Historic photo of the Crab Claw restaurant courtesy of CBMM.

Maritime Museum to Buy Crab Claw Restaurant Property

It’s one of the quintessential Bay experiences. For decades visitors to St. Michaels, Maryland have enjoyed visiting the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and enjoying a meal next door at the Crab Claw, a classic crabhouse that’s been run by the same family for nearly 60 years.

But we just learned on Thursday that this season will be the last chance to eat at the Crab Claw—the property is being sold to the restaurant’ closest neighbor, the museum.

The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM) announced it intends to acquire two properties that border its waterfront campus, including the Crab Claw site. The restaurant will remain open for business through the rest of the 2023 season.

After that? The new owners aren’t quite sure what comes next. But CBMM President and CEO Kristen Greenaway promises it will be part of the museum’s “ongoing Master Plan campus upgrades”. She says CBMM plans to serve as stewards of these historic properties on the Miles River.

The Crab Claw property’s Bay seafood history runs all the way back to the 19th century, CBMM historians say.

“Generations growing up in St. Michaels have worked at the Crab Claw as their first job, learning customer service and an appreciation for the classic seafood dishes of a Maryland crab house,” said CBMM’s Chief Historian Pete Lesher. “But the property’s roots go back even further, with the first pier in that location showing up on an atlas from 1877 and the town’s steamboat wharf, including a one-story building with a cupola, standing on the site by the 1890s.

The Eastern Shore Clam Company, a clam and oyster shucking house, opened in the 1950s. Watermen brought their clam, oyster or crab harvests in daily. The property known as Navy Point was on marshland filled with piles and piles of discarded oyster shells—demonstrating the abundance of oysters.

Bill Jones, one of the co-owners of the Eastern Shore Clam Company, and his wife Sylvia had the idea to open a crabhouse at the shucking house and they opened it in 1965—the same year CBMM opened.

The Crab Claw expanded over the years and sometime in the 1980s the Clam Company tapered off. But Jones still bought crabs and oysters directly from watermen who would tie up to the Crab Claw’s dock.

In a historical account Lesher compiled, he notes that “for years, the Crab Claw parking lot was paved with fresh clam shells or oyster shells—a byproduct of the business. The shells were freshly shucked, and the odor of freshly spread shell could be quite powerful.”

Surely many Chesapeake Bay Magazine readers remember that time, before oyster shells became a precious commodity to recycle and use as habitat for lab-grown oyster larvae.

Bill and Sylvia Jones have both passed away (Bay Bulletin reported on matriarch Sylvia’s passing at age 93 in 2020) but the next generation has carried on the business more recently.

“We believe that CBMM is the best possible owner for this longtime staple of our community, and we thank Crab Claw owner Tracey Jones Wass and her family for entrusting it to us.”

CBMM says it’s beginning planning for future use of the properties, an iconic part of the St. Michaels waterfront.

-Meg Walburn Viviano