Old Bay Line is the name by which the Baltimore Steam Packet Company was best known over most of its 122-year history of nightly carrying passengers and freight on Chesapeake Bay between Baltimore and Norfolk.
These steamers are often mistakenly referred to as ferry boats, but they most certainly were not. They were large, sturdy vessels that operated year-round in all kinds of weather.
They provided reliable on-time service for the traveling public and shippers alike in the Chesapeake Bay region. The Old Bay Line steamers were famous for their cuisine, impeccable service, and fine accommodations.
They were called up for war service during the Civil War and World War I and World War II, and several of the company’s vessels even crossed the Atlantic and saw action overseas in World War II. By the 1950s and 1960s the company was the last of its kind, still providing gracious service, and by the time it wrapped up operations in 1962 it was the oldest steamship company in the United States.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Jack Shaum is a retired award-winning print and broadcast journalist who spent nearly fifty years in the business. He is the author of Lost Chester River Steamboats: From Chestertown to Baltimore. He was the editor-in-chief of the quarterly journal of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He rode the Old Bay Line steamers as a youngster and calls on those experiences to tell the story of the company’s long history. For twenty years, he and his wife Martha traveled as onboard lecturers on small coastal cruise ships. They have two daughters and four grandchildren and live near Chestertown, Maryland.