamery Bistro and Café (110 North Commerce Street, 410-758-6779, creamerycafebistro.com) serves breakfast and lunch six days a week, but that’s not the half of it. This great local’s hangout, going on six years on Centreville’s main drag, is the kind of community gathering spot where you’ll just about always meet someone you know or make a new friend. On a recent visit, as I tucked into a bowl of corn and shrimp bisque (creamy, smoky-bacon flavor with a tiny bite of something hot in there), the place was buzzing with conversation. Big picture windows look out onto the street and a half block up to the Courthouse Green, so you can watch all the comings and goings while you sip a mimosa or fire up with an espresso.
Full Court Press
The Courthouse Green is the center of Centreville, and at its western end stands the Queen Anne’s County Courthouse, the oldest continuously operating courthouse in the state (although it’s about to be replaced by a brand-new building). The white-brick, Federal-style building, designed with a central section flanked by two wings, was finished in 1792, then renovated and expanded 1876. It’s an unpretentious though elegant structure. Its arched windows and wrought-iron balcony preside over the town like a judge on the bench, while the enormous trees gracing the green—magnolia, ginkgo, oak—lend it further gravitas. A few steps from the courthouse entrance is even more nobility in the form of the statue of Queen Anne, unveiled in 1977 by her namesake, Princess Anne. According to the town fathers, it is the only known statue of Queen Anne outside of England. In the past, the green was also the location of the Centreville Farmer’s Market, held every Saturday from nine to two from May through October. This year, the Farmer’s Market moved about six blocks east on Railroad Avenue, next to the Acme.
Fresh Seafood with a Side of Steam
Three years ago, you needed a car and some local knowledge to find Bay Shore Steam Pot, stashed as it was in the woods off Spaniard Neck Road, about two miles out of town. Karen and Mark O’Neal operated the business out of a full-kitchen trailer beside their home, and those in the know made the pilgrimage down the tree-lined driveway for the fried clams, crabcakes, shrimp salad, and steam pot dinners. Then they bought a building on East Water Street, renovated it, and opened up Bay Shore Steam Pot 2.0, continuing their delectable fresh seafood and takeaway meals (111 E. Water Street, 410-758-3933, www.bayshoresteampot.com). “If it swims, we can get it,” is their motto, and with more than 26 years in the wholesale seafood business, Mark lives up to it. Along with fresh local seafood in season (shad roe and yellow perch to rockfish), they sell top-quality out-of-region seafood like Scottish salmon and Alaska halibut. Boaters will especially appreciate the sales counter, which looks exactly like the transom of an old Chris-Craft, complete with twin exhausts, waterline, cleats, water and fuel fills on top, and “Bay Shore Steam Pot” in bright gold leaf across the mahogany transom. Craig Moore built the replica down to the lapstrake sides, and Bay Shore Signs crafted the name. Nancy Hammond prints hang on the walls, along with a record-breaking blue marlin Mark caught in North Carolina, and an enormous wooden oar, elegant in its repose high on the wall, that came from Karen’s father. Two chairs on the side let patrons wait for their takeaway meals and specials, which are easy enough to walk around the corner to the Courthouse Green and enjoy al fresco.
Growlers and Good Times
Or maybe you’d like some local brew to go with your seafood? Around the corner and two blocks down Banjo Lane you’ll find some crafty deliciousness happening at Bull and Goat Brewery (204 Banjo Lane, bullandgoatbrewery.com). I don’t even like beer, but when I stopped in to see what all the fuss was about, I had a whole new appreciation for the growler of 67 IPA that walked out with me. I found the place by locating its approximate location, then following the signs that said “BEER” painted on plywood with helpful directional arrows, around a corner to the garage-style door that, in fair weather, opens up the whole wall. Inside, tables and chairs are scattered about, shelves hold board and card games and the shuffleboard table and dartboard get regular use. The taps highlight the small bar, behind which a chalkboard lists the day’s offerings—67 IPA, Frank Amber, Queen Anne’s Revenge, Front Street Porter, etc. “If it makes it on that board, it’s drinkable,” says Jeff Putman, who owns the brewery with Jake Heimbuch. The product is apparently more than just drinkable, based on the popularity and reputation of this small brewery, which began as a hobby and became a business plan. They offer growlers, pints, and flights, but they don’t serve food. You’re welcome to bring your own meal or snack. If you happen here on the second Saturday of each month, get ready for a mini block party as Bay Shore Steam Pot brings over its full-kitchen trailer and serves food to have with your pints, along with music and plenty of games and fun for adults and kids.
Back to Basics
Back in the day, the local pharmacy was a focal point of a small community, a place where watching your prescription being professionally compounded was only one reason to walk through the door. It still is in Centreville with Edwards Pharmacy (102 South Commerce Street, 410-758-1715, www.edwardspharmacy.com), a local institution since Jim “Doc” Edwards purchased Thompson’s Pharmacy in 1964 and changed the name. Today, Edwards Pharmacy is owned by Shalendra Anil Cherukuri, and before you think maybe this is kind of a weird suggestion to visit, consider that in addition to what you’d expect in a pharmacy, Edwards is the local go-to spot for Hallmark gifts, party supplies, nifty stuff for your house or boat, ornaments, and friendly conversation. Likewise, if you find yourself in need of some basic boat parts, Western Auto (204 East Water Street, 410-758-2552) has got you covered. Well beyond the standard auto fare, the store also caters to the boating public with everything from cleats and lines to safety and fishing gear. And, the local Sno-Ball shack is right next store—on a hot summer day, you won’t want to miss that.
O’Shuck’s Irish Pub
You never know when a craving for some Dublin coddle, shepherd’s pie, or fish n’ chips may strike, and fortunately you can take care of that yearning at O’Shuck’s Irish Pub (121 N. Commerce Street, 410-758-3619, www.oshucksirishpub.com). O’Shuck’s offers traditional American fare as well, and you can’t beat their fresh oysters on the half-shell. Directly across from the Courthouse Green, one whole wall of the newest section of the restaurant is a garage-sized door that, when open, turns the whole place into a kind of sidewalk bistro. On the other side, it’s a more pub-like atmosphere with a long bar, café and traditional tables, and TVs for those who want to stay up to date on news and sports.
Beaches can be a little hard to come by this far up a river, so Doc’s Riverside Grille has made its own (511 Chesterfield Avenue, 410-758-1707, www.docsriversidegrille.com). More than once we have come into the wharf in the evening in our runabout, walked the two blocks or so over to Doc’s with our dogs in tow, and had a terrific meal on the patio under the stars. The walls enclosing the patio depict an ideal tropical scene—turquoise water, palm trees, beaches, and the obligatory bottle of Corona—and at the wall’s base is a mini-beach of sand, complete with some flip-flops and shells (the dogs like this part especially). The food here is traditional American fare, with burgers, beef, and local fish specialties including the eminently nibble-able rockfish tenders. Their blondie mix of cream of crab and Maryland crab soup will chase away any cool-weather chills you may have, while Miss Meredith’s Asian Salad is one of my go-tos. Inside, Doc’s has a bar area with café tables, or you can choose the quieter restaurant area with traditional table options.
Follow Rt 213 North from Rt. 301 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. A left on Water Street or Broadway will take you to Chesterfield Avenue toward the river. Take a right on Front Street to the county-owned Centreville Landing and the adjacent, town-owned Centreville Wharf where you can launch a boat, kayak, canoe or paddleboard. You’ll need a $35 annual Queen Annes County public landing permit to park and launch a boat there. The excellent, floating, roller-kayak launch and parking at the town wharf is free. From there you have the two- and a half-mile Mill Stream Water Trail into town and back, the three-mile round trip Yellow Bank Stream Trail to the head of the river, and the Alder Branch Water Trail down the Corsica and up Alder Branch and back for a five-mile round trip.
You are going to need a shallow-draft boat to get all the way in. Most small powerboats can safely navigate to and from the Centreville Wharf bulkhead, where daily dockage is free. The last quarter-mile gets tricky for a big boat and ridiculous for a fixed keel sailboat of any size. If you are deep in the water, anchor before you reach the Gunston School and come in by dinghy. Tie-up to the bulkhead. It’s a five-minute walk to Doc’s Riverside Grille, and less than a mile into town.
CBM editor-at-large Wendy Mitman Clarke is a novelist and award-winning chronicler of Chesapeake Bay people, creatures and places.