The state of Maryland has many exciting things to see, from the mountains of Western Maryland to the beaches of the Eastern Shore. In between are other exciting places that can take you back in time or just provide a day or night of relaxation. In the former category is a place called Wye Mills in Talbot County.
Every week during the summer season thousands of cars cross over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on US Highway 50 on their way to the beaches of the Eastern Shore and Delaware. Almost all of them drive by Wye Mills but just keep on going. What is Wye Mills? It is the oldest industrial site in Maryland and it is still in operation to this day, albeit as a museum today.
The grist mill began operation sometime in the 1780s. This grist mill was one of the first to employ Oliver Evans’ process of automation using water power. Evans used a bucket elevator to move grain and flour from one place to another and a hopper bay to spread the meal more evenly with an incline allowing it to move to where it could be sifted. This saved many hours of labor.
The mill still uses its late 18th century equipment and much of the plantation is also preserved from a mansion to a church and a few small outbuildings. There is one things that is noticeably missing though, a large oak tree. The Wye Oak was huge with a trunk nearly 32 feet in circumference and 96 feet high. Part of the trunk was hollow and there was enough room for four people to sit and play cards in the cavity! It was believed to be around 460 years old when it was killed during a heavy thunderstorm in 2002. Over its life it lost two large limbs, one of which weighed 70,000 pounds! The wood from this limb was turned into gavels to be used by Maryland’s top courts. At the time of the thunderstorm the tree was still alive though beginning to decline but despite that it was still bearing a large crop of acorns.
You may have heard of Wye Mills as it was used as the location of a 1998 summit hosted by President Bill Clinton to try to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. King Hussein of Jordan and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat attended and several issues were settled but the main issues remained in conflict, as they do to this day. Wye Mills was back in the news in 2000 when Eliȧn Gonzȧlez and his family resided here to escape the media’s eye.
The Wye Oak was one of the United States’ first National Champion Trees, named in 1940 by the American Forestry Association. It was named the state tree of Maryland in 1941 and remained so until 2002 when it was toppled. A clone was planted in 2006 in the remains of the trunk. The Wye Oak, along with the grist mill, were incorporated into Wye Oak State Park. Pieces of the tree were made into anything from sculptures to carvings and furnishings. One large piece of the trunk was made into the desk that the governor uses across the bay in Annapolis and another large piece is still in Wye Mills on display in a pavilion behind where the tree stood. You can truly get an idea how big this tree was when standing next to this piece!