St. Michaels: The New Martha's Vineyard?

This former fishing village on Maryland's Eastern Shore is attracting a new wave of affluent blacks.

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African Americans have had a tradition of summering in coastal resort towns since the 19th century. Areas such as Martha's Vineyard, Mass., and Sag Harbor, N.Y., have been attracting black families for more than a century. The primary reason blacks flocked to certain areas was that they were barred from or made unwelcome in other places.

In our modern, "postracial" times, many blacks have the freedom, money or clout to vacation wherever they choose. Like their white counterparts, affluent black families have acquired second homes that are used for more than a summer respite.

One town creating buzz among East Coast buppies and black boomers today is St. Michaels, Md. Historically a waterman and shipbuilding town, St. Michaels has evolved into an elegant yet quaint getaway for the Washington, D.C., power elite. Former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have homes there, and the late Michael Jackson reportedly looked at property in St. Michaels before his death.

Only 90 minutes outside of Washington, the exclusive waterside community is an ideal alternative to traveling a longer distance to popular northern destinations. Proximity, however, is not the only quality that is attracting the attention of black Washingtonians. "Some of the best antiquing around" and "that old-town feel" are what attracted Timothy Hill to purchase a time-share in St. Michaels.

It possesses a kind of dressed-down ease while maintaining a sense of luxury that today's movers and shakers crave when escaping the pressures of urban life. "Everyone wants to live the dream," says Laton Palmer, a financial executive and longtime visitor to St. Michaels.

"Hip and historic" is how Marianne Yost, owner of Rupert's London Bar and Tea Room, describes St. Michaels. Her description couldn't be more accurate. Mixed in with historic Victorian and Federal homes are fabulous new waterfront estates straight out of Architectural Digest. Alongside 19th-century inns are boutique bed-and-breakfasts and luxury resorts complete with state-of-the-art spas. Talbot Street, the main drag, is a mixture of fashionable boutiques, antique shops and stylish cafés amid old-world architecture. 

I fell in love with the long, tree-lined driveways, the fresh seafood and most of all the friendliness of the residents and shop owners. St. Michaels was everything that I love about the intimacy of a small town, with all the accoutrements of fine modern living. 

My travel companion (my big sister), Ericka, and I set out on our beach cruisers to fully explore St. Michaels after a breakfast of fresh croissants and homemade preserves on our patio overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. With the sun on our faces and the wind blowing through our hair, we left no stone unturned. Although, as I told my sister, I "wanted to eat the whole town with a spoon," the following attractions were my absolute faves!

The Inn at Perry Cabin: Any big-city "hustle and bustle" that I felt quickly melted away upon our arrival here. The property itself, set right on the bay, is an impressive show of stately "country home" perfection. I was greeted by the smell of freshly cut grass, butterflies, fresh lemonade and smiles.

Then I was handed an engraved brass key (yes, a real key). My suite was nautical elegance and luxury at its best. Our dinner at the inn's restaurant, Sherwood Landing, was exceptional. The bread could have been a pleasurable meal all by itself. Made by local resident and master baker Gussie Harmon, it tasted like a combination of angel kisses and sunshine.