Author meets Elliott Island and falls in love

submitted to dorchester banner/Julie Gilberto-Brady In her writing room, and standing with the name of her business, Dogwood Ridge Books, sign above her, Ann Foley displays copies of her books on Elliott Island.

submitted to dorchester banner/Julie Gilberto-Brady
In her writing room, and standing with the name of her business, Dogwood Ridge Books, sign above her, Ann Foley displays copies of her books on Elliott Island.

ELLIOTT ISLAND – Dogwood Ridge Books is rooted in years that Ann Foley spent as a freelance journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. Dogwood Ridge — the name of her business — comes from the high piece of land that runs along Fishing Bay in southern Dorchester County — the remote piece of land where she bought property 40 years ago.

Ann bought her house in Elliott Island in 1978 to use for weekend getaways. She was looking for something off the beaten path. Even so, when the realtor notified her that he had found the perfect place, she was taken aback.

“I followed him down the road,” she said. “I had never been anywhere remotely like it — surrounded by a sea of marsh like that. I couldn’t believe that there was anything at the end of the road. It was off the beaten path, on the outer rim of Elliott Island. It was perfect!”

• An eager listener
Soon, it became harder and harder to go back to the city. Early in the 1980s, she became a full-time resident of Elliott Island and began to publicize local events and profile interesting residents of the region. Eventually, she began to focus on writing longer biographies and local history, particularly of Elliott and Holland Islands, Cambridge and Dorchester County.

She had discovered a tightknit, but friendly community who were welcoming to newcomers from “off the island.” Before long, she found herself joining them regularly at Miss Nora’s Store, where the locals would hang out in the mornings and evenings to socialize, share news and exchange stories. They found an eager and interested listener in Ann.

• Preserving a sense of what makes the area unique
“Because of the location, my older Elliott Island neighbors had grown up quite isolated,” Ann said. “No paved road crossed the marsh to the island. No electric line reached them. No school bus carried youngsters to town. They lived in a world of their own and had their own unique traditions. After modern conveniences came to the island, older residents saw their special way of life slipping away. Several felt a need to pass their knowledge of former days onto someone of the next generation.
“They got to tell their stories to someone who had never heard them before. I discovered that my older neighbors had a real sense of being the last of their kind, and they were worried that their stories would be lost. They just wanted to leave this with someone who was going to outlive them. And I wanted to preserve a sense of what made this area unique.”

She joined forces with her neighbor Freddie Waller in researching the back story and recording local lore in Elliott Island: The Land That Time Forgot. She had been hesitant about writing about the community in which she lived. She “didn’t want to rock the boat,” or disappoint any of her neighbors and friends. She needn’t have worried.

“Shortly after Dogwood Ridge Books published Elliott Island: The Land That Time Forgot, I heard someone on my screened porch and went to the door,” Ann said. “I was just in time to glimpse a departing crabber who had left me a present of a bushel of #1s, the local equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize!”
Appreciating life’s blessings

Since then, she has researched and published several other books about Dorchester County residents and local history. The list includes Holland Island: Lost Atlantis of the Chesapeake, A Dorchester County Scrapbook: “That Reminds Me of a Story,” and Having My Say: Conversations with Chesapeake Bay Waterman Wylie “Gator” Abbott.

The blessings she finds living in this beautiful but isolated location are reflected throughout her writing, but she is especially appreciative of the opportunity to have experienced the vestiges of life that remain from a time before there was a bridge over the Chesapeake Bay and before the road to the Elliott Island was completely paved.

She takes visitors on a driving tour of the community she loves, pointing out the former one-room school house that is now part of a multi-bay fire station, the sites of a former blacksmith shop, canning plant, crab house, boat yard and button factory, and, of course, the shuttered Miss Nora’s Store, which provided the inspiration for her business.

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