History of the Captain Avery Museum
In 1984 the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society (SSRHS) was founded by a small group of people who wanted to preserve the history and culture of South Anne Arundel County, Maryland. They knew there were family histories to record and traditions to remember. The group became incorporated the following year as a non-profit historical and educational organization. And in 1989, SSRHS purchased a ¾ acre parcel of waterfront property that had deep community roots.
As far as public records can tell, Salem Avery, a buy boat captain hailing from an established family of watermen in Long Island, NY, came to Maryland in search of the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay. He found his bride, Lucretia Weedon Andrews, on the nearby Mayo peninsula. They married in 1857 and together they had nine children, two of which died in infancy. In 1860 they moved into a home on the Shady Side peninsula from which they worked the land and sea.
In the 1920’s the property was purchased by a group of Jewish Masons from Washington, DC. Denied access to public beaches and private clubs because of their religious affiliation, this tight-knit group of families enjoyed Chesapeake Bay life on the West River for several generations. They modified and added to the Avery home, providing space for a meeting room, a kitchen, dormitories, and several bedrooms. They called themselves the Fishing Club, which evolved into a country club called "Our Place." The descendants of this group retained the property until the late 1980’s when the founders of SSRHS purchased the property.
Wanting to preserve the vital history of the property, and provide a place for community connections, SSRHS restored Captain Avery’s home to resemble its original 1860 appearance. The additions made by the Fishing Club were remodeled into facilities for community activities, receptions, and meetings, with administrative offices above. A boat shed was constructed in 1993, and in 1994 additional land was acquired to expand parking facilities and provide for future growth. In 1998, an extension was added to the Museum to provide space for a library and storage of archival materials. Grants from Anne Arundel County and the State of Maryland, and loans from the Maryland Historical Trust and the Office of Housing and Community Development's Scattered Sites Program made it possible to accomplish the restoration projects.
In December 2003, the Museum received a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grants Program. The grant required the organization to match this amount. Fifty-one history organizations nationwide competed for the award. The Museum was one of ten selected from around the country and met the challenge successfully, thereby establishing an endowment for humanities in local history. The Museum was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
Over the years, the Museum has received financial support, partnership, and awards from Anne Arundel County Trust for Preservation, the Small Museum Association, Historic Annapolis Foundation, the Southern Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, capital improvement legislation sponsored by the District 30 delegation, Anne Arundel County, Cultural Arts Foundation, Maryland Association of History Museums, Historical and Cultural Museum Assistance Program, Preservation Maryland, Chesapeake Bay Trust, Maryland State Arts Council, Unity Gardens, West-Rhode Riverkeeper, Four Rivers, Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, BayVue Consulting, Greenstreet Gardens, Boy and Girl Scout Troops, and the Chesapeake Bay Gateway Network under the National Park Services.
In 2010, the organization changed its name to the Captain Avery Museum and continues to fulfill the hopes and promises of its founders by offering a variety of services including educational programs, library resources, community events, professional speakers, and stewardship programs. The Museum remains a gathering place, a place for sharing stories, ideas, knowledge, and history about the Chesapeake Bay and beyond.