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Tilghman Island

Photos by Bob Grieser

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It may be Tilghman Island’s highest accolade that when asked “What do people do around here?” third-generation waterman Capt. Wade Murphy answers, “There’s isn’t a lot to do on Tilghman.”

Not the usual touristy stuff, anyway. Just fishing and sailing and duck-hunting and oystering and crabbing — all of which a visitor can do on a waterman’s charter workboat from one of Tilghman’s three marinas.

Hiking. Biking. Kayaking. Bird-watching at Black Walnut Point, the 57-acre sanctuary at the island’s south end. Daysailing on Capt. Murphy’s 1886 skipjack oyster dredge, Rebecca T. Ruark. Browsing among the 12,000 titles at Crawfords Nautical Books in the old Tilghman Bank building. Or eating. Seafood is king on Tilghman — oysters especially. Eat them iced on the half-shell, in pot pies, fried, steamed, as fritters, or Rockefeller- or Chesapeake-style oysters casino.

In fact, there’s a lot to do on Tilghman Island, a 3-mile-long stretch of lowland on Maryland’s Eastern Shore near the Choptank River. It’s just that there aren’t a lot of boutiques or jewelry stores or gift shops for pets there. If you want that, you drive across the drawbridge over Knapps Narrows, separating Tilghman from the mainland, and keep driving 15 miles up Route 33 to St. Michaels.

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Tilghman is a “watermen’s village,” John McGlannan says from his family’s Tilghman Island Country Store. “It still has that flavor.” Oystering, crabbing and rock fishing are not the thriving industries they once were, so the Tilghman Island Watermen’s Museum has taped hours of interviews with old-timers describing the island they remember. Tilghman increasingly is given over to retirement communities, yet at Dogwood Harbor, where 70-year-old Murphy keeps the Rebecca T. Ruark, workboats outnumber pleasure boats. Speaking in the Elizabethan-accented Southern drawl heard on the Eastern Shore, he says that about half of the 700 or so islanders still are fishing families, and that makes the place gritty and real. Tilghman remains watermen’s territory.

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This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue.