g Maryland Daytripping - St. Mary's County
Day Tripping - DC Metro
St. Mary's County, Maryland
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(Photo Courtesy Southern Maryland Online)
St. Mary's County
Items of Interest: Historic Sites, Art,
Restaurants, Amish Communities
(Located in Southern Maryland on Route 5
35 Miles South of Washington, DC)

Click Here for Directions

Where can you find 18th and 19th century churches, historic buildings worthy of further restoration, a nostalgic 50's diner, Amish buggies and food stands, a sausage store of superb quality, and a sporting life artist whose works will knock your socks off?

St. Mary’s County has Amish and Mennonite communities located in the Charlotte Hall, Mechanicsville, and Loveville areas. Highway signs warn motorists to stay alert for buggies on the way to market. Amish farms are recognizable by their windmills and lack of electric lines.

Leonardtown features antique and specialty shops and a variety of restaurants. Two historic sites, Tudor Hall and The Old Jail, are not far from the Town Square.

Historic St. Mary's City, Maryland's premier outdoor living history museum and archeological park, is located on the site of the state's first capital and the fourth permanent British settlement in the New World. (text courtesy of St. Mary's County Tourism web site.)

A Maryland state park with mainland museum, St. Clement’s Island is steeped in historical significance, recognized not only as Maryland's birthplace but also for the religious toleration that was brought to this shore by settlers fleeing persecution in England. St. Clements Island evolved into a vital navigational resourse in the 19th century.

The island is now a Maryland State Park and offers areas to hike, picnic, and birdwatch. A 40-foot cross stands as a memorial to the first colonists who sought religious toleration.

A replica of an original lighthouse stands at the south end of the island and is often open for tours.

St. Clements Island/Potomac River Museum
(Photo by Ron Patterson)

(Click Here for Larger Image/Interior Photos)

Scenic and serene, the island is available by private boat or by taking the museum's seasonal weekend water taxi (June through August).

Cradled by the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, St. Mary’s is a peninsula with a 500-mile shoreline to explore. Here, you’ll find five water-based state parks, numerous water trails, abundant opportunities to fish, camp and hike—and of course, fabulous seafood to savor.

This fertile location destined the area for an eventful history. This is Maryland’s birthplace. The story of Maryland’s early beginnings unfolds at the area’s colonial sites while its maritime heritage comes to life at its four lighthouses and its waterside communities. The rural landscape holds its own pleasures of afternoon drives, scenic cycling, and farm and winery rambles.

Thanks to the presence of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station--the U.S. Navy’s premiere site for military aviation testing--today’s St. Mary’s has a young population with a high-tech ethos and a drive to live healthy, eat well and play hard. Restaurants with an eye for what’s fresh and local, historic towns with a trendy edge, fun weekend events and even some topflight motor sports venues keep things interesting.

We've just begun our exploration of this incredible section of Maryland, but in a very short period of time, we've discovered many reasons to return again and again.

No matter what the destination, we have an incorrigible habit of seeking out roadside markets of all kinds. As luck would have it, we found two stands that met our high standard of "having what we like." On Route 5, there is "Woods Produce", with arguably the finest fresh sausage we've enjoyed. (NOTE - on our April 12, 2014 trip, we noticed that this stand appeared closed - we hope it was a seasonal closing, not a permantent one.)

Zimmerman's Greenhouse
Route 5 North of Leonardtown
(Photo by Ron Patterson)

And, a bit farther down Route 5, we were fortunate enough to stumble upon an Amish market, "Zimmerman's Greenhouse", that has nearly perfect plants and an egg bread that is to die for. Needless to say, we came home with a wonderful mother lode of goodies, some of which ended up in our neighbor's hands (a neighbor who now includes us in her will; well, almost).

Our garden, meticulously maintained by Tom, is now replete with gorgeous pansies from the Amish market, and for the past few weeks, the egg bread has been an integral part of our evening meals. Their banana nut and pumpkin breads were as good as it gets. All these breads were baked by the Huber family, according to the hand-printed label.

Incidentally, we picked up a wonderful book on the Amish at the St. Clement's Island/Potomac River Museum gift shop, entitled The Riddle of Amish Culture, by Donald B. Kraybill (published by the Johns Hopkins University Press - 1989, 2001).

If we had discovered nothing else in Southern Maryland, these two stops would make additional ventures to this area a must.

Our reason for making the most recent series of visits to Southern Maryland had its genesis in the discovery of two small oil paintings of hunting dogs hanging in the rear of the Scarlet Fox Antiques shop in Old Town Alexandria. We were instantly impressed with the quality of these works, at first believing them to be 19th century.

The dealer, Lynn Marlin, explained to us that these paintings were produced by a friend who lived in Maryland. We didn't purchase them that day, but returned within the week to claim our find. Subsequent to our purchase, we sought out the artist's name from Ms. Marlin and shortly received a brochure from Linda M. Epstein, the artist - the brochure was from an exhibit of Linda's paintings and displayed 14 of her works.

She enclosed a note, explaining that this show was held at the North End Gallery in Leonardtown. When we expressed an interest in seeing more of her work, she invited us to visit her studio.

We fell in love with several of the paintings from the brochure and purchased "Two Good Horses" (to the right) and a second one ("Hunter") during our visit with Linda at her home, which also serves as her studio.

On a subsequent trip to the North End Gallery late in March 2006, we purchased our fifth Epstein painting - two hounds entitled "What's This?", and our sixth entitled "Two Dogs."

"Two Good Horses"
By Linda M. Epstein
(Photo by Ron Patterson)
(Click Here for Larger Image
And More Epstein Paintings)

North End Gallery
Leonardtown, Maryland
(Photo by Ron Patterson)

(Click Here for Larger Image
And Interior Photos)

The North End Gallery of Leonardtown is committed to promoting work of the finest traditional and contemporary artists of Southern Maryland. The rich and historical area along the rolling farmland and magnificent shores of the Chesapeake region provide an inspirational setting for artists working in many different mediums, including oils, acrylics, watercolors, hand-pulled serigraphs, sculpture, pottery, jewelry, decorative art, stained glass, painted silk, and photography.

We collect paintings, and our collection includes works from the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

Linda's oils are among our favorite and add a sporting life character to an eclectic palette of religious, genre, and contemporary art. We have included images of our six Epstein paintings on this site.

As described on their web site, the North End Gallery is owned and operated by Southern Maryland artists and features original and limited edition fine art. The gallery's mission is to “promote and encourage an appreciation of the arts and art education in Southern Maryland".

Their art includes oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings, hand-pulled serigraphs, drawings, sculpture, pottery, jewelry, decorative art, painted silk scarves, photography, stained glass and digital images.

The Art of Raymond Ewing

Our most recent trip to Leonardtown (April 12, 2014) led us back to the North End Gallery in search of more art (as if we need any more!!). We are always interested in local artists and we were immediately attracted to a small pastel by Raymond Ewing entitled "On the Square". The subject is a restaurant in downtown Leonardtown (Café des Artistes) which happens to be one of our favorite places to eat in town (see review below).

Needless to say, we purchased the picture. According to the information on his web site, the artist Raymond Ewing grew up in the scenic mountains of western Maryland, and the southern Maryland landscape now serves as inspiration for many of his watercolor and pastel paintings.

Mr. Ewing has been an art instructor, an active juror and a guest lecturer in the Washington, D.C. area for over thirty years. He has been featured in solo and group shows throughout the Mid-Atlantic region as well as in New England.

He has participated in the Department of State Art in Embassies Program and his work in included in private and corporate collections in the U.S. and abroad.

"On the Square"
By Raymond Ewing
(Photo by Ron Patterson)

We are delighted with our purchase.

Tudor Hall

Tudor Hall - Circa 1744
Tudor Hall - Circa 1744
Home of the St. Mary's County
Historical Society's Research Center
(Photo by Ron Patterson)

St. Mary's County has been making history since the Ark and Dove arrived here from England in March, 1634. Maryland was the 4th successful English colony in the new world and St Mary's is known as the Mother County of Maryland.

The St. Mary's County Historical Society is currently using two unique buildings in Leonardtown. Historic Tudor Hall, located at the end of Tudor Hall Lane and within Tudor Hall Circle, houses their business office, research center, book store and gift shop, information center, and museum collection.

Tudor Hall is an important 18th century house in St. Mary's County, Maryland. Of the Georgian architecture, it is the oldest building in Leonardtown. Tudor Hall was built by the Barnes family, either Abraham or his son, Richard, both of whom were active in the American Revolution. The name Tudor Hall was given to the house by a 19th century owner, Henry G.S. Key, a cousin of Francis Scott Key.

The Old Jail Museum

The Old Jail serves as an Information Center for St. Mary's County during certain times of the year. This building also serves as a museum which contains many artifacts relating to the history of St. Mary's County.

The first floor became the quarters of the jailer and his family. The south room was a living room, dining room and kitchen, while the north room was a bedroom. On the second floor were three cells.

The north one was a large cell used for black men, the southeast cell was used for white men and the small cell on the southwest was for women.

Old Jail Museum
Old Jail Museum
Built in the 1850's
(Photo by Ron Patterson)

Click on Photo for Larger Image

Located in an uncompromised setting above the Patuxent River, Sotterley Plantation has been described as "older than Mount Vernon, older than Monticello, {and} older than the nation itself" (Sotterley Foundation brochure).

This magnificent eighteenth century structure enjoys an unparalleled setting graced with rolling lawns and fields, towering trees, a romantic Colonial Revival garden, and period as well as Colonial Revival support buildings.

The original house, begun around 1717 by James Bowles, son of a wealthy English merchant, has grown into an elegant monument of the past.

Subsequent owners enlarged the structure, encompassing James Bowles' original building, resulting in the 300 year old clapboard and brick building standing today. Click Here for more information and photos from our recent (May 17, 2006) visit to Sotterley.

St. Francis Xavier Church

St. Francis Xavier Church located off Route 243, near Leonardtown, Maryland was constructed in 1766 to replace an earlier 1662 church near this same site.

Architecturally significant and rare are its two octagonal shaped brick ends.

St. Francis is the oldest Catholic Church in continuous use in English-speaking America and today occupies a site on a 700 acre modern Jesuit farm off of Newtown Bay.

Its setting conveys the feeling of isolation that must have been present in the Colonial period, and its survival shows the dedication and spirituality of the southern Maryland Catholic community.

St. Francis Xavier Church
(Photo by Ron Patterson)

St. Andrews Episcopal Parish
Route 4, St. Mary's County
(Photo by Ron Patterson)
St. Andrews Episcopal Church

In April, 1766, two acres of land, called Waldrums' Old Field, were purchased from Samuel Bellwood for five pounds currency as a site for a new church - St. Andrew's Episcopal Parish. Little is known of the architect of the church, Richard Boulton. He was an indentured servant to Colonel George Plate of Sotterley Plantation, an important parishioner of St. Andrew's, and crafted the woodwork at Sotterley.

The only other building known to have been constructed by Boulton is All Faith Church near Charlotte Hall. Boulton designed the church’s brick exterior with an unusual inset portico, a large Palladian window, and two towers.

The interior features balconies, and original box pews. A hand-lettered altarpiece, or reredos, was painted in 1771, and is one of three surviving in the country. St. Andrew's Church was entered on the National Register of Historic Places on March 14, 1973.

St. Mary's City

Historic St. Mary's City is now a living history museum covering some 800 acres on the riverfront.

Early in the 17th century, the Calverts were granted a charter to what is now the state of Maryland. A group of adventurers set off for the Chesapeake on the Ark and the Dove to establish the first settlement and new capital of the colony, which they called St. Mary’s City. The Calverts instituted a progressive policy of liberty of conscience, allowing people of varied faiths to freely worship in Maryland. The second half of the century was St. Mary’s heyday, marked by a strong tobacco economy and growth in population. Late in the century there was a revolution, and the city was abandoned and sank back into the soil from which it had arisen.

The original buildings have been reconstructed in skeletal form. At Historic St. Mary's City, colorful costumed interpreters in recreated 17th-century settings tell the stories of Maryland's first years, when St. Mary's was the colony's capital.

The Maryland Dove
Replica of the 17th Century
(Photo by Ron Patterson)

Outdoor exhibits include the reconstructed State House of 1676, Smith's Ordinary, and the Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation, a working colonial farm. Also included are a replica of the square-rigger The Dove, a number of reconstructed buildings, archealogical digs, and a museum and presentation center.

Chef Loic Jaffres holds the
certification of his induction into the
Academie Culinaire de France.
(Photo Courtesy Café Des Artistes)

Located on Leonardtown's town square, Café des Artistes is an unexpected delight and a "real find" for locals and tourists alike.

Under the direction of master chef and owner Loic Jaffres, the restaurant offers classic French dining and daily specials featuring local ingredients. (This restaurant had been highly recommended to us by Lynn Marlin, a partner in the Scarlet Fox antique shop in Alexandria, VA.)

Chef Jaffres credentials include Commandeur des Cordons Bleus de France and Academie Culinaire de France. We stopped in on a warm, sunny Friday towards the end of the lunch hour to find the restaurant still busy with local diners.

The dining room is decorated in an eclectic style featuring many displays of eye catching "fun" items and an unusual collection of old cameras on the east wall.

According to the restaurant's website www.cafedesartistes.ws, evening diners are treated to musical entertainment. Reservations are recommended for dinner.

We began our meal with a classic Caesar salad (complete with anchovy filets) and a hearty black bean soup (that day's special). Both appetizers were fresh, well seasoned, and delicious.

One of that day's entrée specials was a chicken pasta dish composed of grilled chicken breast served over hearts of palm and linguine and flavored with classic herbs and sun-dried tomatoes. The large portion was excellent, well seasoned, and as good as anything one would expect in a Washington area French restaurant. The other order was a fresh Maryland crab cake served on a flakey croissant and dressed with fresh sauce. There was no filler in the perfectly seasoned crab cake which allowed the fresh crab flavor to shine. The sandwich was accompanied by hot French fries.

We sampled two desserts - a crème brulee (excellent) and that day's special, a chocolate fondant (chocolate pastry covering a wonderful chocolate mousse) - which was mouthwatering and delicious - a real chocolate lover's delight.

Our Rating (Five Chefs is Highest)

During our visit to the North End Gallery on April 12, 2014, we asked the staff about restaurants in downtown Leonardtown since we had just walked past Café des Artistes and found that they were closed until 5:00 pm on Saturdays.

We were referred to a couple of locations, one of which was The Front Porch.

Located in the heart of the town square in Leonardtown, the restaurant turned out to be located in an impressive two-story, three bay Italianate-style house. As explained on their web site, the Sterling House, originally constructed in the 1850's, was purchased in 1911 by Lynwood J. and Ruth E. Sterling who then constructed a significant addition to the house.

Because of their growing family, the Sterling’s built a Queen-Anne style turret as well as a rear kitchen. This grand estate was home to the Sterling family and their seventeen children and remained in the family until 2005.

The Front Porch Restaurant
Downtown Leonardtown
(Photo Courtesy Front Porch)

Purchased in 2006, the restoration and renovation into a restaurant was meant to capture and preserve the homes earlier integrity and beauty. Numerous details of the home have remained. Hardwood floors, pocket doors, staircase, moldings and banister are original along with the transoms to the upstairs dining rooms; while the mantels and porch columns are modern replicas of profiles to the Italianate-style house. The stately exterior was revealed during the remodeling as the peeled façade exposed the depression era yellow siding, top wall decoration scarred from corbel brackets and layers of paint on shutters present the house to its former grandeur.

Now to the Food

Our day in Leonardtown was a perfect Spring surprise - sunny, high in the 70s with a slight cooling breeze. This was so appropriate for our meal outside on the grand porch. There was a good crowd (nearly all tables were filled when we arrived) - couples and families, all of whom were enjoying themselves. This restaurant is open, superbly clean, comfortable and friendly. There are dining areas inside the house as well as on the porch - beautifully decorated.

Black Angus Cheesburger
(Photo Courtesy Front Porch)

The lunch menu was more than just typical, and not a bit overly ambitious - crab, rockfish and salmon entries, along with wraps, fries, burgers, salads, etc. We noted that plates passing us on the way to other diners' tables contained large burgers and fresh looking salads. We opted for one of the specials (a Cuban Sandwich) and the Black Angus Cheesburger. For starters, we selected two soups - the Vegetarian Gluten Free Soup and the Seasonal Crab Soup. Both soups were superb.

The Black Angus Cheeseburger is advertised as "All natural, local, grass-fed, hand-formed 8 oz. beef patty grilled & served with cheddar, bacon, lettuce, tomato, & sweet red onion on grilled brioche" and came with a side of large really, really good French Fries. The "Cuban Sandwich" was stuffed with ham, pulled pork, pickle and mustard on ciabiatta bread, and also came with the French Fries side.

Both sandwiches were prepared with care and were hot just like you should expect. The burger was a very pleasant surprise - the beef was tasty, the bacon crispy but not overly so, and the lettuce, tomato and onion were fresh and very good. The grilled brioche bun was the right size and a fitting consistency for a juicy filling - yum!! The Cuban sandwich was fresh and filling - loaded with sweet ham, flavorful pulled pork, pickles, mustard and cheese. Unlike most Cuban sandwiches, this one was not grilled - but all the fresh flavors pleased the palate.

OK, the entrees were great "comfort food" selections, but were far above what you might expect from such a menu. The sweet tea was right on. The wait staff was polite, efficient, attentive and welcoming - what more could you ask? We had been cautioned that there would be a "wait" for the Entrées, but such was not the case today.

We usually do not review and rate eating establishments after only one visit, but we were sufficiently impressed with The Front Porch to add them to our highly recommended list. And, you can bet your bottom dollar that we will return for their Entrées and Desserts.

Our Rating (Five Chefs is Highest)

While certainly not in the same class as the Café des Artistes or The Front Porch, Bert's 50's Diner is, as they say, a "real hoot!" Bert's is just inside the St. Mary's County line in Mechanicsville on Route 5. It's really impossible to miss. With a car on top of the structure and a juke box decorating the exterior, this diner welcomes you to the bygone time of the 1950s.

The indoor decor, food, drinks (no alcohol served), clientele (having a super 50's time), all rush you back to a kinder, gentler time where Elvis had not yet left the building. The only thing irritatingly suggestive of the present was the Keno screen in the smoking room.

We had sweet Iced Tea (sweet being an understatement), a bowl of chili (they don't serve a cup), vegetable soup, a Bar-B-Cue Sandwich with French Fries, and a Country Cheeseburger with onion rings. As is the case in most burger joints these days (and many restaurants of all sorts), the sandwiches and side order portions were far too large, but genuinely tasty. The service was polite and efficient.

Bert's 50's Diner
Bert's 50's Diner
28760 Three Notch Rd./Route 5
Mechanicsville, Maryland
(Photo by Ron Patterson)

Our Rating (Five Chefs is Highest)