We drove from Chincoteague to Saxis Island yesterday. Although it was only twenty miles, it felt a world away. Saxis Island is on the Chesapeake Bay and is actually a peninsula connected to the mainland by the Saxis Wildlife Management Area, a 5,500 acre network of pines, marshland and creeks.
On Saxis we met Jim Matthews, Vice-Chairperson of the Saxis Island Museum. To understand the vibe of the island one only needs to see the sign in a window at the museum that instructs potential visitors to call Jim's number so he can drive two minutes from his house to open up if a staff member is not there. He gave us an amazing overview of the museum and island. The museum building used to be one of the general stores serving the local residents. At its peak the island had 600 residents.
Photo of Saxis Island Museum by Sherry Williams
The current population of Saxis is around 200. It's easy to feel the culture of this place disappearing and washing away on the shores of modernity. Luckily, the museum is working on an audio and video history of the island, interviewing many of the old timers who live on this tiny spit of land. Despite the dwindling population, it is still a center of seafood harvesting. Below is a clip of a video we shot of Jim at the Saxis Museum talking about the Saxis history project.
After the museum we had lunch at Martha's Kitchen. Located right on the dock where they haul in crabs , it is a short walk to the main marina which is teeming with boats that work the water.
Sherry Williams and Jim Matthews in front of Martha's Kitchen, Saxis Island
I was thinking to order fries or coleslaw with the soft shell crab sandwich, but Martha cautioned softly, yet emphatically,: "I wouldn't advise that." I was not quite sure what she was meaning to say. But I heeded her advice as I knew she was the boss and I was getting the soft shell crab sandwich she made for me.
Martha in front of her handmade signs at her little cafe on the Chesapeake Bay.
I'm glad I listened to Martha because the soft shell crab "sandwich" was a half dozen soft shell crabs piled on a plate with a tiny bun. Needless to say, I could not nearly eat the whole plate of insanely delicious crabs, so we took the rest away in a tin to eat later in the day.
A whole lot of crabs for one crab sandwich at Martha's on Saxis Island
Shout out to the Shore Seafood Company on Saxis Island. We hear they have an abundance of freshly harvested soft shell crabs and can ship them anywhere. If you ever want a regular source of top quality American harvested seafood, this is the place to order them from.
The Eastern Shore of Virginia is a world away from other places on the mainland of the east coast. But within the eastern shore alone, there are more worlds of wonder hidden unto themselves. It's refreshing to discover such pockets of quietly vibrant community, all with distinct character and flavor.
We're in Onancock now at the Charlotte Hotel. We'll be telling you more about this other world within the world of the shore in the next few days.
Copyright Paul E McGinniss 2017