Port of Crisfield

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Port of Crisfield – Early 20th Century

Almost every type of sailing vessel known dropped their dredges into the waters of the Tangier Sound, the body of water adjacent to Crisfield, to catch their share of the fortune in the white shell – the oyster.

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Late 19th Century Oyster Ad.

Just as the supply of oysters from the Tangier Sound seemed practically inexhaustible, neither did the market, because 19th Century Americans couldn’t get enough of the bivalve.  It was desired by everyone from the elite to the rowdy sailor.

On Nov. 4, 1866 the railroad arrived for the first time in Crisfield, which was then only a small village called Somers Cove.  The tracks were laid through dense forest, over water and marsh to a scarcely populated area for one reason – to reach what was, at the time, the richest oyster bed in the world.  Six months after that first wood-burning locomotive’s initial stop in Somers Cove, the U.S. Government established the Eastern District Office of United States Customs Service in Somers Cove.

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Exploratory Railroad Map showing Crisfield, then called somers Cove, as the terminus for the Eastern Shore.

The U.S. Customs Service  was the only federal law enforcement agency in the 19th century and the Customs Officers had multiple duties on sea and land.  One responsibility was monitoring the crew of vessels to ensure none had been shanghaied to work the dredge.  Another duty was collecting 20cents per sailor for each day worked to pay for the Marine Hospital that provided healthcare for sailors.  In addition, the Customs Service kept records of all schooners, sloops and steamers.

The history of every captain, sailor, and oyster buyer, along with each sloop and schooner that entered or called Crisfield their homeport, is inherently related to the Customs House.  This building is a link to the past and through the efforts of the City of Crisfield, local businesses and individuals, and the Crisfield Heritage Foundation, it is going to be a facilitator for the future of Crisfield.

To see the planning for what’s to come from the Customs House, click here for  The Vision.

Most important is your involvement and support which is crucial to making the Customs House a success, to learn how to be a part of this history saving project, Get Involved.