Historic St. Mary’s City

Part of the About Southern Maryland series

Costumed interpreters in the garden by the Old State House. Costumed interpreters in the garden by the Old State House.

Take 800 acres of the most beautiful landscape in the mid-Atlantic and wrap them in waterways. Assemble clues left by long-past inhabitants to recreate a new world of long-ago times. Call the result a museum and invite all of your best friends to visit. While there, break every museum rule you can think of—run, question, touch, climb on-board, explore, get your hands dirty and your feet wet. If, in the process, you learn a bit about life in the time of change that was 17th-century Maryland, remember these lessons as the most fun education you could ever imagine.

Welcome to Historic St. Mary’s City. This museum commemorates the fourth permanent English settlement in North America and Maryland’s first capital. More than three and a half centuries ago, 140 English settlers sailed across the Atlantic in search of religious freedom and the chance for a better life. On the edge of the New World, they planted a colony and the seeds of ideals that form the foundation of our modern democracy. This town was the capital of the Province of Maryland for 60 years. When the seat of government moved to Annapolis in 1695, the town of St. Mary’s quickly disappeared. By the time of the American Revolution, little of Lord Baltimore’s capital was left but memories of its former importance.

Early in the 20th century, interest in the old capital revived. Historical research and archaeological excavations began to uncover the 17th-century settlement. Because the old city had remained relatively undisturbed over the years, the area is one of the finest 17th-century colonial archaeology sites in the nation. Decades of research are the foundation of exhibits assembled across the landscape. Recreated structures in the town center, a Woodland Indian hamlet, a tall ship, a tobacco plantation complete with livestock, and costumed interpreters bring the past to life. Special exhibits in the Visitor Center, informative signs located throughout the grounds, and an audio tour add color and depth to stories of the settlement.

Kids try an Indian game at the Woodland Indian Hamlet. Kids try an Indian game at the Woodland Indian Hamlet.

Today, Historic St. Mary’s City is one of Southern Maryland’s leading tourism attractions. About 30,000 elementary students tour each year, and college students study at the museum’s colonial archaeology field school, the longest running in the nation. The museum’s collections are a resource for professional archaeologists and scholars. Its grounds and buildings are a memorable venue for weddings and corporate affairs. Special events held all year provide unique opportunities for visitors to work alongside archaeologists, explore the lives and culture of the region’s Native American peoples, and discover various facets of the colonial experience in tidewater Maryland.

Amenities on the museum grounds include the museum store, The Shop at Farthing’s Ordinary, which is open throughout the year. The elegant Brome-Howard Country Inn and Restaurant, housed in an 1840s Greek-revival farmhouse, offers gourmet fare at dinnertime—reservations are required (301-866-0656).

Historic St. Mary’s City is located off Route 5 in Southern Maryland—less than two hours from Washington, D.C., Annapolis, and Richmond, and less than three hours from Baltimore. Area attractions include Point Lookout State Park, the Calvert Marine Museum, the St. Clement-Potomac River Museum, and Sotterley Plantation.

During the summer of 2006 (June 14 through September 17) all exhibits are open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. In the spring and fall (March 14 through June 10 and September 19 through November 25), the entire museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. The museum is closed Thanksgiving Day. On Sundays, only the Visitor Center and the Shop at Farthing’s Ordinary are open and admission is reduced: $2 for adults and $1 for children. Regular admission to the museum is $7.50 for adults; $6 for seniors age 60 and older, students age 13 to 18, and college students with valid ID; and $3.50 for children age 6 to 12 except as noted above. For more information, please call 1-800-SMC-1634 or 240-895-4990 or visit hsmcdigshistory.org.

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