History of Schaefer's Canal House
So much can be discussed about the extensive history of Schaefer's Canal House. From when the very first brick was laid in the foundation to the present day, Schaefer's continues to hold a part of the dynamic heritage of Chesapeake City, Maryland. Story after story can be told by the wide array of people that have walked through the doors at Schaefer's. Over the years Schaefer's has been many different things and owned by different people however what remains the same is that it holds a special place in Chesapeake City's local history.
In 1907 Joseph Schaefer, Sr. and his wife Winifred opened a grocery and ship's chandlery business located on the north side of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, just west of the Chesapeake City canal locks. They were the fourth owner of the property, with deeds going back into the early 1800s. Upon the death of Joseph Schaefer in 1923, Winifred Schaefer, along with the help of her children proceeded with plans to rebuild along the canal. He had the vision of what could be done with the location and the perseverance to carry it through.
Throughout the years, Winifred's devotion, hard work, and business sense supported her brother John Schaefer's successful endeavors. They were a great team. In 1935, John Schaefer opened a beer garden in a small building constructed behind the second store. This was actually the initial Schaefer's Restaurant, as hard-boiled eggs and crab cakes prepared by Winifred Schaefer were available at the bar. The new, spacious, and elegant "Chesapeake Room" was one of the most exclusive dining facilities in the area, offering the finest seafood menu selections on Maryland's eastern shore. The great food and the outstanding views from the picture windows of ocean-going ships passing through the C & D Canal were a huge success. Diners were thrilled to watch Schaefer's launch approach the side of passing ships while exchanging the pilots who climbed rope ladders over open water to and from their duties. The new second-floor addition also attracted customers for wedding receptions, anniversary celebrations, and other special events. Prior to the addition, these customers had to look elsewhere for such facilities. In 1966, work was begun to straighten the bend in the canal at Chesapeake City and widen the canal channel to 450 feet. North Chesapeake City lost Canal/Lewis Street, which included more than two dozen single-family homes, a converted hotel, apartments, plus older vacant buildings which at one time served as stores.
In addition, the Schaefer complex lost a considerable amount of land and all of the buildings on the complex eventually had to be demolished. A steel bulkhead was erected along the revised waterfront to protect the remaining Schaefer complex property from erosion while retaining as much land as possible. South Chesapeake City also lost a considerable amount of land during the canal widening but the number of homes lost on the south shore was not as extensive. Last but not least, in 1971 plans were made to construct a new restaurant to be known as Schaefer's Canal House. In addition to being very elegant, the new restaurant provided guests with a terrific view of activities on the canal. Passing ships were announced over the public address system and dining guests were informed as to the dimensions, cargo, origin, and destination of the vessel. With the completion of the new restaurant in 1973, everything except Schaefer's Pilot Transfer launch service passed out of the hands of the Schaefer family. In 1975 the introduction of Cabin John's Cocktail Lounge was born in what is now will be used as our banquet facilities once the construction is complete. Prior to the reconstruction, Cabin John's was a grocery and a general store called Schaefer's Delmar Market. Also in 1975 the new pilot shack located to the right of the restaurant, when viewing from the canal, was built. Its purpose was to serve the commercial shipping traffic by transferring pilots on/off the vessel. By this time Bank Street and Lock Street were used to enter the complex.