This Eastern Shore hamlet combines small town charm with cosmopolitan culture.
Today another wave of explorers -- day-trippers and retirees from the western shore -- flock to this small town's compact shopping district with its diverse array of cosmopolitan restaurants and art galleries.
Easton offers a compact shopping district with galleries and restaurants. (Photo by Patrick Swoboda, Special to SunSpot)
"Going back to Edward Lloyd, (progenitor of the family that has lived in the area's Wye House plantation for 11 generations) the wealthy came here with money and kept it," says Joan Reynolds Hoge, director of the Historical Society of Talbot County.
The dot-com millionaires continued this tradition of the well-off looking to Easton for a home in the country in recent years. And while the stock market plummeted, Easton real estate continued flying high.
"Prices have really increased in the last couple of years," says Chris Young, a real estate agent with Long & Foster who has worked here for 15 years. "It's amazing how much waterfrontage we have that's over $1 million."
"Easton is really a living town," Hoge says. "The people who live here don't want to make it a tourist mecca, but do want it to be economically viable."
It's a balancing act, but a happy one, at least one merchant believes.
"It's great, our business has grown every year," says Steve Shearer, whose grandfather opened the family's jewelry store, Shearer The Jeweler, in 1925.
"People morph. They quickly realize it's a different place over here," Shearer says. "If a contractor says they'll be right there, that means next Tuesday."
Founded in 1788 as Talbot's county seat and a port at the then-navigable head of the Tred Avon River, the land that now makes up Easton had already been settled by Quakers in the 1600s.
The Historical Society was once a Quaker home. (Photo by Patrick Swoboda, Special to SunSpot)
One of these early Quaker homes has been recreated at the Historical Society of Talbot County's museum and garden near the center of town. This small, four room structure is representative of the home Wentlocke Christianson shared with his wife, two children and three slaves in the 1670s.
Slavery played a role in the town's economy into the 1800s, explains Hoge, the society's director.
By the end of the 17th century, the area's primary cash crop had changed from tobacco, which depletes the soil, to wheat. Since growing and harvesting grain is less labor-intensive, a market was created for selling excess slaves to Southern cotton plantations, Hoge says. This regrettable business went on at a slave market that was located on Federal Street.
Ironically, the area's best-known native was born a slave. Frederick Douglass started his life on a Talbot County plantation before escaping north and becoming a prominent abolitionist. "He's our most famous son," Hoge says.
More of the town's Quaker history can be seen at the Third Haven Meeting House. This house of worship, completed in 1684, is the oldest building in town and is reputed to be America's oldest religious structure in continuous use.
A time to pray:
The Third Haven Meeting House is the oldest building in town. (Photo by Patrick Swoboda, Special to SunSpot)
In what was then the country, the house is today tucked behind homes in a residential neighborhood. This simple, broad-planked structure with unfinished pine pews still holds services in the warmer months.
By the 1700s Easton came to be recognized as the capital of the Eastern Shore when the state assembly proposed that the town share legislative duties with Annapolis. While this arrangement never came about, Easton's brick courthouse exudes colonial charm (the current structure was erected in 1794). Its lawn and benches are a good place for a summer picnic or, for a little more space, try Thompson Park just across the street.
After the history lesson, satisfy your hunger with the gourmet sandwiches at Mason's. More traditional fare like crabcakes can be found at the stately Tidewater Inn. Picnickers and vegetarians will find something to nibble on at the Railway Market, a sort of miniature, locally owned Fresh Fields. It's only a short drive away on the edge of town.
Culture vultures and waterfowl
Suitably fueled, head to the Academy Art Museum for some culture. This 1820s schoolhouse is Easton's center for visual arts. A recent show included a series of large-format color photographs by contemporary artist Robert Rauschenberg. These photographs, taken on a 1983 trip to China, showcase the artist's eye for color and juxtaposition and are not representative of the sort of artwork most would expect to find on the largely rural Eastern Shore.
Color your world:
The Academy Art Museum features exhibits by widely known visual artists. (Photo by Patrick Swoboda, Special to SunSpot)
More art can be found in Easton's galleries. South Street Art Gallery, near the museum, features oils, watercolors and etchings. L'Atelier houses a wide variety of works, from contemporary glass vases and metal sculptures to wooden bowls. A few doors down, Coffee East has a rotating display of art on its walls, as well as a wide variety of snacks and drinks.
For those looking for something with a little more history, the block of Harrison Street between Goldsborough and Dover Road is home to several antique shops.
The performing arts take center stage at the Avalon Theater. This art deco movie and vaudeville house was built in 1921. Restored in 1989, the Avalon now hosts community theater productions, classic films and live music ranging from chamber groups to rock and bluegrass.
The Avalon Theater is the place to go to see classic movies and contemporary performers. (Photo by Patrick Swoboda, Special to SunSpot)
The one date sure to be circled on the 11,000 Eastonians' calendars is the second weekend in November. That's when the town-wide Waterfowl Festival is held and thousands of tourists flock to see the bird carvings, paintings and sculptures by local and nationally known artists.
The three-day event, begun in 1971, is an economic boon estimated to infuse $8 to $9 million into the town's economy. Black, white and gray Canada geese can often be spied overhead honking in chevrons as attendees make their way between galleries.
In 2000, the event marked another return. For the first time in six years, Marylanders were allowed to hunt these geese as their population rebounded enough to allow the state to lift its ban.
"The hunting was phenomenal," Albright says. "It was like the old days."
Inside Albright's Gun Shop , pricey Barbour sweaters and Orvis fishing gear are watched over by duck decoys. One wall is completely filled by classic shotguns, including many sought-after Parkers and L.C. Smiths.
"Nothing adds up to goose," he says.
What lures the hunters here is the same thing that draws tourists and retirees, Albright believes. It's Easton's unique mix of history, shopping, beautiful land and wildlife.
One customer had promised her husband she'd go hunting if the goose moratorium was lifted, Albright says. He took her on her first excursion last season.
"She didn't care if she only got half a bird," Albright says with a gleam in his eye. "She just wanted to come back to the shore."