Smith Island, Maryland

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Smith Island, Maryland
Harbor at Ewell
Harbor at Ewell
Flag of Smith Island, Maryland
"The Island" "The Rock"
Somerset County Maryland Incorporated and Unincorporated areas Smith Island Highlighted.svg
Coordinates: 37°58′35″N 76°02′29″W / 37.976282°N 076.0414959°W / 37.976282; -076.0414959Coordinates: 37°58′35″N 76°02′29″W / 37.976282°N 076.0414959°W / 37.976282; -076.0414959
Country United States
State Maryland
County Somerset
 • Total9.2 sq mi (23.8 km2)
 • Land4.5 sq mi (11.5 km2)
 • Water4.7 sq mi (12.2 km2)
0 ft (0 m)
 • Total276[1]
 • Density81.7/sq mi (31.6/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)
FIPS code24-72887
GNIS feature ID1852600

Smith Island is an island on the Chesapeake Bay, on the border of Maryland and Virginia territorial waters in the United States.

On its Maryland side, Smith Island is a census-designated place (CDP) in Somerset County. It is included in the Salisbury, Maryland-Delaware Metropolitan Statistical Area.


Smith Island lies approximately 10 miles (16 km) west of Crisfield, Maryland, across the Tangier Sound portion of the Chesapeake Bay. The island consists of three communities, namely Ewell, Tylerton and Rhodes Point, which all sit on the Maryland portion of the island. The Virginia portion is currently uninhabited, although it once contained many homes of early settlers.

The island has been shrinking in recent decades due to rising sea levels. In the last 150 years, Smith Island has lost over 3,300 acres (13 km2) of wetlands.

In order to prevent the island from being lost, restoration efforts will be ongoing for the next 50 years to restore 1,900 acres (8 km2) of submerged aquatic vegetation and 240 acres (1 km2) of wetlands.[2]


The community is located in a small town-area in the central part of the island, spread across the three inhabited locations of Ewell, Rhodes Point and Tylerton, all located in the state of Maryland. The northern part of Smith Island also includes the Martin National Wildlife Refuge. The southernmost portion of the island consisting of marsh lies in Accomack County, Virginia.

As of the 2010 Census, there were 276 people residing in the CDP. The population density was 81.7 inhabitants per square mile (31.5/km2). There were 218 housing units at an average density of 57.5 per square mile (22.2/km2). The racial makeup of the CDP was 99.6% White, 0.82% African American, 0.27% Native American, and 0.82% from two or more races. 51% of Smith Island's residents were English, 4% Greek, 3% Irish, 3% Scottish, and 3% French.[3]

There were 167 households, out of which 19.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 60.5% were married couples living together, 4.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.9% were non-families. 29.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 16.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.18 and the average family size was 2.69.

In the CDP, the population was spread out, with 14.6% under the age of 18, 5.5% from 18 to 24, 22.3% from 25 to 44, 34.6% from 45 to 64, and 23.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 50 years. For every 100 females, there were 95.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.8 males.

The median income for a household in the CDP was $26,324, and the median income for a family was $29,375. Males had a median income of $26,250 versus $28,750 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $25,469. About 14.4% of families and 37.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 26.9% of those under age 18 and 67.9% of those age 65 or over.


Smith Island has no airport and no bridges to the mainland; it can be accessed only by boat. Passenger-only ferries connect Smith Island at Ewell to Point Lookout, Maryland, and Reedville, Virginia, on the Western shore of the Chesapeake Bay (seasonal) and from Crisfield, Maryland, on its Eastern Shore (year-round). A daily passenger ferry also runs between Crisfield, Maryland, and the smaller island of Tylerton, Maryland.

Few motor vehicles exist on the island's settlements. Main modes of transportation include golf carts as well as non-motorized transportation.

History and language[edit]

An 18-year-old male from Smith Island talking to a female interviewer about the erosion of Smith Island. (circa 1984)

British settlers arrived on the island in the 17th century, arriving from Cornwall, Wales,[4] and Dorset, England, via Virginia.[5]

Smith Island is inhabited by one of the region's oldest English-speaking communities, which is known for its relic accent, preserving speech patterns from the original English colonial settlers. The local dialect is like the dialects of the West Country of England and the dialect of Cornwall. The dialect contains some relict features indicative of its origins.[6] The dialect is like the Ocracoke Brogue,[7] sometimes referred to as the Outer Banks Brogue.[8][9]

The Island Belle was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.[10]

Smith Island cake[edit]

Smith Island cake with fresh strawberries on the side

Smith Island has its own region-specific traditional cuisine. The most famous dish is Smith Island cake, similar to the Prinzregententorte, with 8 to 15 thin layers[11] filled with creme, frosting and/or crushed candy bars, and iced with a cooked chocolate icing.

Beginning in the 1800s, Smith Islanders would send these cakes with the watermen on the autumn oyster harvest. The bakers began using fudge instead of buttercream frostings, as cakes frosted with fudge lasted much longer than cakes with other types of frosting.[12]

Smith Island cake is often made using a commercial cake mix but with unusual additions such as condensed milk.[13] It can also be made from scratch using flour.[14] The most common flavor is yellow cake with chocolate icing but other flavors such as coconut, fig, strawberry, lemon, and orange are also common. Known simply as the Smith Island cake, the dessert is baked for any occasion and not reserved only for holidays.[15]

Smith Island cake is also baked as the feature prize for a local fundraising tradition called a cake walk, which is a game played like musical chairs where donated cakes serve as the prize. Great attention is paid to the perfection of the pencil-thin layers that form the distinctive cake.[16] Before each round, the prize Smith Island cake at stake is cut in half and shown to the players who pay to participate in the game. A poorly stacked Smith Island cake may not attract many players and as a result, not raise as much money as a more perfectly executed cake.[17]

On April 24, 2008, Smith Island cake was designated as the official dessert of the state of Maryland.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bureau, U.S. Census. "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  2. ^ US Army Corps of Engineers Archived December 6, 2006, at the Wayback Machine Smith Island, Maryland Environmental Restoration and Protection Project Accessed October 11, 2007
  3. ^ "Smith Island, MD, Ancestry & Family History". Archived from the original on 2015-04-17. Retrieved 2015-04-16.
  4. ^ "Claws and effect". The Daily Telegraph. London. September 13, 2005. Archived from the original on November 22, 2016.
  5. ^ Scheller, William G. (March 12, 2000). "Island of Calm". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
  6. ^ Do You Speak American? by Robert MacNeil, William Cran, Robert McCrum. Page 35 Random House, Inc., 2005 ISBN 0-385-51198-1
  7. ^ The North Carolina Language and Life Project Archived 2010-09-21 at the Wayback Machine Smith Island, MD. Accessed October 11, 2007
  8. ^ Do You Speak American? by Robert MacNeil, William Cran, Robert McCrum. Page 34 Random House, Inc., 2005 ISBN 0-385-51198-1
  9. ^ Hoi Toide on the Outer Banks by Walt Wolfram, Natalie Schilling-Estes, Page 156, UNC Press, 1997 ISBN 0-8078-4626-0
  10. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  11. ^ Adventure Guide to the Chesapeake Bay by Barbara Radcliffe Rogers, Stillman Rogers page 435 Hunter Publishing, Inc, 2001 ISBN 1-55650-889-1
  12. ^ Archived 2012-07-18 at the Wayback Machine The story behind our Smith Island Cakes. Accessed July 6, 2012.
  13. ^ "How Maryland's Official State Cake Got its Stripes". Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  14. ^ Crisfield & Smith Island Cultural Alliance, Inc. Archived 2007-07-01 at the Wayback Machine Smith island Cake
  15. ^ Smith Island Layer Cake Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine from Maryland Traditions
  16. ^ smith island cake history Archived 2011-11-16 at the Wayback Machine from Original Smith Island Cake Company Website. Accessed October, 3o, 2011.
  17. ^ An Island Out of Time: A Memoir of Smith Island in the Chesapeake by Tom Horton, Page 10 W. W. Norton & Company, 1996 ISBN 0-393-03938-2
  18. ^ Smith Island Cake Now Maryland's Official Dessert Archived 2008-05-02 at the Wayback Machine from NewsChannel 8 1:38 pm Thu April 24, 2008 - ANNAPOLIS, Md. Accessed online April 26, 2008

External links[edit]