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Cobb Island:
The Water Offers
An Everyday Escape

By Patrice Gaines
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 20, 1994

When Charles E. Stine feels like taking a vacation, he steps out his back door with a can of beer and a cigar, pulls up a lawn chair and sits, sometimes for hours, staring at the calm waters of Neale Sound.

If Stine is hungry, he might walk out to his pier and pull in the baskets he uses to catch crabs. On a good day, he and his wife will feast on tender crab meat. Later, Stine, 67, might hop on one of his boats and cruise down the Potomac River or over to Captain John’s Restaurant.

Water. Breathtaking sunsets. Crabs. This is everyday fare for Stine, a longtime resident of Cobb Island, a quaint and quiet community in Maryland’s Charles County. Cobb Island is a 290-acre triangle surrounded by water—the Wicomico River on one side, the Potomac on another and Neale Sound on the third—not to be confused with Cobb Island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

“I’ve been halfway ‘round the world, but I love to come back here,” said Stine, who goes outside each morning to feed the ducks shortly after waking at 4 a.m. “I sit at the pier and think I own the world.”

Delores Stine, his wife of 47 years, does not share his love of the water, but she relishes “the peace and quiet here.”

When the Stines built their bungalow on the waterfront in 1947, the cost was $5,000. Today, prices vary greatly on the island and on the adjacent mainland, also called Neale Sound. Most of the estimated 250 houses on Cobb Island were built on lots 25 feet wide and 150 feet long, though over the years some people have built on two adjoining lots.

Of course, the price depends on whether the property is on the waterfront, and also on the condition and size of the house, both of which vary greatly, too. Jackie White, a real estate agent for ReMax in Waldorf, said averages run from $89,000 for a bungalow away from the water and in need of a lot of work to $250,000 for a three-bedroom house on the waterfront.

The island, once populated mostly by local, longtime residents, has become popular with people who move from Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, White said. Boaters who work in the metropolitan area are attracted to the island because it is a 90-minute drive from Washington, she said.

Houses stay in families for generations, though there always seem to be a few on the market.

The first recorded history of Cobb Island shows that in 1642, it was owned by James Neale, a ship captain whose speciality was capturing Spanish treasure ships in the West Indies. Confiscated Spanish dollars were cut into “cobbs,” coins used by the colonists, thus giving the island its name.

In 1889 George Vickers built the island’s first permanent home and began farming. Vickers had bought the island with $5,000 he won on an election bet. A historic marker on the island also commemorates the first transmission using electronic magnetic waves, which occurred on Cobb Island in 1900.

By 1922 roads were built and a development was started.

Charles Stine, known as “Charlie” to friends, was an early Cobb resident, moving there after his father and six uncles bought property. Stine, then 15, later bought 10 lots at $25 apiece, paying a mortgage of $2.50 a month.

Today, many of the homes have custom-made nameplates hanging out front—Wave Crest, Home Port, Bee Nest and Lone Jack, to name a few. The community includes two popular seafood restaurants, a Baptist church, a volunteer fire department, bar, grocery store and post office.

Stine gives his address as “the first house on the right, across the bridge, behind the store.” Visitors have no trouble finding him. Inside his house, memories hang on the living room walls: a black-and-white photo of one of the Stine daughters cutting the ribbon to open the bridge to the island; and politicians with Stine, who is president of the Democratic Club, which he started in 1974.

“There used to be a firemen’s parade every summer, and there would be so many people I thought the island would sink,” laughed Delores Stine, who moved to Cobb Island when she was 5.

Seven years ago Charlie Stine retired from Southern Maryland Oil Co., for which he drove a tanker. Since then he takes his vacation in his yard, any time he wants.

There’s a part of Delores Stine that longs for the days when she knew everybody in town. “When somebody hit hard times, people pulled together,” she said. “Now there are some strangers.”

One of her complaints has always been that “there’s nothing for young people to do,” such as going to the movies or hanging at a mall. And while the elementary and middle schools are nine miles away, the high school is 22 miles away in LaPlata. There’s no hospital close by and the nearest drugstore is in LaPlata.

“We still have to help each other because there are not that many of us,” Charlie Stine said. “You don’t hear of any fighting down here.”

Across the water from the Stines’ home is Captain John’s Crab House, a well-known eatery that draws locals in their boats and city dwellers in their cars.

Christine Yates and her husband run the restaurant, which her father built in 1963. Yates, 54, moved to Cobb Island, to the spot where the restaurant stands, when she was 13 years old.

“It hasn’t changed much,” said Yates, who now lives on Neale Sound, the neighborhood across the small bridge from Cobb Island. “There are more people living here year-round... . Now more people leave the island to go to work and come back in the evening. Once, if you went to the grocery store, it was a project because you had to stop and talk to everyone.”

Two of Yates’s three children remained on the island to raise their own families. She remembers how some of the parents tried hard to get a playground for the children but wound up settling for what the island had to offer naturally.

“Children here fish, crab and boat,” Yates said. “Kids here learn about the water. Basically, Cobb Island means peace and quiet for everybody, adults and kids.”

“A good place to cool out,” is how the area was described by Floretta D. McKenzie, a former superintendent of D.C. public schools who is now an education consultant.

McKenzie’s brick hideaway is on Neale Sound, too, but as everyone in the area knows, it’s hard to tell where the island ends and the neighborhood on the Sound begins.

McKenzie has owned her year-round retreat since 1983, after she fell in love with the area while visiting friends.

“It’s not so clannish, like some communities... . It’s not ostentatious or too built-up,” said McKenzie, whose house backs up to the wetlands. “Here, you don’t have to be a member of any group; you can just be.”

“I feel safe here,” McKenzie added. "You can walk to the restaurant, the store. You can sleep with your windows open—and the air is good."

“It’s close enough that you can leave Washington, go down and come back in the same day, if you want. It’s a pretty drive; you see vegetable stands on the way. It seems to me, when I hit the road going down there, I start feeling better.”

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