The North-South running inlet off of the Chesapeake Bay, called Fishing Creek got its name as the wetlands bordering the 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 the area 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 were stored in a small harbor called Oyster Harbor. On the NW side of the harbor was an oyster processing plant. Oyster Creek allowed Oystermen to store their catch while waiting for market prices to move in their favor.
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, and finally lost in the 1870s. 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, 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: http://ohcapiers.blogspot.com/2013/11/changes-in-oyster-harbor-shoreline-1825.html
In the late 1800s and early 1900s the peninsula east of Annapolis, including the area around Fishing Creek “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, whites were not the only ones to capitalize on the flight from the city. In 1922, the Bay Ridge Realty Co. successfully developed our area into a resort community. By 1929, 214 summer lots had been sold in what is now the Oyster Harbor and Arundel on the Bay Communities.
Arundel on the Bay and Oyster Harbor provided summer and year-round homes for African American families. 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, Arundel on the Bay and Oyster Harbor, 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 Oyster Harbor, 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 Oyster Harbor area.
The area was not annexed, when Eastport was annexed into the City of Annapolis in 1951, but Anne Arundel County leaders incorporated Oyster Harbor to ensured roads and utilities were improved as the population grew.
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 mostly lower income homes 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.
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.
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.
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 the dog/dinghy launch beach area has been improved.
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 dinks 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.
We would like copies of your photos of Oyster Harbor! If you have historic, or recent photos of Oyster Harbor, or if you take photos in the future that you think would be a good historic reference for our Community, you can upload them here.