Skipjack Rosie Parks Restoration
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
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Rosie Parks Video Update, June - November, 2012
Rosie Parks Video Update, March - June, 2012
Saving a Chesapeake Bay Skipjack
Rosie Parks Video Update, November, 2011 - February, 2012
Help restore a skipjack with CBMM's Community Work Days
The Museum is offering the public a rare opportunity to be a part of the Rosie Parks skipjack restoration project with its recently launched Community Work Days Program. As part of the program, the Museum will be opening its campus every Saturday from 10am - 3pm to community members wanting to volunteer while learning the art of boatbuilding from CBMM's Master Shipwright, Marc Barto.
Volunteers will assist in activities like tearing ou tthe keel, stem, and centerboard while learning how to build and install new ones. All skillsets are welcome and women are encouraged to participate.
Rosie Parks Video Update, August 8 - October 31
Rosie Parks Video Update, June 22 - August 8
Rosie was featured on WJZ Channel 13 news on Monday, July 12, 2011. Click here to watch!
Marc Barto Named Project Manager for CBMM's Rosie Parks Restoration
Marc Barto, of Wittman, MD has been named project manager for the three-year restoration of the Museum's skipjack, Rosie Parks. Built by Bronza Parks of Wingate, MD, Rosie Parks is one of the least altered historic skipjacks still in existence, making her one of the best examples for interpretation of the fleet's work. The three-year restoration project will be done in public view at the Museum, and is funded through philanthropic support.
The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, MD has announced a three-year major skipjack restoration project which will be done in public view at the Museum’s boatyard. Funded through philanthropic support, the restoration process will provide hands-on shipwright experience and serve as a prime attraction for the Museum visitor as a dynamic and interactive exhibit.
The Rosie Parks, built in 1955 by legendary boat builder Bronza Parks for his brother, Captain Orville Parks, was named for their mother. The Museum purchased Rosie Parks in 1975 from Captain Orville. Only 20 years old at the time, Rosie had a reputation as both the best maintained skipjack in the oyster dredging fleet and as a champion sailor at the annual skipjack races at Deal Island and Chesapeake Appreciation Days at Sandy Point.
Rosie Parks was the first of her kind to be preserved afloat by a museum and quickly became the most widely recognized Chesapeake Bay skipjack of the late twentieth century, as well as a symbol of the preservation prospect for the dwindling fleet of surviving skipjacks. Recently surpassing her fifty-year mark, Rosie Parks is in need of substantial rebuilding. Repairs were made to the boat as needed until 1994, but Rosie remains one of the least altered historic skipjacks in existence. When restored in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Vessel Preservation Projects, Rosie could be the best example of her type for interpretation of the work of this fleet. The skipjack contains her original winders (power winches) and other dredging gear, which will allow her to be fully outfitted when refloated. Original fabric retained includes a majority of the structural components of the hull, including a major portion of the keel. Rosie’s suit of Dacron sails is still usable, although she will most likely need a new engine for her push boat, and the push boat itself must be assessed for repair or replacement.
The anticipated three-year restoration process will afford the chance for daily public interpretation, ranging from interactions between Museum artisans on the project and Museum visitors to more intense half-day or day-long experiences modeled on the existing Apprentice For a Day program. The Museum hopes to incorporate a large pool of community volunteers as well as school and youth programs in the restoration process. Visitors will learn about the cultural aspects of this vanishing community––how the boats were designed and built, who were the designers and builders, how were workers treated and paid, what was life like in these communities, what did the men do in the off-season, and how were the boats used when not dredging for oysters, in addition to the basics of boat design
The restoration project has already received a generous bequest from the family of Richard Grant III, who fondly recall their father’s stories of sailing on Rosie Parks. While the Grant family gift is enough to get started on the $500,000 restoration, additional philanthropic support is needed to fund the project and to cover long-term maintenance. The Museum has the largest collection of indigenous Chesapeake Bay watercraft in existence. Restoring and preserving these historic Chesapeake vessels is an important part of the Museum’s mission.
PRESS: For more information or high resolution images, contact Communications Manager Marie Thomas
Boat Shop Archaeology: Finding the Right Wood for the Rosie Parks
by Dick Cooper
It is a crisp, overcast morning when Master Shipwright Marc Barto opens the door of the big, rugged pickup parked in front of the Boat Shop. Rosie, his yellow lab pup, bounds in and takes her rightful place in the middle of the front bench seat, her eyes wide with anticipation of the road trip about to begin. Shipwright apprentices India Gilham-Westerman and Ken Philips climb into the back seat as Barto fires up the throaty engine of the truck and we wind our way out of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, towing a tandem-axel flatbed trailer that has seen better days. We are heading to the Paul M. Jones Lumber Company, located about 80 miles southeast in Snow Hill, Maryland, to pick up the thick pine planks that will become the new bottom for the historic skipjack Rosie Parks that Barto and his crew are rebuilding.
“You got to see this place,” Barto says of the Jones complex. “It is bigger than the museum’s campus with wood stacked everywhere.” Barto has ordered the planks cut from Eastern Shore pine to make sure the restored Rosie Parks is as historically accurate as possible.Almost six decades ago, famed Eastern Shore boatbuilder Bronza Parks went looking for wood for his bustling business in the Dorchester hamlet of Wingate, on the banks of the Honga River. He was building three skipjacks, including the Rosie. Wood was the fabric of his business and he knew it intimately. His daughter, Mary Parks Harding, said her father would walk though tall stands of local pine looking for the right trees to make better boats.
“He looked for local wood because the soil and dampness here, it was better quality wood. I used to go into the woods with my father when he would mark the trees he wanted,” she says. “He would look up a tree and see how far up the first branches started. Then he would pace off several steps and he would lie down. He had me hold up a six-foot ruler at his feet, he was six-feet tall you know, and he would sight up it and know exactly how high up it really was. I learned a lot about geometry from my father.”
“He talked about that a lot,” she says. “But that was a long time ago, so I am just not sure where he got the wood.” A Jones spokesman says they were in business back in 1955, but there’s no way to tell if they sold wood to Bronza Parks back then.Rosie has been sleeping with her head on Barto’s lap for much of the trip, but as we come to a stop behind the Jones office, she is in a hurry to get out of the truck. Barto no sooner opens his door and the yellow lab is out dashing like the big puppy she is—sniffing, scurrying, and running around. A Jones foreman tells Barto that the bottom planks for the Rosie Parks are cut and have been sitting in the yard for several weeks. He directs us through the yard to the staging area near the mill, where great stacks of cut lumber are in neat rows. Barto is pleased as he examines the neatly piled planks.
“This looks like good, clear wood,” he says. He has to keep Rosie in the cab because the yard is alive with forklifts and heavy equipment moving in a random ballet of constant motion. Tractor-trailers are lined up carrying a dozen logs each. One by one, they move to the back lot where logs are offloaded, before moving out in a steady stream. Heavy mechanical movers with monster crab-like claws pick up the logs and place them on a conveyor, several stories high. Gravity feeds the logs through a series of circular and band saws until they drop out on another set of conveyors at the mill’s end as finished, squared off pieces of lumber. As Barto and apprentices India and Ken load the tandem trailer, the screaming of the saws and the thump and rattle of the mill all but drown out conversation.
“Boatbuilders would come to us, pick out old-growth trees and we would cut the wood,” Spicer says. “We could cut logs up to 42 feet.” Spicer says he first tried his hand at farming and left that occupation in 1954 after Hurricane Hazel pushed saltwater into the Dorchester County farms, damaging the soil. He says he had an opportunity to work at a Cambridge car dealer as a mechanic but decided to work for his Uncle Arthur Spicer in 1955.
“I could either go to Cambridge every day or walk across the street to Uncle Arthur’s mill,” he says. “I didn’t know anything when I started and after 41 years wound up owning the place.” Spicer says he remembers Bronza Parks working with his Uncle. “We furnished the lumber for all three of those skipjacks he built at that time,” Spicer recalls. “Uncle Arthur had cut the lumber on the mill set up down in the woods. He had a planing mill but it wasn’t working at the time.
“One of the first things I did, we loaded those sides, those skipjack sides, and carried them into Cambridge to the manufacturing company that was right there were the shipyard is. Got ‘em dressed and took ‘em on down to Wingate,” Spicer recalls.
To get those pieces cut, Barto turned to the Tuckahoe Sawmill in Ridgely, Maryland, 30 miles northeast of St. Michaels. There, sawyer Kurt Gant runs a vintage Frick sawmill similar to those used to cut logs into lumber since the 1870s. George Frick, an inventor from southwestern Pennsylvania, patented several farming and milling technologies during his long life, including an early version of refrigeration. Gant’s saw is a great wheel of sharp teeth that slices through a log with more brute force than grace. It gives Barto the historic look he is seeking.
“This is one tree that was 56 feet long,” Barto says, rubbing his hand along the grain of the great squared off pine log. “If this log had been compromised, we wouldn’t have been able to do the project, but it is solid as a rock.”
The Real Rosie Parks
by Dick Cooper
As the historic skipjack Rosie Parks is restored plank by plank, the family tree of the real Rosie Parks is regenerating branch by branch. The descendants of Rosina Todd Parks, a small woman who bore four sons and died young after a hard life on southern Dorchester County’s waterfront, are keeping their family history alive by retelling stories that have been passed down for generations.Standing on the doghouse of the skipjack Rosie during a recent family reunion at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the real Rosie’s great-grandson, Pres Harding of Chestertown, put it this way, “This has been a grand thing for the family. This project is not only restoring the boat, it is restoring the family.”
Rosie Parks’ famous shipbuilding son, Bronza, built the skipjack for her famous oysterman son, Orville, in 1955—
“We were all overwhelmed by what the Museum did for the family,” says Mary Parks Harding, Pres’ mother and the daughter of Bronza Parks. “It was one of the greatest tributes to my father that I have ever seen.” Family members posed for group photos next to a life-size photo cut-out of Bronza during the reunion. “I had purchased a photo of my father at an auction,” Mary Harding says. “I told my son we should donate it to the Museum, but when we got there, we found they already had it and had made that cut-out of him from it.”
Bronza Parks was one of the best-known shipwrights on the Chesapeake in the mid-1900s. He built hundreds of boats in his shop, ranging from crab skiffs to cabin cruisers, before being shot to death by a mentally disturbed customer in 1958. His brother, Orville—who was honored by then-Governor J. Millard Tawes with the title “Admiral of the Chesapeake” for his oystering and sailing skills, retired from a life on the water in 1974 at the age of 78. He sold the Rosie Parks to the Museum in 1975 and died in April of 1976 at the age of 80. Orville was born in 1896, the first of Robert William Wesley and Rosina Parks’ four sons in Wingate. He was followed by Robert in 1897, Bronza in 1899, and Rosen in 1900. Rosen, the last of the Parks brothers, passed away in 1989. Mary Harding says family members are not sure what caused Rosie’s death in 1902. Some speculated it was caused by having four babies so close together, but Mary Harding doesn’t think that was a factor because she lived two more years. “It must have been something else,” she says.
After Rosie’s death, the boys were raised with the help of relatives in their small, close-knit community. Their father later remarried and had five daughters, Mary Harding says. But tragedy continued to follow the Parks family. Robert W. W. Parks was killed in 1929 in a dramatic accident. “His car stalled on the train tracks down around Pocomoke, and he was hit by the train and killed,” Mary Harding says. “I remember the day, and I was only about two at the time, but I remember when they came to the house and told Dad his father had been killed.”
It kept spreading until 57 of Robert and Rosie’s offspring showed up, some traveling from as far away as Florida and New Mexico. Orville’s grandson Tom Parks kept his younger cousins, nephews and nieces enthralled with his stories of growing up with the old waterman. “I used to go out with him during Christmas break when I was seven or eight,” he says. “I got chicken pox when we were out dredging near the bottom of the Choptank River.”
He says his father, who was part of the crew, took him ashore in the skiff but the houses they went to were unoccupied summer homes. “We walked to a general store in a snow storm where we called my mother and she came and got me. One of my earliest memories of the Rosie is getting chicken pox in a snow storm at Christmas.” Tom Parks says that his grandfather was known around the Bay for being one of the most daring of the skipjack captains.
“We were the only ones to make it back to Chesapeake Beach. The rest couldn’t make it back in and they ran up to Annapolis,” Tom says. “We were on the Bay and the wind was from the south and the seas were running 12 to 14 feet high. We couldn’t launch the push boat because the sea was too high. Every time we went down a swell you could feel the centerboard hit the bottom. We had to sail in between the rock breakwaters at Chesapeake Beach.”
“He stuck her in the mud a little,” he recalls “We got the sail down, launched the push boat and went back into the harbor. We got 150 bushels of oysters that day. He knew enough about the Bay so he knew what he was doing. We were the only boat in the harbor that made money that day.”And then there was the racing. Orville Parks liked to take home the prize money, and usually did. “He was quite serious about his racing,” Tom says. “He didn’t go out there just to sail, he went out there to win, so you had to be ready.”
To illustrate how serious he was, Orville told his racing crew that when he was a young man, he took his father racing with him on a blustery day on the Potomac River. “Midway through the race, his father went forward and cut the halyard to the main so the sail fell,” Tom says. “Because he figured his son was going to sink his boat if that was what it took to win the race. He knew he would drive that boat under if he needed to, just to win the race.”
Orville told his grandchildren, “So that is why I named my boat Rosie Parks because I knew my mother would look out for me while I was on the water.”
The Birthplace of Rosie Parks
by Dick Cooper
(top left) Wingate Harbor, Dorchester County, Maryland. (top right)Irénée du Pont Jr. holds a framed photo of the yacht Barbara Batchelder, named for du Pont’s wife, built by Bronza Parks. (bottom left) Bronza Parks on the deck of the Barbara Batchelder with daughter, Mary, and grandchildren Cande Ruark, Brenda Harding, and Pres Harding, Jr. in May 1956. (bottom right) O’Neal and William “Snooks” Windsor in Wingate, Maryland. (middle) Bronza Parks stands in his boat yard under the bowsprits of the skipjacks Martha Lewis & Rosie Parks in 1955.
The hamlet of Wingate is a loose collection of homes on the outer edge of the Eastern Shore where Fishing Bay laps up against the Crapo-Bishops Head Road in southern Dorchester County. The docks at Powley’s Marina, in “downtown” Wingate, are tired. Castoff boat parts, old crab pots and worn-out trailers seem to pile higher every year. The damp air blows through the shells of collapsing vacant houses turned gray by the sun. A half-century ago, Wingate (pronounced WINGit) was a different place. Three seafood factories lined the waterfront. Local stores sold everything from food, to clothing to boat supplies. The B.M. Parks bustling boat shop dominated a large corner lot, 500 feet from the water.
“People kept their houses up to a ‘T’,” says life-long resident William “Snooks” Windsor, who now runs Powley’s.
Wingate is the birthplace of the Museum’s famous skipjack Rosie Parks, now being restored on campus as a three-year demonstration and education project. Bronza Parks built the boat for his brother, Orville, and named it after their mother. Orville Parks worked the boat for two decades before selling it to the Museum. Although the project is just underway, saving Rosie already has made a major impact on the Parks’ extended family.
“It has brought our family together,” Harding says. “Grandchildren and great-grandchildren are excited about the project.” Several family members have come to the Museum to help master shipwright Marc Barto as he directs the reconstruction of the skipjack. Rosie’s lines, trim and rig came from somewhere in Bronza Parks’ creative and artistic mind. Six years of elementary school education somehow gave him the knowledge he
“Dad never worked with drawings,” Harding says. “Some people came to him once and showed him the drawings of a boat they wanted him to build. He turned them down. He said, he knew how to build a boat and he didn’t need their plans. Dad started building boats with hand tools. There was no electricity in Wingate. Back in those days there wasn’t five telephones south of Church Creek. His first power tool in the early 1940s was a band saw that had a gasoline engine.”
Bronza devised a big-wheeled wagon to transport his finished boats down a gravel lane from the shop to the water. Harding says her father had an old, hand-cranked siren salvaged from a fire truck that was mounted on the shop. When he needed to launch a boat, he sounded the siren and everyone who heard it came to help. “In the old days, he used a team of oxen to pull the boats,” Harding says. Later he used a tractor or his Ford pickup. The back wheels of the wagon were steered with a long tiller and once the wagon was in place, the boats were launched sideways down logs that had been placed as slides into the water.
“We didn’t have a boat ramp back then,” Snooks Windsor says. But despite the demands of the job, Harding’s father, known to his friends as “Bronzie,” established a reputation for building quality vessels that spread across the Chesapeake region. When Rosie was built in the mid-1950s, Bronza and the three-dozen men in his large boat shop were turning out gasoline-powered workboats, sailing skipjacks and in one case, a custom-built sailing yacht. Bronza built Rosie, and her sister-ships, the Martha Lewis and the Lady Katie, in succession, but stopped working on the Lady Katie when a young DuPont Company executive from northern Delaware, who had always fancied the traditional lines of the skipjack, hired him to build a sailing yacht.
Irénée du Pont Jr., now 91, great-great grandson of the founder of the company, has fond memories of Wingate, Bronza Parks, and his family. He says he first met Orville Parks while he was shopping for a skipjack to turn into a cruising sailboat for his young family. Orville wanted to sell him his old boat, the Joy Parks, but du Pont thought it was too big. Orville told him that his brother was building him a new skipjack and could build du Pont any boat he wanted. In 1955, the best way to meet Bronza was to be in the Cambridge Acme at 9:30 on a Saturday morning, when he did his grocery shopping. Du Pont says he asked the store clerk to point out Bronza, and when a tall, muscular man walked in, the clerk gave him the nod and du Pont introduced himself.
“He was big. Broad shoulders locomoted by narrow hips,” du Pont recalls. “He was the personification of a man who could build wooden boats with a broad axe.” Du Pont says he arranged to meet Bronza at his shop the following Sunday to talk about building his yacht. Over the next week, a severe storm flooded southern Dorchester County and isolated Wingate. Du Pont drove his 1936 Oldsmobile through the deep water and was the first person to reach the village in days. (Du Pont still has the Oldsmobile in his garage and several other old cars. He explained, “I’m not a car collector, I just never get rid of them.”)
When he got to the docks, men were trying to use a mechanical pump to bail a sinking workboat. Du Pont says he realized that the pump’s primer had slipped out of place and he hit it with an oar to right the situation. “The pump started to gush and I was treated like I had saved the day,” he says. “By the time I got to Bronzie’s shop, he had already heard about what had happened on the dock.” Du Pont says that their friendship started immediately. “He was so amiable,” du Pont says. “He was also direct in his manner of speech. I think he was genuinely in love with his fellow man. He addressed people as ‘honey,’ kind of a quaint thing that people down in Dorchester do, they all call each other ‘honey.’ ”
Du Pont visited Parks numerous times while the yacht Barbara Bacthelder, named for du Pont’s wife, was being built. “I remember the first time I went to his house,” he says. “I was going to head home and he said, ‘Come in and have some supper.’ He poured scalding hot coffee into a cup and said ‘You like cheese in your coffee?’”
“I had never seen that done. He had some really sharp rat-trap cheese and he put a tablespoon or more in my coffee cup and it melted out right away. That was the greatest drink I ever had.” Du Pont says Bronza never drew up plans for Barbara. “When he finished the hull he had her pulled out of the shop so he could envision her cabin lines,” he says. “He had to stand back and ‘see’ what she would look like. He was a true artist.”
Mary Parks Harding remembers walking with her father in the woods, looking for trees to turn into boats. “He knew a lot of arithmetic and geometry and could look at a tree and calculate how many board feet he could get out of it,” she says. Less than two years after the Barbara Bacthelder was completed, Bronza was shot and killed in his boat shop by a customer who was upset over the cost of a boat Parks was building for him.
“That was the worst thing that ever happened in Wingate,” Snooks Windsor says. Parks’ boat shop is gone now.
Read the "When Worlds Collide" by Dick Cooper, featured in the Star Democrat's Life section,