Oyster Harbor and the land it occupies has a long and rich history. Here we present key points of that history as they pertain to our community.
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The North-South running inlet off of the Chesapeake Bay, called Fishing Creek got its name as the wetlands bordering the once enclosed creek were a prime nursery for every kind of fish that lives in the Bay. Oyster harbor is one of three communities, including Arundel on the Bay, and Fishing Creek Farms, that border Fishing Creek.
Lafayette’s troops camped in what is now Eastport, on their way to defeat the British at Yorktown in 1781. His troops used Fishing Creek as a place to fish.
In 1776, Fort Horn was built between Fishing Creek and the Severn River, to protect Annapolis harbor from invasion by the British fleets during the Revolutionary War and again during the War of 1812.
In the mid to late 1800s oysters and Oysterman’s boats were stored in a small harbor called Oyster Creek. Oyster Creek had a small stream that connected it to the Bay. This allowed African-American Oystermen to store their catch while waiting for market prices to move in their favor. In about 1929, the far side of the creek was incorporated into the 34 home community of Venice Beach.
The U.S. Lighthouse Service built a shore based lighthouse in 1825, on a now submerged spot about 150 yards east of what is now Thomas Point Park. It was rebuilt in 1840 due to erosion from the destruction of the oyster reefs that directed the tidal flow around the point. It was finally lost in the 1870s to the ever increasing erosion. In 1875 the screw-pile Thomas Point Lighthouse was built farther off shore at the end of shallow waters.
The mouth of Fishing Creek originally opened into the South River via a small stream, but after some large storms, it shifted to the entrance it has today. Tides and currents keep trying to fill in the mouth and keep water levels there at only about four feet deep. The Coast Guard maintains the channel into Fishing creek at a working depth of 6’ for its vessels.
In the late 1880s, the lighthouse keeper’s residence was moved to the back end of Fishing Creek to protect it from storms and erosion, and to provide easy access to Annapolis area community markets. This is now the Annapolis Coast Guard station.
For more information on the erosion and sea level rise that changed the end of Fishing Creek and required the light house to be moved, go to our Oyster Harbor Piers Blog.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s the peninsula east of Annapolis “was the place to be.” Resorts were built for vacationing families from the surrounding counties, DC, and parts of Northern Virginia. The first and biggest of these resorts was Bay Ridge just outside Annapolis, known as the “Queen Resort of the Chesapeake.” In its heyday in the early 1900s, visitors arrived by train or steamer to sample the best accommodations, including music and exhibits at the pavilion of Bay Ridge.
The Bay ridge restaurant pavilion could seat 1,600 people at one time with 80 waiters and waitresses. In 1903, only a few years after it was built, the resort went bankrupt. However, the hidden playground had been discovered. Resort visitors of the early 1900s continued to come to the area, and paved the way for a new crop of summer vacationers – summer cottage owners.
While Bay Ridge was a segregated retreat (no Jews or African-Americans were allowed), whites were not the only ones to capitalize on the flight from the city. In 1922, the Bay Ridge Realty Co. successfully developed Highland Beach, which was incorporated as the first African-American municipality in Maryland.
The local resorts of Sparrows Beach and Carr’s Beach were owned by local black families. Big-name entertainers such as Duke Ellington performed there for large crowds who could afford the 25-cent cost of an excursion steamer from Baltimore to Annapolis.
From 1929 when the Great Depression hit the U.S., only a few in Anne Arundel County were affected directly by the crash. Through the Depression years, the Naval Academy, the markets in Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay continued to be steady employers of families living around Fishing Creek. The area did not feel the full impact of the Depression until the early 1930s.
In 1935, the Washington, Baltimore and Potomac Railroad went out of operation. It had been instrumental in bringing summer visitors to resort areas such as Bay Ridge and Highland Beach, and its loss caused a huge drop in real estate values in the area.
In 1937, the Naval Academy received a staggering one million dollars for expansion of Bancroft Hall to relieve overcrowding. The construction project provided numerous jobs. Many African-American workers moved into the area, purchasing the now under-valued summer cottages for year-round living.
World War II brought many more workers into the area to work at the boat yards in Eastport. World War II brought an increase in property values, jobs, and prosperity to the area.
In 1948 two brothers purchased land to begin building what was to become Oyster Harbor. In 1950 they worked with the first landowners to start paperwork to incorporate the community as a Special Benefit Tax District. In January 1951 Oyster Harbor Citizens Association was incorporated.
In the early Spring of 1950, landowners and the builder devised a plan to dig a navigable channel from Oyster Creek to the Bay. The small stream would be filled in, and sand from the channel would be used to create eight lots from the wetlands boundary between the creek and the Bay. The deal worked out for everyone and the work was permitted and completed in the summer of 1950.
Our Community was not annexed, when Eastport was annexed into the City of Annapolis in 1951, but the incorporation of Oyster Harbor laid the framework for roads and utilities to be improved as the population grew. The original roads in Oyster Harbor were oyster shells. Paving was originally done at the personal expense of Mr. Derrick, a homeowner and some of his friends. Mr. Derrick and Mr. Cherry were the primary volunteers in the early years. Their letter writing, complaints to the County Council, and personal expenditures ensured the long term stability of Oyster Harbor.
As jobs moved more towards the cities west and north of Annapolis in the 1960s, the newly available FHA loans allowed Oyster Harbor to expand as a community and more homes could be built. But soon after, the area was strained as jobs faded, and the boat yards in Annapolis began to close.
Oyster Harbor supported a mix of lower income homes and summer cottages until the late 1970s, when the desire for vacation houses began to increase. By the early 1980s cottages reminiscent of those of the late 1920s began to spring up in the community. Growth for Oyster Harbor was slow, but steady through the 1980s and early 1990s as Oyster Harbor begin to attract white homeowners.
In February of 1980 Oyster Harbor submitted an application to dredge the channel, replace fill dirt and perform major repairs to the bulkhead. It was approved and work was completed in the late summer of 1980. Although the channel was maintained fairly well, this was the first big renovation of the channel since it was built in 1950.
In November of 1991 Oyster Harbor had the area on both sides of Oyster Creek surveyed to prepare for replacing the bulkhead and dredging the channel.
The surveyor identified an overlap in the boundaries between Oyster Harbor and Venice Beach. Venice beach wrote a letter that they had no objection to the project One resident filed a complaint and a hearing decided in Oyster Harbor’s favor. Permits were applied for in 1992, were approved, and in late summer of 1992 spoil/sand was shared with Venice Beach, and Highland Beach communities. In 1998, a court order established that the landowner of lot #2 in Venice Beach could not make improvements to block access for the landowner of Lot #6. This finding has allowed us to access the far side of the channel for bulkhead maintenance and mowing.
In the ‘Dotcom’ boom of the mid to late 1990s, the average house size quadrupled. Companies such as US Internetworking, ARINC, and Chesapeake Computing attracted the ‘High Tech” crowd to move to the area as permanent residents. Annapolis was growing fast into a ‘great place to live’ and it was attracting people desiring to live a richer life out farther from DC and Baltimore.
Oyster Harbor took on major projects such as building a small marina and docks for residents to lease. Community property was cleared for parks and the beach was great improved.
In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel came up the Chesapeake Bay and did extensive damage to our community. Fortunately for Oyster Harbor, the Board of Directors has always maintained a properly sized emergency fund for piers, bulkhead maintenance, dredging and other necessary responsibilities of a water front community. Thus, major clean up was accomplished in days, and even with; debris clean-up, replacement of almost every community owned dock, and the rebuilding of the swimming beach, Oyster Harbor did not have to borrow money to pay for construction work.
In 2006 and 2007 the Community did another major renovation to community property. The boat ramp, Booker pier and Harbor lot were significantly upgraded.
In early winter of 2008 a house fire caused the destruction of four homes in Oyster Harbor. High winds and the inability of the fire department to get to water from the Oyster Creek channel prevented them from saving neighboring homes. This fire contributed in the County building a new firehouse was build at the beginning of Arundel on the Bay road.
In October 2010 planning began for replacement of the bulkhead and dredging the Oyster Creek channel. Venice Beach and Oyster Harbor agreed to disbursement of spoil/sand. Work started in the early winter of 2011 and the project was completed in July of 2012. The cost of this project came to approximately $600,000.
In 2015 an exercise circuit course, climbing wall, rope climb, and beach volley ball court were added. Renovations began on the fishing creek pier by there residents who invested a great deal of time into raising the deck 18″ and replacing boards near slips. In 2016 the Fishing Creek pier’s main run was rebuilt after a series of king tides cracked the main support of the pier. The new pier was raised 18″ to match the slip renovation work and allow for the rise of the Chesapeake Bay from wetlands incursion. New electric service to the pier was added n the spring of 2017.
On March 6, 2017 a home on Harbor road was destroyed by a fire.
The fire department was able to stop the fire from spreading too far, but in the end, two neighboring homes received damage, one significantly, and a third had minor damage.
From this fire, Oyster Harbor begin work on a central water tank. This project is underway as of November 2017.
As with all American communities, Oyster Harbor’s history has been a reflection of the state of the nation, and the influence of local economies and culture. Today the three communities; Arundel on the Bay, Oyster Harbor, and Fishing Creek Farms that surround Fishing Creek and comprise most of the peninsula southeast of Annapolis have some of the most vibrant new home construction, and rising real estate prices in the Annapolis area. With the new development of high end condominiums in downtown Annapolis, the desire for quieter, away from the City housing, has brought a surge in interest to Oyster Harbor and Arundel on the Bay homes.
Oyster harbor today is a curious blend of small and large summer cottages, moderate income housing, and huge luxury homes. Many of the smaller houses are being sold to make way for new vacation and year round homes. The average age of homeowners has dropped considerably since 2000 and the number of children and families has increased significantly. A second playground has been added and a three station exercise circuit course was built.
Oyster Harbor now boasts a large swimming beach, three boat piers with slips, a fishing pier, a boat launch ramp, dinghy/kayak launch facilities with space for over 50 paddle boards, canoes or kayaks, and launch areas in Fishing Creek, Oyster Creek and directly into the Chesapeake Bay. New bulkheads, piers, as well as, well maintained channels, gazebos, beaches, and playgrounds make Oyster Harbor one of the best managed and maintained communities in Anne Arundel County.
Regardless of race or income, people have always flocked to Oyster Harbor to be nearer to the richness of life on the Chesapeake Bay.
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