EVEN DURING the sunniest of beach vacations, you can sour on sun, sand, and salt water taffy. But not far from the boardwalks of Rehoboth and Ocean City, you can discover the Eastern Shore's other life, the one that began more than 350 years ago with the arrival of the first settlers. From the 18th-century plantations of Salisbury, to the fine river houses of Chestertown and the extravagant mansions of Princess Anne, you can learn about life when water was the major mode of transportation, tobacco a main crop and Indian problems a recent memory. SNOW HILL
For a sense of contemporary, small-town Eastern Shore living, drive to Snow Hill, population 2,200, on the banks of the Pocomoke River just 25 miles from Ocean City. Named for a section of London in 1642 and designated a port of entry in 1706, Snow Hill is now the Worcester County seat. It has a quaint, scrubbed-clean feel and a hundred historic homes dating from the 1800s, as well as several huge Victorian delights. There are more than enough gracious federal and turn-of-the- century homes along West Federal, East Market, Division and North Church streets to make for an enjoyable walking or driving tour.
For a welcome antidote to beach hotels and condominiums, try the Snow Hill Bed and Breakfast Inn. Newly opened in a house built in three parts between 1790 and 1850, Snow Hill Inn offers five guest rooms, each decorated with a different theme. Some favorites include the Victorian room with its high carved bed and private bath, and the Dr. John S. Aydelotte room (named after the prominent physician who once owned the house), with five windows and a rolled-edge country oak bed. Furnished with many turn-of-the-century oak pieces, the inn offers a comfortable rather than elegant ambiance that matches the informal pace of this small town.
SNOW HILL -- From Ocean City take U.S. 50 west to U.S. 113 south to Snow Hill. Walking tour brochures are available at the Julia A. Purnell Museum at 208 West Market Street or by writing Lois Shockley, 107 Franklin St., Snow Hill, MD 21863. 301/632-2677. Shockley, director of Colonial Tours Inc., can arrange escorted day trips of the area that include a tour of the 1829 Nassawango Iron Furnace and lunch at the local country club.
SNOW HILL INN -- 104 East Market Street, Snow Hill, MD 21863. Rates of $36 to $46 include continental breakfast. (Lunches should be available beginning sometime around the end of the month.) One room only has a private shower. 301/632-2102. Call ahead for reservations. PRINCESS ANNE
For a sense of the 18th century, visit Princess Anne, a small town on the Manokin River, whose jewel is the Teackle Mansion. This house is a young man's fantasy; despite its 24 rooms and 200-foot width, the house suddenly appears mirage-like through the shade trees of Mansion Street, an incongruous sight next to the simple frame houses that line the mansion's former drive. But Littleton Dennis Teackle's vision will interest you.
Teackle was already a rich man at 21 when he sailed up the Cheasapeake from Virginia in 1798. With a fortune made in shipping and lumber, Teackle wanted to build an extravagant home. In 1801 he started building a replica of a Scottish manor house on 18 acres along the Manokin River.
He insisted on elaborate pargetting, a type of plaster work with swirls marked with pennies -- some of the pennies used in this house date to 1797. And he had drawing room windows designed to reflect the sun and he planted gardens that stretched to the river.
A visit to this house gives you a clear idea of just how a wealthy businessman might have lived in this once-busy port. Note the mansion's symmetry. The north and south wings contain matching rooms and, whenever possible, doors and windows are balanced. The symmetry was adopted in deference to Thomas Jefferson, a business associate of Teackle's, who later commissioned him to provide lumber for the fleet fighting the War of 1812.
Like many local restorations, this house is eclectically furnished with donations. There's an 1807 English table piano, an 1800 Chinese lacquered screen, a Gothic pipe organ, a doll collection, early tools and a trundle bed. But you'll probably enjoy the mansion more for its fantasy than furniture. Teackle, unfortunately, lost his fortune and the mansion when the Barbary pirates plundered his Mediterranean fleet and died in much more modest accommodations. But you can still admire the view from his drawing room and stroll in his flower garden bordered with boxwood and shaded by tall pecan, maple and locust trees, all the while imagining his young man's world of entrepreneurial wealth.
In Princess Anne you can also take a walking tour of the many 17th- There's Tunstall Cottage (Broad Street and Lower Alley), the oldest building, dating to 1733; and for up-to-date refreshment, there's the 1744 Washington Hotel (Somerset Avenue), whose two side-by-side staircases, one for the ladies and one for the gentleman, enabled the ladies to ascend without the embarrassment of showing their ankles. St. Andrew's Episcopal Church (Church Street), built in 1770, still has its slave gallery. The graves of Teackle and his wife Elizabeth are in the churchyard.
PRINCESS ANNE -- From Snow Hill, locals suggest you avoid the direct route through the Pocomoke Woods with its unmarked roads. Instead, take U.S. 113 south to Pocomoke City, and U.S. 13 north into Princess Anne. Walking tour brochures are available at the mansion or you can write Teackle Mansion, P.O. Box 242, Princess Anne, MD 21853; or call Catherine Ricketts 301/651-0393 or John Jeffries 301/651-1705; or try the Somerset County Tourist Bureau, 301/651-2968.
TEACKLE MANSION -- Mansion and Prince William streets, Princess Anne. Open Sunday 2 to 4, or by appointment. Call John Jeffries, 301/651-1705. Admission $2, children under 12 free but must be accompanied by parents. Teackle Mansion may be rented for special occasions.
OLDE PRINCESS ANNE DAYS -- Many of the town's historic homes are open to the public during the town festival, Olde Princess Anne Days, October 12 and 13. For information, contact Ricketts or the Somerset County Tourist Bureau. SALISBURY
There's more to Salisbury than Perdue chicken and pit stops on the way back from the beach. There's Pemberton Hall, Poplar Hill and Newtown Historic District, all chapters in Eastern Shore history from colonial times to its Victorian heyday.
At first glance Pemberton Hall, a modest two-story brick house, looks disappointingly like a small Dutch colonial in Colesville. But look again. Built in 1741, or possibly 1747 -- the last numeral of the dating brick is indeterminate -- Pemberton Hall reveals much about Eastern Shore colonial life, including its wealth.
It's not an elaborate home of the famous and wealthy, says Bob McFarlin, a local physician who has been instrumental in Pemberton's restoration. Rather, the home is a typical medium-size plantation house, few of which remain on the Eastern Shore.
Despite its small size, Pemberton housed the privileged: Issac and Anne Handy and their nine children. While the average planter owned 40 to 50 acres, the Handys owned 1,300 acres. "By contrast," notes McFarlin, "you can see how poorly the average person must have lived."
Inside and out, Pemberton Hall depicts 18th-century Eastern Shore life with its dependence on the river, in this case the Wicomico. Handy's landing, a busy port from which Handy shipped tobacco to England and grain to Barbados, led to the creation of Salisburytown.
Typical 18th-century architectural trademarks include the "black diapering" or diamond pattern on the Flemish bond brickwork and the division of the house into a Great Hall, where the family met the outside world, and a chamber room, a parlor or dining room.
The house's woodwork alone is worth the trip. The Great Hall, unfurnished like the rest of the house, has typical 18th- century beaded beams and fielded paneling, as well as a barrel- backed cupboard and unique arched doorways. Pemberton Hall is the centerpiece of a major private and county effort to establish a historical park depicting 18th-century life. Future plans include a fishing pond, recreation of Handy's pier and recitals of 18th-century music.
Now on 63 of the acres where Handy grew tobacco, flax and cotton and cut pine and cypress for barrel staves and ships, you can walk to the Wicomico River along trails bordered by dogwood, pine, cedar and cypress.
While in Salisbury, stop by Poplar Hill, built a half-century later. Much larger than Pemberton Hall, but not huge, Poplar Hill testifies to the area's increasing wealth. Major Levin Handy, a distant relative of Issac and Anne's, began the house on his 357-acre plantation around 1804. After his death, a local physician completed the house. It's a typical country frame home with a Georgian center hall. The three downstairs rooms, furnished with period antiques, evoke the style of living of that doctor and gentleman farmer who listed 17 slaves among his property. You can imagine grand parties and summer evening strolls under the magnolia and dogwood.
To get a sense of the plantation's stature, look out the second-floor Palladian window to where the gates of the plantation stood, about five blocks away. In those five blocks you'll see a century ahead of the good doctor's mansion. There, on what used to be Poplar Hill's grounds, is Newtown, Salisbury's historic district of gracious Victorian homes rebuilt after a disastrous 1886 fire. Newtown housed the turn-of-the-century wealthy who grew prosperous with agriculture, industry and the railroad link that sent produce and seafood to Baltimore, Philadelphia and Richmond. Enjoy a walking tour of these turreted and gabled beauties built at the foot of Poplar Hill by Salisbury's prominent Victorian merchants, doctors and lawyers and restored by Salisbury's new resident professionals.
SALISBURY -- From Princess Anne take U.S. 13 north about 11 miles to Salisbury. For more information, contact the places suggested below, or the Wicomico County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Civic Center, Salisbury MD 21801. 301/546-3466.
PEMBERTON HALL -- From U.S. 50 in Salisbury, take Route 349 West a short distance to a left onto Pemberton Drive. Continue two miles to Pemberton Hall entrance gate on left. Open May to October on Sundays from 2 to 4, and by appointment. The house can be rented for special occasions. No fee, but donation suggested. For more information, phone or call Dr. Robert McFarlin, 313 Lemmon Hill Lane, Salisbury MD. 301/749-0124.
POPLAR HILL MANSION -- 117 Elizabeth Street, Salisbury MD 21801. Open Sunday 1 to 4, and by appointment. It's a good idea to call first. 301/749-1776. Donation suggested. From the center of Salisbury, turn left onto Elizabeth Street. May be rented for special occasions.
NEWTOWN HISTORIC DISTRICT surrounds the Poplar Hill Mansion. For a tour, walk or drive through the area bordered on the north by Elizabeth and Oakdale avenues, on the east by U.S. 13, on the south by Broad and Chestnut streets, and the west by Mill Street. Walking tour brochures are available at Poplar Hill Mansion, or by contacting the Chamber of Commerce, East Main Street, Salisbury MD 21801. 301/749-0144. During the Newtown Festival, October 5, many of these homes will be open to the public for $3 a ticket for guided tours. For more information about Newtown, contact R. Neill Carey, president, Newtown Association, 301/742-5281. CAMBRIDGE
From Salisbury head for Cambridge, which was settled in the late 1600s and prospered on Choptank River trade. At Long Wharf where the locals dock their pleasure boats, 18th-century traders once bought tobacco, seafood and muskrat pelts. Be sure to walk down cobblestoned High Street to the Choptank River where you can best sense the 18th century. Rows of proper 18th-es delight the eye. From the water, take Mill Street to Locust Street to complete the tour of gracious homes.
As always on the Eastern Shore, the oldest and wealthiest homes were situated on the water. Take a drive to 1500 Hambrooks Boulevard (at Queen Anne Street) for a glimpse of Glasgow, a stately, privately owned, 18th-century plantation house whose grounds formerly stretched ahead to the Choptank. Or drive out Hatswap Street and turn right at Manito Drive to pass by Algonquin, an impressive, privately owned colonial revival home on the Choptank built in 1819.
While in Cambridge, stop by Meredith House, the home of the Dochester County Historical Society. Surrounded as it is by contemporary homes, Meredith House looks out of place and suburban rather than the regal late 18th-century plantation home that it was. Upstairs, children will enjoy the array of old dolls sitting in baby buggies. Outside, note the old smokehouse, reputed to be the oldest building in the county. Nearby, an 18th-century herb garden decorates the front of the Neild Museum, a long barn-like structure that exhibits old agricultural and maritime items such as an original McCormick reaper and a 19th-century racing scully.
CAMBRIDGE -- From Salisbury, take U.S. 50 east about 40 miles to Cambridge. Walking tour brochures are available from the Chamber of Commerce, U.S. 50 at Sunburst Highway, or write Dorchester County Tourism, P.O. Box 307, Cambridge MD 21613. 301/228-3244. For High Street area, take Route 343 into town, to right on High Street.
MEREDITH HOUSE & NEILD MUSEUM -- are three blocks east of Route 50 on Maryland Avenue Extended. From 50 East, turn right at the light before the Choptank River, onto Maryland Avenue Extended. Turn left when the road ends, and continue a short distance to Meredith House, Home of Dorchester County Historical Society. Tours, $2 per person, include Neild Museum and are by appointment. Call Dorchester County Historical Society, 301/228-7953, or write P.O. Box 361, Cambridge MD 21613. Dorchester County Historical Society Harvest Festival will be held September 28, with special events at Meredith House.
Any historic Eastern Shore trip should include a walk through Chestertown. This busy 18th-century port and provider of munitions in the Revolutionary War still has a fine federal flair. For fashionable houses, it's High Street again, with its 18th-century Flemish bond brick houses built by wealthy businessmen. And don't miss Emmanuel Church with its purple and green Tiffany window. Just before High Street reaches the Chester River, turn to walk along Water Street, whose fashionable houses proclaim the prosperity of the early Republic.
You can tour the Geddes-Piper House, a four-story Philadelphia-style townhouse, built around 1740 by the town's customs collector. Furnished pleasingly with 18th-century pieces such as a Chippendale desk and a 1725 Irish breakfront displaying 40 Chinese teapots, the home recreates a house of moderate wealth. Be sure to walk downstairs to see the original kitchen with its open-hearth fireplace.
If you've become enamored of the past, Chestertown offers several inns where you can stay in period lodgings. The White Swan Tavern on High Street, built in 1733 with an addition in 1795, offers five rooms, four pleasingly decorated with colonial furniture and one with Victorian. The newly renovated Imperial Hotel, also on High Street, offers Victorian ambience complete with potted palms and pink azaleas in the hall. Just outside of town on 10 acres, The Inn at Mitchell House, built in 1743, offers six guest rooms furnished with 19th-century spool beds, trunks and blanket chests.
As an added bonus, you might drop by the huge auction held every Wednesday at Dixon's Furniture Inc. in nearby Crumpton, about 10 miles northeast of Chestertown at the intersection of Rtes. 544 and 290. From about 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. auctioneers sell off six fields of merchandise, from junk to collectibles to antiques -- "anything legal except livestock," is the way they describe it.
CHESTERTOWN -- From Cambridge, take U.S. 50 east to 213 north to Chestertown. It's about 55 miles from Cambridge. Walking tour brochures are available at the Geddes-Piper House or the Chamber of Commerce, 118 North Cross Street, Chestertown, open mornings only. 301/778-0416. Historic Homes in Chestertown are open during the town's annual candlelight tour, September 21, and during the Spring House and Garden Pilgrimage, first Saturday in May.
GEDDES-PIPER HOUSE -- 101 Church Alley. Walk down High Street to the river, turn left on Lawyer's Row and right on Church Alley. Open May to October on Saturdays and Sundays, 1 to 4 and by appointment. $1 admission. Contact Katherine M. DeProspo, Director/Curator, Geddes-Piper House, or the Historical Society of Chestertown, P.O. Box 665, Chestertown, MD 21620. 301/778-3499.
THE INN AT MITCHELL HOUSE -- Box 329, R.D. 2, Tolchester Estates, Chestertown, MD 21620. Rates $55 to $75. 301/778-6500.
WHITE SWAN TAVERN -- 231 High Street, Chestertown, MD 21620. Rates $75 to 90. 301/778-2300.
THE IMPERIAL HOTEL -- 208 High Street, Chestertown, MD 21620. 301/778-5000. Rates $95 for rooms, $200 or $300 for suites.