An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

March 9, 2010

Saxis Island

Chesapeake Bay Deadrise

The Chesapeake Bay is ringed with small, picturesque waterfront towns. Many of these places have capitalized on their scenic location, rich histories and close proximity to major population centers to become thriving destinations. Antique filled B&B's, art galleries, coffee shops, sail and kayak rentals and busy restaurants are just some of the attractions in towns full of second homes and weekend getaways.

Saxis, Virginia is not one of these towns.

Matthews Rd.

The town sits on small, narrow Saxis Island and is surrounded on one side by over 5,500 acres of a relatively pristine marsh, laced with small creeks that forms the Saxis Wildlife Management Area. The other side of the island faces the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland at the entrance to Pocomoke Sound. What counts for high ground on Saxis is really no more than a hummock of less wet land and is barely a few feet above sea level. Since suitable land to build on is in short supply, the lots tend to be small and houses are huddled together along the few roads in town.

Red Crab House

Originally known as Sykes Island, the town was settled in the late 1600's, and early resident's livelihoods centered around raising cattle. In the 1800's Saxis became an important source for seafood; fish, crab and especially oysters were plentiful, and the town sent its harvest by steamboat to markets along the Eastern Seaboard. Since the collapse of the oyster industry and with low fish hauls, the 300 people on Saxis today make their living on blue crabs, or by supporting people who do. The harbor is ringed with crab houses where the live crustaceans are sold in their shell or held until they molt providing restaurants with the more lucrative, seasonal delicacy of soft shell crabs. Other than the crab houses there is one small store, a volunteer fire station and the Methodist church. It seems the only other industry in town is raising the foundations of its houses in an effort to stay ahead of storm tides and rising sea levels.

Buckets, Boats and Bouys

Red and White Crab Houses

Crab Pots

Saxis Island Crab House

(entire set here)


  1. Wonderful photos Les... especially love the last one!

  2. Great pictures Les. I have never heard of Saxis Island. What a nice glimpse of the old Eastern Shore. You sure find some neat places for picture taking.

  3. It's so pretty. Reminds me of Maine, but then again just about any ocean pictures make me homesick. I love crabs too!

  4. Very nice photos and description. Reminds me of my childhood summers along the Eastern shore.

  5. So much fun to drift down the coast from your blog to mine. I love that puddled road in the empty marsh. Wow, only 300 people! I do enjoy a good soft shell crab. Are those crab traps in the second to last photo? They look like squashed lobster traps. Lovely, lovely images. My favorite might be the last, but it’s hard to choose. Tina is right about the Maine connection.

  6. Lovely island. Lovely photographs. The last image could be a canvas painted by Andrew Wyeth.

  7. The last image is fantastic. Reminds me of photographs by Gregory Spaid -

  8. A hummock of less wet land~Now that's a description! beautiful photos; It's nice to learn about your part of the world. gail

  9. Carol,
    Thanks! The last one is a favorite of mine as well.

    If you would like to see it for your self, head up 13 and turn left just before the Maryland line.

    Maine, without the mountains.

    Where did you spend your summer?

    Yes those are crab traps. The watermen put part of a fish carcass in the center, the crabs go in, but can't come out.

    Thank you for the great compliment.

    I appreciate the link. I spent some time exploring Spaid's photos.

    Thanks for stopping by, I like to share.


  10. Great pictures! Places such as this are pure treasures to my mind. It is so upsetting to me to see manmade structures crammed along the water front. A more natural setting is the way to go even though; we may all want to live there. Yum, I love Crab cakes!

  11. I'm repeating what you've already heard but that last picture is a standout. Using it for my background..hope you don't mind.

  12. helen Yoest @ Gardening With Confidence™March 12, 2010 4:28 PM

    Hey Les, there is a photo of your garden in the April issue of Carolina Gardener. The photo is in the Index highlighting the story. You are mentioned in the story as well. Look great!

  13. Skeeter,
    I think Saxis is a treasure too, but mainly because it is still real and has not been painted with a coat of quaint paint.

    Pam J.,
    You are more than welcome to use the picture.

    Thanks for the getting it in there, now I have to go find an issue.


  14. Just discovered your blog... wonderful pictures! LC

  15. That last photo is my favorite too - wonderful composition.

    I hope places like this don't disappear - either due to 'progress' or rising seas.

  16. LC,
    Thanks for dropping by, you are welcome back anytime.

    So far Saxis has dodged both rising waters and development. We all want places like this to persist unchanged, but I guess we should ask people who live there what their hopes are.


  17. You have shared some of the coolest places with us. Your photos are truly magnificent. Well done.

  18. You could be a teacher if you get tired of horticulture. I am always learning fascinating new things when I visit your blog. The info is always couched in entertaining vignettes and byte-sized pieces. Thanks for this latest lesson! (That last picture is definitely my favorite).

  19. Once again an indication that you live in a very photographable part of the world. And very nicely done. The background on the pictures is really interesting.

  20. Janet,
    Thanks. I hope when you move you will be sharing The Up Country with all of us.

    I am happy to be of service.

    Maryland is within easy sight of Saxis, so this is part of your world too.


  21. Really lovely. Thank you, too, for the bit of history. My husband and I went to Saxis to document some of the watermen and -women who still live there, as part of our Watermen of the Chesapeake portrait project (Mariner's Museum, September 2010) and found folks to be truly lovely, and all of us are a little nervous re. the future of the Va. waterfront industries and the people who work in them. Best soft crab I've ever had in my life at Saxis cafe. Really.

  22. Thanks for the kind comments. I too worry that this way of life may disappear, but at least the future of Saxis watermen is more secure than those in Lousiana.

  23. Say, Les: do you think there is any good thing about Phragmites Australis? Could it be used to hold some of the land that is sinking/washing away or whatever? I heard a nutty waterman suggest it be started on Tangier and then mowed, then let to grow, then mowed. So obnoxious and weird that it might work? I mean, if we cannot get rid of it....

  24. It is a scurge, but perhaps we could return to thatched roofs. I hear they last for half a century.

  25. Years ago I went to Saxis to interview the head of the Saxis Watermen's Association. They refer to the head of the association as "the Honorable," so I thought I might be meeting a judge or someone with airs. But he was a good old waterman. We chatted in his kitchen. By the way, if you haven't seen Glenn McClure's excellent show at the Mariners Museum, get over there as soon as you can. He's been up and down the bay the last couple of years making wonderful portraits of watermen. They are a dying breed.

  26. Chris,
    Lucky you to have an audience with one of the local potentates. Honestly, I can't imagine anyone on Saxis to have airs. Thanks for the tip about the Mariners Museum.


  27. love these photos.... i was born and raised in Saxis, Virginia... One of the first pictures, was my dad's old crab house.. I would certainly love to have a print of that.... Thanks for your beautiful work!

    Glenda Parks

    1. Glenda,

      If you email me at and leave me your email addrsss, I can send you the original full sized image. Then you can take it to any good camera store and have it printed. I do not know where you live, but I use Richmond Camera for my prints. FYI, I am a Parks too, we could be cousins!

      Les Parks