By Ellen Moyer
If only they could talk, Maryland’s 42 Rivers have stories to tell about our early history. The Corsica River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is one of the state’s historic rivers. The Corsica is off the Chester River, that is off the Chesapeake Bay, home of the drowned Susquehanna River that may be the earth’s second oldest river … 330 million years old.
In 1670, James Helmsley received a land grant called Chesterfield along the Corsica waterway. 100 years later, Chesterfield became the thriving town of Centreville, Queen Anne’s County commercial and government center since 1794. This cozy Eastern Shore village of 4500 people boasts the oldest county court house in continuous use in the nation and is surrounded by 13 other sites in its historic district. A statue of Queen Anne (Annapolis’ namesake) sits outside the courthouse and was dedicated in 1977. The unveiling was attended by Princess Anne, daughter of Queen Elizabeth II. The Princess would have seen a much older work of art, the golden eagle, a symbol of America’s freedom from Britain on the courthouse rooftop.
The head of the 6-mile Corsica River was easy access for shipping the tobacco and grain of the fertile surrounding farmland. This protected location, free from storms that characterized the Bay, led to the bustling growth of Centreville. Warehouses along its wharf and Captains houses created an elegance about the bustling town. In the 1800s steamboats brought tourists from Baltimore to walk its streets. A Showboat tied up at The Wharf and even Elephants were unloaded to parade up Chesterfield Ave when the circus came to town.
The Wharf is still the center of attraction. From it, kayakers can launch their boats to explore 3 water trails on creeks along the Corsica. The state Department of Natural Resources has over 750 miles of water trails in Maryland.
8 miles of kayak/canoe watertrails follow the Corsica River. Novices can explore 1.25 miles of the Mill Stream Trail or a 3-mile round trip of the Yellow Bank Stream Trail and see different natural habitat.
The Mill Stream Trail ends at Mill Stream Park picnic area. It is more “cosmopolitan” with Eagle and Osprey nests. A land trail parallels it, making it easy to take out or canoe/kayak back to The Wharf.
Yellow Bank Stream Trail is a slow meandering tidal creek that requires some attention to the tides. Too low, you might be mired in mud. Too high and you can’t get under a road bridge. This is wetland territory and wood duck habitat looked after by the Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage organization. The original homestead for the Chesterfield land grant is on this water trail.
Intermediate canoers and kayakers might prefer the Alder Branch Trail, a 2.5-mile round trip trail part of which is in the broad water of the Corsica River. Alder has a heron rookery. At one time a fort was erected to protect Centreville from attack in the War of 1812. Fort Point must have worked, as the attack never happened.
The whole of the 6 mile Corsica River is a state protected oyster sanctuary. viewers on this water trail will see the interest of property owners along Benton’s wharf growing spat in bags.
The Town of Centreville is working to expand the stories the wharf has to tell about the town and river’s history. COVID-19 may have delayed some features, but the Historic captain’s houses frame the wharf as a reminder of the days when Centreville shone as a bustling shipping center. In summer, paddling our historic waterways and catching up on Mother Nature and the stories of our heritage are an alternative stay vacation journey or just a glorious laid back day on the water.
Brochures and Maps for waterway trails are available from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Ellen Moyer is a former mayor of Annapolis. She welcomes comments and idea sharing and can be contacted at [email protected].
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