The Delmarva Peninsula sits in the Mid-Atlanic region of the United States between the Chesapeake Bay to its west, the Delaware River and Bay, and Atlantic Ocean to its East. The peninsula has areas that are in three states with its name being formed from letters of the states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
The name Delmarva Peninsula is a recent one with the first known use of Delmarva being in the early 20th Century. It began as commercial names of businesses that served consumers in the three states and then expanded to the entire Peninsula. There are 19th century references to it being call the Chesapeake Peninsula.
At the northern point of the peninsula there is a geographic fall line that separates the crystalline rocks of the Piedmont from the unconsolidated sediments of the Coastal Plain. This line passes through Newark and Wilmington, Delaware and Elkton, Maryland.
Another possible northern boundary for the peninsula could be the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. This would technically make it an Island, since you can’t get on or off of the peninsula without crossing a body of water. However it’s still regarded as a peninsula since the canal is man-made.
A canal across the peninsula between the Delaware River and the Chesapeake Bay was first proposed by Augustine Herman in the mid-1600s. It wasn’t until the late 18th century that surveys of possible water routes were made.
In 1802 the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Company was incorporated. Construction began in 1814, but due to lack of funds the project was halted in 1816. In 1822 the canal company reorganized and with monetary support from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and the Federal Government work began again in April 1824. It was open for business in 1829 at a cost of near 2.5 million dollars.
The canal of 1829 is much different than it is today. In 1829 it was 14 miles long, 10 feet deep, 66 feet wide at the water line and 36 feet at the bottom. Locks existed at Delaware City and St. Georges Delaware as well as two at Chesapeake City Maryland.
In 1919, the Federal Government purchased the canal. In the six years from 1921 to 1927 the Army Corps of Engineers converted it to a sea-level canal, widened it, and removed all the locks. Today the canal is 450 feet wide with a depth of 35 feet. The canal is a modern sea-level commercial waterway that carries about 40 percent of the ship traffic to the Port of Baltimore.
From the C&D canal to the peninsula’s southern point at the tip of the Eastern Shore of Virginia it is about 180 miles. At its widest it’s about 60 miles, although most of the peninsula is much narrower. The land area is about 5.45 thousand square miles.
The western or Chesapeake Bay coast is indented and marshy. Most of its western coast is Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The rest is the Virginia Eastern Shore west coast. The eastern coast is more regular with sandy beaches, especially along the Atlantic Ocean.
There are 5 bridges over the C&D canal to get onto the peninsula. These are at MD 213, Delaware 896, US 13, Delaware 1 and US 9. There is also a railroad bridge that crosses the canal east of Delaware 896. There are two accesses to the peninsula across the Chesapeake Bay. One is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which crosses the bay near Annapolis Maryland to Kent Island. The other is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which, links Cape Charles, Va., the southern tip of the peninsula, with Norfolk, VA.
Prior to the opening of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Bridge, officially called the William Preston Lane, Jr., Memorial Bridge in 1952, the only route across the Chesapeake Bay was through ferries. A parallel structure with three lanes was opened in 1973. These lanes are used for west bound traffic while the original 2 lane span is used for those east bound.
The shore–to-shore length of 4.3 miles makes it a long scenic over-water structure. Beginning in 1975, typically on an early Sunday in May, the east bound span has been closed to traffic for use by walkers for a scenic view of the bridge and bay. The last Bay Bridge Walk was held in 2006. The 2007 walk was canceled due to weather conditions and for 2008 and 2009 due to the Bay Bridge Preservation Project. Once again the Bridge Walk has been canceled for 2010.
Across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay where it meets the Atlantic Ocean there is The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, officially the Lucius J. Kellam, Jr. Bridge-Tunnel. Its shore-to-shore distance is 17.6 miles and connects the Virgina town of Cape Charles with the city of Norfolk.
The Bridge-Tunnel opened in 1964, and consists of more than 12 miles of low trestle bridges, two suspension bridges and two tunnels, each a mile long under the shipping channels. It is considered the largest bridge-tunnel complex in the world.
Nine of Maryland’s 23 counties are located on the peninsula. These being the counties of Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset, Worcester and a portion of Cecil County. The Virginia counties of Accomack and Northampton and the Delaware Counties of Kent, Sussex and a portion of New Castle County makes up the rest.
A major part of the Delmarva Peninsula’s economy is through agriculture, aquaculture, sports hunting and fishing, and tourism.
At various times in its history residents of the Maryland and Virginia portion of the peninsula have propose that they should secede from their respective states. Some believe they should join Delaware to create a new state called Delmarva.
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