The Chesapeake was a vital link between distant communities
along its shorelines. An extensive network of
steamboat routes bound for Baltimore interlaced the winding tributaries of the Bay.
For a minimal fee, a passenger could board in Baltimore at 5 pm on
a Monday, ride down the Bay, up the Potomac River, and stop at up to two dozen
landings before arriving in Alexandria on Wednesday morning, all the while enjoying fine meals and cozy overnight accommodations.
Tickets cost as little as $.50. Though affordable, a trip on a steamboat to Baltimore was an infrequent treat for most people in small Chesapeake towns. Embarking on a special day-long steamboat excursion was cause for excitement, as described in a scene in “The Lord’s Oysters,” by Gilbert Byron, set in Chestertown, Maryland:
“Next week,” Mama said, “we’re going to Baltimore on the B.S. Ford. I’ve got to do my Christmas shopping.” I couldn’t hardly wait, the days passed so slowly. The night before, I didn’t sleep a wink; then early morning on the river, a quick breakfast, and we were off to the steamboat wharf.’
Steamboat tickets and route map, D.P. Barnett (dates unknown), “Map of the Baltimore, Chesapeake and Atlantic Railway Company and Maryland, Delaware and Virginia Railway Company,” 1911. Digital image by David W. Harp © Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.