Broome's Island on Calvert County's western shore isn't exactly an
island, but rather a peninsula, that is now a quiet residential area
with new homes overtaking million-dollar views of the Patuxent River.
But the area has a long and colorful history tied to the river.
Long before the island captivated current residents, a history had begun
there as early as the 1650s when the first John Brome (the name was
later changed to Broome) came from Herefordshire, England, to Island
Neck. In 1651, the first John Brome was granted a 2,000-acre plot of
land, which was called "Brome's Manor."
Colonel John Brome was selected by Lord Baltimore in 1688 to carry the
message of King William's accession to the British throne. Brome was to
carry the critical information from England to Maryland; however, he
died in Plymouth, England, waiting for the ship to take him to Maryland.
This ill-timed event, and the greatly delayed information, is said to
have contributed to Maryland's Revolution of 1689.
Since the early Bromes, there have been many generations of doctors,
lawyers, sheriffs, military officers and judges from this notable family
that is originally descended from the French counts of Anjou, according
to the comprehensive book A History of Calvert County Maryland, by
Numerous Bromes followed, including Col. John Brome of Foote who was an
important member of the Calvert County Militia and a vestryman of the
area's historic Christ Church. Another descendent of note was Col. John
Brome V, born in 1729, a member of the Calvert County Militia, who
studied law and was admitted to the bar at only 19 years old, according
to Stein. This was the first offspring to spell his surname "Broome."
Perhaps the Broome that seafood lovers should thank is Nathaniel, who
may be credited with starting the fishing settlement at Broome's Island,
when he cut the timber there and sold lots for residences after the
The early-to mid-20th century fishing community at Broome's Island
rivaled that of Solomons Island to its south. Former Calvert County
Commissioner and Maryland State Senator C. "Bernie" Fowler, who grew up
on the island and once had a boat rental business there, recounted his
mother and her friend regularly pulling out dozen after dozen of soft
shell crabs from their area of the river in one day's time.
It makes sense then, that the two major industries that were once
predominant on Broome's Island included seafood processing and packing
plants and boat builders. Some of the most known names included the
Warren Denton Oyster Company, perhaps the longest running of the oyster
houses. When Brothers Warren and John Denton started the business in
1927 there were six other oyster-packing businesses also on the island,
according to extensive research done by Paula Johnson. A resident of
Calvert County, Johnson, a former Calvert Marine Museum curator now
serves as a curator at the Smithsonian Institute. Two of the company's
employees, Ruth Mackall Smith and brother Cornelius Mackall, both won
the U.S. National Oyster Shucking Championship contest and represented
the U.S. in international competition.
On Island Creek, Calvert's only soft clam shucking plant was operated by
Orem Lowery and lasted a decade. When the plant closed in 1967, it went
down in history as the largest commercial clamming business on the
Patuxent River, according to Johnson's Historical Tours through Southern
Maryland: Broome's Island.
Also on the shore of Island Creek was the boat building business of
Alpheus Sewell. Sewell built 16, 18 and 25-foot boats and other
workboats for those on Broome's Island. Sewell was joined in boat
building by his brother Lyman and others on the island. According to
Johnson's research, "The single force which brought people of the
community together, was harvesting and processing crabs, fish, oysters
and clams from the Patuxent River."
Johnson recalled when she "first visited Broome's Island in 1981. My
initial impression was that here was a community that still thrived on
the local fisheries. Island Creek was full of workboats and the Denton
Oyster House was thriving. The community seemed like a window into
Calvert County's past."
Even in the years since Johnson's research of Broome's Island, much has
changed; there are no more seafood processing or boat building
operations on the peninsula and the abundant local groceries and general
stores during its seafood heyday have all but disappeared as well.
Today's businesses on the island include the landmark Stoney's
Restaurant located on the water, which has been voted number one in the
metropolitan area for its crab cake by The Washington Post. Calvert
County native Phillip Stone started the establishment almost two decades
While popular boat rental businesses of the mid-20th century are long
gone, there are now several boat-related businesses including Bill's
Calvert Marine Services, Broome's Island Marina; and Len's Marina.
Visitors can still see the one-room schoolhouse where students had to
collect firewood for the woodstove each winter day. More than 100 years
old, Port Republic School #7 has been authentically preserved and still
stands next to historic Christ Church.
At the end of World War II, major changes were visible on Broome's
Island. Most houses finally had electricity and more people were able to
buy cars. Prior to this, none of the buildings or homes there had any
electricity; a state road came through in 1925 and electricity not until
Unfortunately, the river surrounding Broome's Island today is not as
clear and full of seafood as it once was. As a child in the 1930s,
Fowler remembers wading into the clear water of the Patuxent River off
the banks of his Broome's Island home in search of crabs.
Later, the desire to clean up the river lead Fowler and friend Tom
Wisner to begin what is now widely known as the annual Wade-in where
"people line-up along the shoreline and wade into the Patuxent to the
point where Fowler says he can no longer see his feet. The depth at
which he can no longer see his feet is noted" and is a way to help
measure water quality, according to the Maryland Department of Planning
web site. It's a brilliant educational and public awareness raiser that
visually highlights the water's quality year-to-year.
As former residents move away, age and pass on, the old way of life on
Broome's Island also fades. However, residents' love for Broome's Island
and the river are always close to the surface and clearly visible.
Extensive research done by Paula Johnson at Broome's Island was part of
a folk life and oral history documentation project that she directed for
the Calvert Marine Museum. The project included recorded interviews with
Broome's Island watermen, seafood processors, boat builders and
long-time residents. Original photos and artifacts collected for the
museum through Johnson's project are now in the museum's archives. Some
of this work can be seen in two exhibitions at the museum.