Mallows Bay-Potomac River
Discover Mallows Bay
A special place on the John Smith Chesapeake Trail is steeped in history, wildlife and recreational opportunities. Approximately 30 miles south of Washington, D.C. on the Potomac River in Charles County, Maryland is Mallows Bay. This is a place where years ago, ships built by the Emergency Fleet Corporation between 1917 and 1919 under the auspices of the United States Shipping Board were sunk once they were no longer needed. While they may have once been nothing but a junkyard in the Bay, they are now ecological habitats that are teeming with wildlife. Chesapeake Conservancy is a lead partner in an effort to designate this special place as the next National Marine Sanctuary. Read on below to see how you can help in this community-led effort, and for an experience you won’t forget, plan a trip to paddle around and view the shipwrecks up close at low tide.
While nothing beats seeing the beauty of Mallows Bay – Potomac River in person, we’ve created a few ways that you can tour the Ghost Ships of Mallows Bay from your computer or mobile device. We offer two types of virtual tours. Riverview is a virtual tour created by Terrain360, similar to Google Street View, that takes you through the shipwrecks as if you are in a kayak paddling the bay. We also offer a birds eye view with 360 degree virtual tours using drone and 360 video technology. We loaded this page with lots of resources for you to learn more about Mallows Bay – Potomac River.
Get involved and support Mallows Bay - Potomac River
Thank you to everyone who attended NOAA’s public meetings on March 7 and March 9 or submitted public comments to support efforts to designate Mallows Bay-Potomac River as the first National Marine Sanctuary in the Chesapeake. Keep up to date with the designation process at NOAA’s website.
360 Degree Virtual Reality Tours
A 360-degree virtual tour of Mallows Bay, the largest shipwreck fleet in the Western Hemisphere.
Google street view style tour
Fully immerse yourself in the history of the shipwrecks and the beauty of the surrounding wildlife
Flights through history
Take flight and see history from a whole new perspective… from all perspectives!
Explore four unique itineraries that take you through historic ship wrecks and untamed wildlife
Points of interest
Each itinerary includes detailed information about what you’ll see along the way
Maryland Public Television Profile
Discover the history and present day conditions of Mallows Bay in this informational video from MPT
Establishing a national treasure
Chesapeake Conservancy is a lead partner in an effort to designate this special place as the next National Marine Sanctuary, and the first ever in the Chesapeake. In addition to unique natural resources, Mallows Bay – Potomac River boasts rich American Indian and African American history. This section of the Potomac River is part of the traditional lands and cultural landscape of the Piscataway-Conoy nation, as well as the site of important archaeological findings. African Americans have been a part of the area’s history for centuries, as well, with history related to African slaves landing on Maryland’s shores, fighting in the Civil War, and building many of the wooden steamships that now rest in the shallow waters of Mallows Bay – Potomac River.
Mallows Bay – Potomac River’s “ghost fleet” includes over 100 wooden steamships built for the U.S. Emergency Fleet during World War I, an effort that propelled America to the forefront of shipbuilding, as well as many other wrecks from Revolutionary times through the 1900s. These wrecks support diverse ecosystems that are teeming with marine life, attracting recreational fishing and ecotourists to the area.
Resources Present: Includes 118 WWI-era U.S. Emergency Fleet Corporation steamships; MD Indian Tribes heritage sties; remains of historic fisheries operations such as sturgeon and caviar industries, and Revolutionary and Civil War battlescapes.
Boundaries: Boundaries coincide with the Mallows Bay Widewater Historical and Archeological National Register District
Approximate Total Area (sq. mi.): 18
Alternative C (NOAA’s preferred alternative)
Resources Present: Includes Alternative B shipwrecks plus all known WWI-era USEFC vessels in MD waters and some historically, archaeologically, and recreationally significant shipwrecks and related assets which are not currently included in the Historic District.
Boundaries: The northern boundary extends near Ben Doane Road, MD, to Possum Nose, VA. The southern boundary extends from the end of Owens Drive east of Chotank Creek, VA to Benny Gray Point, MD.
Approximate Total Area (sq. mi.): 52
Resources Present: This alternative would add area upstream and downstream from Alternative C that potentially includes maritime assets and that supports the visitor use goals of the sanctuary. For the former, anecdotal records suggest the presence of additional maritime heritage resources and the water escape route to Virginia used by John Wilkes Booth.
Boundaries: The northern boundary extends across the mouth of Pomonkey Creek from just south of Anne Mason Court in Indian Head, MD, to Pomonkey Point, MD, and then from Pomonkey Point, MD, to Hallowing Point, VA. The southern boundary extends from Pope’s Creek, MD, to Persimmon Point on Mathias Neck, VA.
Approximate Total Area (sq. mi.): 100