Although we are social distancing and avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people, there is an opportunity to still explore local heritage from either the comfort of your home or from the car window. The third tour available on the Visit Dorchester cell phone guide takes travelers throughout Dorchester County to view outdoor, public art murals by nationally acclaimed artist Michael Rosato. On the mural trail, Michael describes the inspiration behind five of his murals in Cambridge, as well as murals in Vienna, East New Market, and now Hurlock.
The Chesapeake Mural Trail is part of the suite of free audio tours that the Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area created to showcase the unique history and culture of Dorchester County during its 350th anniversary. Although intended as a driving tour, the tour, complete with images and audio, can also be enjoyed from the comfort of home or the car window in several cases. It all starts with a simple app downloaded for free on your cell phone. Visitors search Visit Dorchester in the App store. My husband and I decided to take a drive in the car this month to clear our heads and were able to see most of the Cambridge murals from the car window or just a quick walk away from our car.
Michael says on the guide, “I hope you learn a little, brief history – what incredible, marvelous, incredible life that’s offered here on the Eastern Shore and especially in Dorchester County. The Mural Trail is rich in telling that story. The murals were painted to represent the people and the places here in Dorchester County that you are going to interact with along this route.”
A captivating storyteller, Michael lives in Dorchester County. He shares highlights from Dorchester’s culture and history and provides details about the artistic techniques he used. He describes the passages from James Michener’s Chesapeake that inspired several of the murals on the guide.
With no formal training, Michael spent hundreds of hours teaching himself to sketch, filling his apartment walls with larger-than-life human figures. He learned to paint on the job as an assistant to a muralist. After living in New York and D.C., Michael and his wife moved to Dorchester County, drawn by the natural beauty and access to water. He started working in his downtown Cambridge studio in 2001. Today, with more than 20 years of experience under his paint-splattered belt, he is in demand. His oversize murals depict realistic scenes at Smithsonian museums, National Park Service sites, major league ballparks, the Oklahoma bombing memorial, and more.
The murals in Cambridge on the Chesapeake Mural Trail include Michael’s ‘Ode to Watermen’ Mural, the African American Heritage Mural, the Goose on the Caboose Mural, the Big Bird Mural, and the Harriet Tubman Mural. After leaving Cambridge, the murals continue in Vienna with the Native American Life Mural, and in Historic East New Market with two murals depicting its history, and finally end up in Hurlock with Michael’s newest mural that celebrates railroads.
According to Julie Gilbert-Brady, “All of the murals are narrated by the artist himself who points out details on the murals that you might not see at first glance, including interesting ways to interact with the murals.”
We started with the first mural on the tour, Michael’s Ode to Watermen Mural, which is located on the outside of the Dorchester County Visitor Center facing the Choptank River at 2 Rose Hill Place in Cambridge. The 33-foot by 11-foot mural, which honors the region’s watermen by depicting three watermen harvesting oysters, is visible from the Malkus Bridge for people driving into Cambridge. Get a close-up view from the elevated walkway near the main entrance or by strolling from the Visitor Center parking lot down the curving boardwalk toward the water, and then turn around for a look.
The African American Heritage Mural, located near the corner of Maryland Avenue and Route 50 in Cambridge, highlights Cambridge’s rich African American history, culture, and heritage, particularly in the community around Pine Street, which is one of the oldest African American communities in the country that dates back to the mid-1800s. Michael met with community members to discuss the mural’s design and to get ideas about the people and places they thought should be included. The final product is a mix of some of Dorchester’s most well-known citizens, as well as “ordinary” people.
An unused train caboose, owned by Powell Real Estate at 200 Trenton Street in Cambridge, became the canvas for the Goose on the Caboose Mural, a richly textured depiction of Canada geese seeming to break out of the caboose with a view of the marsh behind them. The mural pays homage to the Canada geese, which are a frequent sight in Dorchester County, especially during spring and fall migration. Don’t miss getting your photo taken with the angel wings on the side of the caboose.
The trail then travels east to J.M. Clayton’s Seafood, the oldest continuously operating crab factory in the world. The Big Bird Mural on the side of the building showcases a stunning Great Blue heron about to chow down on his own private crab feast. Visitors can get a good distant view of the mural from the drawbridge over Cambridge Creek (near Maryland Avenue and Academy Street). For a closeup view, visitors can go to J.M. Clayton’s at 108 Commerce Street in Cambridge and walk around the back of the building on the waterside next to Snapper’s Restaurant.
Race Street in Cambridge is the final stop for the downtown Cambridge murals on the trail. Michael’s Harriet Tubman Mural, “Take My Hand,” portrays a powerful image of Harriet Tubman inviting the viewer to join her on her journey to freedom. The mural is on the outside of the Harriet Tubman Museum & Educational Center at 424 Race Street. Harriet was born into slavery just a few miles from the mural, went on to escape in 1849, and then returned more than a dozen times over the following decade, risking her life again and again to lead others to freedom. Before it was even completed in May 2019, images of the mural went viral, attracting attention and media stories all over the world, and inspiring people to drive hours just to see it in person. Don’t forget to get your photo reaching for Harriet’s hand.
“When you look at this mural, I wanted it to evoke a number of the words that would describe Harriet Tubman: power, strength, love, family,” Michael says on the guide. “There is so much to learn about Harriet Tubman. This is an incredible American icon, not just a woman, an African American woman, but it contains all the American spirit.”
The mural trail continues down Route 50 to Vienna. The side of the Vienna Community Center at 104 Race Street in Vienna has been transformed into the Native American Life Mural, a timeline of local history, beginning with Native American culture and continuing through the time of colonial settlers. Vienna was established more than 300 years ago on the banks of the Nanticoke River. Captain John Smith explored waterways in this area in the early 1600s. The river and a waterfront park are just a few hundred feet from the mural.
The two East New Market Murals are across the street from each other at the intersection of Main Street (Route 16) and Railroad Avenue (Route 14) in East New Market. One is on the Mason building; the other is on the municipal building. Both murals capture the history of the business and commerce of the area. One shows trading between Native Americans and settlers; the other shows a train, a nod to the important role railroading played in this area.
Michael’s newest mural on the Chesapeake Mural Trail, the Hurlock Mural, celebrates Hurlock’s history as a hub for railroading during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The town began from a Dorchester/Delaware Railroad station built in 1867. Hurlock’s growth was greatly influenced by the construction of a second railroad, the Baltimore, Chesapeake and Atlantic Railroad in 1890. The town was incorporated in 1892. The Hurlock Mural is located at 101 Poplar Street, at the corner of Poplar and Main Streets in Hurlock.
The Chesapeake Mural Trail has nine stops and the guide is available on the Visit Dorchester cell phone app, which can be downloaded for free from the Google Play Store for Android devices and the App Store for iPhones. (Search for “Visit Dorchester.”) Visitors can also learn more about the app at https://visitdorchester.org/see-and-do/audio-tours/.
Amelia Blades Steward has been a freelance writer in our community for 20 years and loves to share stories of the Mid Shore.