Crisfield is a city in Somerset County, Maryland, United States, located on the Tangier Sound, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. The population was 2,726 at the 2010 census. It is included in the Salisbury, Maryland Metropolitan Statistical Area. Crisfield has the distinction of being the southernmost incorporated city in Maryland.
The city now known as Crisfield began as Annemessex Neck, a small fishing village. Its name was changed to Somers Cove, after Benjamin Summers, during European colonization. Only after the business potential for seafood was discovered did the quiet fishing town grow into a large city, due to the efforts of John W. Crisfield in bringing the Pennsylvania Railroad to the town. Crisfield is known as the "Seafood Capital of the World"; indeed, its success was so great that the train soot and oyster shells prompted the extension of the city's land into the marshes, so that the downtown area is literally built atop oyster shells, a common claim by those from the city.
Crisfield began to slip into decline as the declining health of the Chesapeake Bay began to reduce the watermen's catches. A "strategic revitalization plan" is underway to address the city's future growing needs, however. Currently, Crisfield is largely a destination for tourism. It hosts many annual events and festivals, the most prominent of which is the National Hard Crab Derby.
The Annemessex, a branch of the local Pocomoke Indian tribe of the Algonquin Nation, were the first inhabitants of the area now known as Crisfield. At the time, it was a small village known as Annemessex Neck, which the Pocomoke used for fishing. The Annemessex River nearby is the namesake of this branch of the Pocomokes. On February 10, 1663, Benjamin Summers, a settler from Yorkshire or Hertfordshire, England, arrived from Northampton County, Virginia to claim his headright. He patented a [though in actuality only ] parcel of land, which he named "Emmessex". He later patented another of land on September 23, 1683, naming it "Musketa Hummock". Both of these plots of land are located in the present-day Crisfield Election District. Another plot of land, named "Little Worth" and totalling , was also patented in Annemessex. These three plots of land would eventually come to be known collectively as Somers Cove.
Somers Cove soon became a major distribution center for seafood along the East Coast. The town grew faster than many other settlements on the Delmarva Peninsula, with over 100 buildings in 1804 before Princess Anne and Salisbury, with 40 and 4 respectively. It was only later discovered how lucrative the area was as a survey of the Chesapeake Bay in 1854 showed how much the waters around Somers Cove were colonized by oysters.
The success of the city's seafood industry caused the city to end up with large amounts of train soot and oyster shells. Around the turn of the 20th century, businessmen would buy plots of land at the southwest edge of the city and discard the shells and soot into the salt marshes, creating a new, roughly half-mile long peninsula. Downtown Crisfield was built atop this new land, and this leads to the common statement that Crisfield was so prosperous that it is "literally built on top of oyster shells".
The city experienced several fires, the most well-known of which is known as the Great Fire of 1928. It began on March 29 at the Crisfield Opera House and quickly spread to the downtown area, completely destroying it and causing over $1 million in damages.
Crisfield's prosperity began to decline along with the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Oyster populations began to decline to the point where the watermen could no longer fully support themselves on their daily catches. Businesses began to move out of Crisfield, while others shut down. On April 1, 1976, the railroad that had brought prosperity to Crisfield was abandoned as Conrail was established; however, the railroad was succeeded by a new, straight vehicular highway built before its abandoning and alongside its right-of-way. As large businesses in the United States grew, it passed the shrinking Crisfield by until only the late 20th century. Fast-food restaurants began to slowly find business in the city, starting in the late 1990s, alongside the many seafood restaurants already in town, and a large supermarket has been in city plans for a decade, though it wasn't until April 2010 that it opened for business. Crisfield has also been a target for large waterfront properties, with several large condominiums being built in the mid-2000s in the downtown area, along with other places flanking Crisfield's harbors. A "strategic revitalization plan" has been in the works since 2006, however, to address future growing needs and beautification of the city.
Crisfield continues to be famous for its seafood throughout Maryland and the United States, particularly the Maryland Crab, and it abounds with restaurants, seafood packing houses, and seafood distribution companies. Several seafood restaurants across the country carry the city's name.