Step back in time to the site of Maryland’s beginnings as a British Colony. Historic St. Mary’s City, a living history museum, is filled with people ready to tell stories, animals willing to show how the colonists survived and plenty of spots to enjoy some outdoor fun.
In our effort to highlight all of the best museums in Washington, D.C, we spoke with Sharol Yeatman, External Relations Manager at Historic St. Mary’s City, to share what makes this museum special, why you should visit, and what you need to know before you go.
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Where is the museum located?
Address: Historic St. Mary’s City, 18571 Hogaboom Lane St. Mary’s City, MD 20686
In southern Maryland, located around two hours south of Washington, D.C.
Is the museum accessible?
Most of the museum consists of outdoor exhibit areas that are roughly one mile, round trip. The reconstructed structures are ADA accessible, with the exception of the main house of the plantation (which requires a step to go into) and Maryland Dove.
The indoor portions (Shop at Farthing’s, Visitor Center, St. John’s Site Museum, and Struggle for Freedom exhibit) have ramps.
There is a social narrative of what to expect available on the website for those visiting that have sensory or anxiety disorders.
What topics does the museum cover?
Historic St. Mary’s City is a museum of archaeology and living history at Maryland’s first capital. It tells the diverse stories of those who lived in this area, from before European contact to the arrival of Lord Baltimore, the state house and beyond.
What is your museum’s claim to fame?
The Maryland Dove, a representation of one of the first ships that arrived here in Maryland in 1634, is our “floating ambassador,” and is a working tall ship.
What is your favorite exhibit or artifact in the museum?
As a museum of living history and archaeology, there are many artifacts and exhibits to choose from, not to mention everyone has their own favorites.
One of our favorite exhibits would be the Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation cows. The plantation (when open) represents the year 1667 and discusses the day-to-day life of an average planter.
And the cows? They are beautiful red devons, a heritage breed.
Our favorite artifact would be a cherub head that you can see in the St. John’s Site Museum. Two pieces found roughly twenty years apart signify the dedication, perseverance, and patience of archaeologists as well as the importance of record keeping.
What kinds of special exhibits and events do you host throughout the year?
Typically we host a fair amount of family programs, including story and craft time for toddlers; Indigenous Heritage Day; a free trick-or-treating event, Lost City; special days for homeschool families; workshops to teach skills such as archery or hide tanning; and summer camps.
For adults, we offer free lectures, Adults Only tours (that focus on the seedier side of the colony), and the annual fundraising event, BeerFest, featuring local breweries and crafters.
Are there guided tours available?
There are guided tours available during normal operating hours of Tuesday—Saturday, 10 a.m.—4 p.m. Those interested in tours may contact our Public Programs Manager by emailing [email protected].
The tours can be available for all ages, focusing on archaeology, Maryland history, or the separation of church and state.
We also have a few special tours for younger visitors that includes an immersive story of Puss and Boots, as well as a “Coming to America” tour that is an introduction to how people traveled years ago.
How much time should someone plan to spend at the museum?
We usually recommend two to four hours.
What should someone bring with them and what items are not allowed in the museum?
We always recommend guests bring water!
Another must is to check the weather in the area before visiting. As a mostly outdoor museum, guests need to be prepared for anything. Having a sturdy umbrella, hat, light jacket, and sunscreen would cover it.
Not allowed in the museum (outside or inside) are sticky drinks or food. There are picnic areas that allow space for eating.
Is photography allowed inside (without flash)?
Photography is allowed while visiting.
For professional photography, please contact [email protected] to gain permission.
What should parents of young children know before visiting the museum?
Parents of young children should know that there is a fair amount of walking at the museum, and to be prepared with a stroller and good shoes.
Staffing at outdoor exhibits typically include children by teaching them colonial games, having them help in the garden, or showing them work that would have been done by a child in the 17th century.
Whether colonist or Yaocomaco, there was always something to be done!
What’s the coolest item for sale in the gift shop?
The Shop at Farthing’s Ordinary is filled with home goods and seasonal items as well as a good selection of books. We love the stuffed red devon cow (because cows are our favorite), or any of the glazed pottery.
Is there a museum cafe or restaurant?
There is a local artisanal bakery, Enso Kitchen, on the museum grounds. There you can find thick black-pepper biscuits, sweet pain au chocolat, glazed donuts, or delicious and filling sandwiches.
From their fresh challah bread to sourdough, everything is fabulous, so plan on taking a bag of goodies home.
What should teachers planning a field trip know before reaching out to you?
Teachers should be aware that field trips are outdoors and in all weather. Field trips are typically two to four hours, depending on age of the children and what they are looking to visit.
Most important, they should know how to contact us – [email protected].
What else should a visitor know before visiting?
Historic St. Mary’s City is set in a rural area. The most common question we hear is, “Where is the city?” The answer is, it’s beneath your feet.
Our museum tells a story of the city and Maryland’s first colony (a permanent English settlement), that was – the capital of Maryland until the 1690’s. After that time, the area was left to become farmland.
Fortunately for research and archaeology, much of that time period was left intact, allowing those digging to rediscover the past.
Although coming to HSMC you may not see dozens of shops and businesses, you will see the echoes of what once was and learn about the diverse groups of people that inhabited this place.
What are your normal days and hours of operation?
Spring and fall hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.—4 p.m.
During the summer we are open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m.—4 p.m.
We close down for the winter the weekend after Thanksgiving, and typically open back up the second or third week of March.
Does the museum have a bag check or coat room?
No. There is no bag check or coat room, as most of the time you will be outdoors you might want your coat!
Is there parking available?
Yes, there is ample parking available.
Is there an admission fee?
- $10 General Admission
- $9 seniors (60 plus)
- $6students (6-18 years or with college ID)
- Free children (5 years and younger)
$1 OFF full-price admission: AAA I.D. card; Military I.D. National Trust for Historic Preservation membership I.D (adult admissions only); and St. Mary’s College of Maryland alumni card.