The J. Millard Tawes Historical Museum in Crisfield is built around the idea that you can have as much or as little of the experience as you want. Tim Howard, the museum’s curator, said that he and his staff offer everything from a quick breeze through the museum, to a week’s worth of tours around the area. Crisfiled is a town rich with a peculiar kind of 20th century history. It was a boom town when oysters were plentiful and in demand and shipped from the center of the Eastern Shore all over the coast by rail. But the boom times were shortlived, which is why they’re called boom times, and over the last half-century or so, Crisfield has become an odd combination of working waterman town and tourist destination. It still is a center for soft shell crabs and a jumping-off point into the bay and Smith Island, but Crisfield is undergoing a revitalization of sorts and the Tawes museum provides the access to culture and history that are a serious part of that renewal.
Elder-hostel participants in the “Road Scholars” programs see Crisfield is an undiscovered jewel, and it remains among the most popular Road Scholar destinations. Add to that a steady flow of people making the pilgrimage to the home of the famous Ward Brothers, X and Y, who elevated duck carving to an international folk art and there is a pretty significant tourism base. Howard said there aren’t a lot of people on the fence about duck carving. It’s one of those all-consuming subcultures that attracts some people and confuses others, but those who are devoted are quite devoted.
By piecing together several different niche attractions, Crisfield has put itself on the map as a kind of multi-destination, add to that back-road tourists and boaters who put in at the marina to establish Crisfield as a home base for seeing the region and the town has a good thing going, tourism-wise. But the town officials have so much more in mind than that and slowly but steadily their view is coming to prevail.
Mayor Kim Lawson talks about Crisfield as if he’s the cool professor trying to draw skeptical students into his discipline. He recites facts, but punctuates them with anecdotes and self-effacing remarks. He is something of a talker, but he owns it. His enthusiasm is infectious and it is because he knows Crisfield will be just fine if given a chance. And as they’re getting it, he sees a whole new vision for the town.
Set in the dead center of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Crisfield is nearly near all the popular regional resorts, but not quite. For a long time that has been an issue, but with the rise of eco tourism and less-structured two and three night getaways, Crisfield has come to have a particular appeal to many.
Lawson describes it as a “phenomenal” first choice, but an excellent second choice. Over the last few years he has seen an uptick in visitors who can’t get in to other resorts, or are looking for a bayside retreat with fewer crowds. These people are finding Crisfield, and it is at just the right time.
The baseline visitors have helped support several quality restaurants and a nice mixture of retail. People have a good time and return. They recommend it to friends That is how Crisfield intends to win the long game and its getting shorter every year.