Skipjack Rosie Parks Restoration
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
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Skipjack Rosie Parks Restoration Update, Summer/Fall 2013
Skipjack Rosie Parks Lifted with Crane into the Water, October 2013
Prepping for Planking on the Rosie Parks
Rosie Parks Video Update, Winter/Spring, 2013
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
Voices from the Past: Stories from Bronza Parks' Boatyard
by Dick Cooper
Pictured above: (left) Tom Dean, O’Neal Dean, Ralph Ruark playing music while waiting for the tide to come up before launching a new boat.
Circa 1950, Parks Family Collection.(bottom left) Papa” Bronza Parks rocking four of his grandchildren, Patti Hall (daughter of Martha Parks Todd), Trudi Jones (daughter of Joyce Parks Wiley), Cande White (daughter of Martha Parks Todd), and Pres Harding, (son of Mary Parks Harding).
Two decades ago, Trudi Jones of Cambridge, MD, was a young mother looking for insights into family legends surrounding the life and times of her famous boatbuilding grandfather, Bronza Parks. She was just three years old in 1958 when Parks was shot to death in his Wingate, Dorchester County, boatshop by a deranged customer during a dispute over a bill. Jones has no memory of her grandfather but grew up listening to her mother, grandmother and family friends tell stories about the big man with the rough hands who left an indelible mark on the history of Chesapeake Bay watercraft.
“I don’t know why I needed to know more about him, but I felt moved to do so,” Jones recalls. “I am a spiritual person and a Christian and I just felt moved by God to do this.” So in 1992, armed with little more than her drive to learn more, along with her children’s plastic Fisher Price tape recorder, she tracked down two of Bronza’s protégées, who were by then getting on in years themselves. She started her project by calling the family friends whom she had known most of her life, Tom Dean and F. O’Neal Dean.
“I told them at the time that I was thinking about writing something and I wanted to make sure it was accurate.” Tom, who passed away in 2001 at the age of 83, and O’Neal, who was 78 when he died in 2006, were both from Wingate but not related. Each of them spent more than an hour in separate telephone interviews with Jones. They recalled their first jobs working for Parks, his work ethic, his demand for the highest quality and his occasional light side. (“Bronzy could be quite comical, once you got to know him,” O’Neal Dean is heard saying.)
They talked about the hard work in an era before electricity and the camaraderie of life in a small tidewater town. And they talked about the life skills and personal kindness Bronza Parks imparted to them. Looking back, Jones says what she learned from the men seemed to satisfy her quest.
“I just never felt moved to pursue it further.” She gave copies of the tapes to family members, including her cousin, Pres Harding of Chestertown, who was collecting Parks family memorabilia. And that’s where the tapes sat. But like other aspects of the legend of Bronza Parks, there has been a renewed interest in his life and work since the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum began the restoration of one of his most famous vessels, the skipjack Rosie Parks. Now in its final year, the project directed by Master Shipwright Marc Barto, will see the Rosie relaunched and reborn in November, 2013.
Jones’ tapes bring to life the voices of the men who worked side-by-side with Bronza Parks from the 1930s start of his company right up to his untimely death. Tom Dean was one of Bronza’s first crew members. O’Neal Dean, who was almost 10 years younger that Tom, started working for Bronza right after World War II. Here are some of Tom and O’Neal Deans’ responses to questions posed by Jones in March, 1992:
“Now, Tom, can you tell me when you first started working for Papa?”
“That was one of my first jobs. We were making gasoline boats, workboats. I was making $6 a week. We were workin’ 60 hours a week and we were selling workboats, all completed with motors and everything for $600 ready for the man to go crabbin’ in. I worked with my father on the water but as far as building boats, I had no knowledge about building boats at all. He (Bronza) taught me to do good work and I always prided myself in the work that he taught me to do.”
Jones asks a similar question of O’Neal Dean who says, “I had just come out of the Navy and the first job I got I worked for a guy there in Cambridge and we had to ride the buses back then and I thought why can’t I find a job here locally so went down and asked him if he had any work. He says, ‘Well, what can you do?’ And I said, ‘Just about nothing.’ He says, ‘Well you’re just the man I’m lookin’ for. Cuz I tell ya just about everybody I hire, if they’s done carpenter work, they want to do it the way they want to. This way, I get someone like you says you don’t know anything about it, then you’ll learn my way and that’ll be the way I want it done.’ So that’s the way it started, right there.”
Both Tom and O’Neal Dean talked at length about the long hours and hard physical work, but they did so with a sense of pride and accomplishment. As Tom Dean put, it “You either did the work or someone else would.” Tom Dean’s experiences, however, started in the days long before South Dorchester County received electricity. In one exchange, he talks about boatbuilding in the early 1930s.
“It was hard work. You didn’t get a ten minute break. You didn’t get a smoke break. You worked from 7am until 11:30 and you had lunch and then you worked from noon to five. That was a time when everybody worked.
Among the early boats he helped build were the Martha, the dove-tailed workboat in CBMM’s floating fleet, and the skipjack Wilma Lee. By the time O’Neal Dean came to work at the Wingate boatyard, Bronza Parks had established a reputation for not only being a workboat craftsman, but also for building fine yachts for the more distinguished gentleman sailor and sportsman. To build finer vessels required more exotic woods than the Eastern Shore forests could provide. O’Neal recalls one trip to Baltimore to find wood that could hold a shine. He starts to tell the story about a trip but his telling is interrupted by a chuckle.
“It was kind of funny. Bronza was comical, once you got to know him. He’d have his spurts, he could fly hot on somethin’ right quick, but he was the other way too. We went to get some lumber and Bronzy told him we was looking for some good mahogany.”
Dean says the salesman showed them wood that “wasn’t very wide and wasn’t very long and it wasn’t very pretty.
Bronzy replies, ‘I’ll tell ya, when I was down in the Philippines, this is the kind of stuff we used to build our damn hog pens out of.’ Well I got snickerin’ and had to turn around because I didn’t want the man to see me laughing.”
(All his friends knew Bronza had never been to the Philippines.) They were escorted to another shed where they found mahogany planks 24 to 28 inches wide and 24 to 26 feet long.
“We loaded that truck up that day and bring ‘em back. Prettiest stuff you ever laid your eyes on. Bronzy says ‘See, if you don’t know how to speak out for yourself, you know he’d a made me take that other stuff.’ That was pretty stuff; we used it for a couple of years.”
Trudi Jones asks O’Neal if there was anything that set Bronza Parks’ boat apart from the others being built at the time.
“He always emphasized keen lines. He was just a good sharp boatbuilder. He had a good eye. If you ever done something wrong don’t ever think he wouldn’t see it.” He goes on to tell about one worker who didn’t finish the woodwork in a cockpit just right. I told this guy, ‘You know you got some kinks in there and I don’t think Bronza’s going to like that.’ He says, ‘They don’t look all that bad to me.’ "
"That evening I stayed later. So (Bronza) come home from Cambridge and climbed up inside.
"Fare lines means there aren’t any little bumps. Fare lines means they are pleasant to the eye. Fare lines is not spelled f-a-i-r, it is spelled f-a-r-e. It all paid off because when a boat went out it caught your eye, like a car that is all shined up that makes you want to turn around and take that second look, you know, sort of like a pretty woman.”
Tom and O’Neal Dean were more than just master boatbuilders, they were accomplished musicians as well. Along with Charlie Parks, another of Bronza’s best workers, they made up the Wingate Ramblers, a traveling band that played all around Dorchester County and even went on the radio in Annapolis.
“We were advertising for him, playing music,” O’Neal Dean says. “It had to be about ’49 because Tom Dean had a brand new 1949 Ford. We played on the Cambridge station for a while and then Bronzy wanted us to go to Annapolis. So we went and all, and that was part of the advertising that the boats had the fare lines. And I think he got some boats from us being on that station.”
O’Neal says that Bronza Parks boats of the time were distinctive because of the attention to every detail.
By the mid-1950s, B.M. (the ‘M’ stands for Malone) Parks Boat Builders was turning out 25 work and pleasure boats a year. “I am sure that there were 10, 11 or 12 boats going there at one time,” O’Neal recalls.One family legend that Trudi Jones tries to track down with O’Neal is an oft-told story of how Bronza would make a grand entrance by first throwing his hat into a room and then cartwheel though the door. O’Neal is first confused by the question, thinking she has asked if he ever made a wheel for a cart.
“You mean like a calisthenic?” O’Neal asks.
“I was always amazed that with the size of Papa he would be able to do one,” Trudi says.
O’Neal replies, “When you are young, it makes a lot of difference. He was full of foolishness like that, you know.”
O’Neal Dean concludes his interview by saying “I was grateful that he took me in and I was able to accomplish things that I learned by him. He was a good teacher and he needs to be mentioned and the work that he done. He treated me good. It’s a poor person that can’t praise the bridge that carried him across.”
For Tom Dean, one of the great memories of the boatyard days was the launching time.
“That was a great day. Oh that was fun. We always had a great celebration. I was in a band at that time with Charles and O’Neal. We used to play music under the boat waiting for the launching time. Everyone was jolly and always this favorite song. He always got us to sing and play it for him. ‘Just a Closer Walk With Thee.’ That was his favorite song. After that, we would have a half-day off and then come Monday mornin’ we were back putting a keel down.”
Near the end of the recording, Trudi pauses and asks “Tom, I have one request. Would you sing, ‘A Closer Walk With Thee?’”
Dean, who was then 73, doesn’t miss a beat and slips into an a cappella rendition of the old hymn.
Parks family members still recall hearing that favorite song, sung with a mournful tone at the close of Bronza Parks’ funeral, 55 years ago.
"Gentlemen... the Situation Has Changed."
by Dick Cooper
Pictured above: Captain Orville Parks and Museum Director R.J. “Jim” Holt aboard the Rosie Parks, en route to her new home at the Museum, 1975. Bottom left: Rosie docked along side the lighthouse, circa 1975. Bottom right: Anne Stinson reading her 1975 Star-Democrat story on the Museum’s purchase of the Rosie.
In the early months of 1975, R.J. “Jim” Holt, the first full-time director of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, quietly worked out a plan to expand the floating fleet by making a major acquisition. The Museum was entering its second decade, and if it was going to continue to make its mark on the region, it needed a skipjack—the iconic symbol of the Bay. According to letters and documents preserved by the Museum, everything started to come together for Holt that February and moved quickly. On April 26, Holt had his prize as he helped sail the skipjack Rosie Parks into St. Michaels harbor. Today, almost four decades later, the Rosie is being reborn as Master Shipwright Marc Barto and his apprentices work to bring the famous vessel back to what she looked like when Bronza Parks built her in 1955.
By 1975, the Museum’s fleet had grown to 36 Chesapeake vessels, ranging from the historically significant log-built bugeye Edna E. Lockwood, down to sailing skiffs and a one-log dugout, most of which had been donated. Not all the boats were floating and many were in bad repair. It was a constant struggle to keep the 50-foot, round-bottomed sloop J.T. Leonard from sinking at the dock. The good skipjacks on the Bay were still a major part of the oyster fishery and were too valuable for their owners to even consider selling them to an upstart museum. Four years earlier, the Museum had established a “Skipjack Fund” for the express purpose of buying a skipjack and Holt had looked at a few boats, including the Rebecca T. Ruark.
He then learned that the well-respected oysterman Captain Orville Parks was in ill health and had come ashore for good. Parks’ skipjack, the Rosie Parks, was well known on the Bay, having won several honors in the Sandy Point and Deale Island windjammer races. Holt began working behind the scenes with Luke Brown, an Annapolis boat broker who had Rosie listed for sale at $30,000 (about $120,000 in today’s dollars.) Holt thought $25,000 would be a number he could raise if he had a year or two to work on it. He arranged for Brown to visit the Museum on February 5, 1975, and made the initial offer. In a letter dated February 6, Brown thanked Holt for the visit.
“Just a note to let you know how much I enjoyed the conducted tour yesterday. I was amazed to see the extent of your facilities.” Brown went on to write, “I talked with Captain Parks yesterday, and he is willing to go along with your proposal to purchase the Rosie Parks for $25,000, with approximately 1/3 at the time of delivery, and the balance over a two year period.” Brown, obviously a good salesman with a sense of how to strengthen a connection, concluded the letter with the following post script: “Am enclosing my check and application for supporting membership.”
The letter appears to be more of a record keeper than breaking news because on the very same day, Holt began laying out his goal to buy Rosie to members of the Museum’s board.
“We have $6,500 in restricted funds for the purchase of a skipjack, which we need to round out our exhibits of available sail boats of the Bay,” Holt wrote to Museum board member S. Paul Johnston on February 6, 1975.
He went on, “It was brought to my attention that Captain Orville Parks, owner of the Rosie Parks, suffered a heart attack several weeks ago and the Rosie Parks is no longer dredging. She is now available for purchase. As you know, the Rosie Parks is the best known Skipkjack on the Bay and was built by B.M. Parks in 1955. She is equipped with Dacron sails and has been kept in yacht condition since she was launched. While Captain Parks is asking $30,000 for the Rosie, we could probably get her for $25,000. The public relations value of acquiring the Rosie Parks would be of great importance to the Museum.”
Later in the letter, Holt writes “I have talked with Richardson’s Boat Yard and they advised me that the Rosie Parks is in better condition than any of the skipjacks on the Bay…. Captain Orville Parks has also been contacted and he is very interested in the Rosie Parks going to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. He will accept $25,000 paid over a 3 year period of time in thirds. He will not sell the boat until hearing definitely from us.”
On February 17, Holt met with the Executive Committee of the Board and received its unanimous support. He also put forward his idea that the money should not be raised from the general membership. He was looking for 19 individuals of means willing to kick in $1,000 or more for this one-time purchase. The next day, he crafted a letter to Captain Parks extending his formal offer of $25,000 for the skipjack spelling out the terms, and included a $2,000 check as a show of good faith. The old captain signed the letter of agreement with a somewhat shaky hand.
“Gentlemen: An opportunity to correct a deficiency in the Museum’s Floating Exhibit, i.e., the acquisition of a skipjack, has come unexpectedly to the Museum. Until now, no boat has been available and until now the proper facilities to berth and maintain a skipjack, although in the final phases of construction, had not been completed and, therefore, were unavailable. The situation has changed. Probably the best known and most desirable skipjack on the Bay is available.”
Wilcox went on to assure his fellow board members that “this is not a ‘double dip’ attempt. It is, however, an appeal to you to help us with this project by soliciting a contribution or contributions from others possibly in your sphere of influence and contact. Your participation will allow us to take advantage of an opportunity which undoubtedly will never be duplicated as an addition to the Museum’s collection of Bay oriented exhibits.” In a P.S., Wilcox wrote, “Such donations are, of course, tax deductible.” Wilcox’s appeal worked, the full amount was raised and the purchase of Rosie Parks was concluded.
On April 24, Holt sent a letter to the Avon-Dixon Agency in Easton adding Rosie to the Museum’s insurance policy. Veteran Eastern Shore journalist Anne Stinson joined the crew and dignitaries who boarded Rosie in Cambridge the morning of April 26, 1975, to chronicle its voyage to St. Michaels for The Star-Democrat.
Stinson says she has great memories of that day, and her old friend Captain Orville. “He was such a gentleman, a little on the formal side, but always warm and welcoming to me.” She says she had sailed on Rosie Parks before that day, reporting her first story about oystering. “I hadn’t done an oyster story yet and he said, ‘You can come with me Miss Stinson.’ ”
In her 1975 newspaper account, Stinson wrote, “The Rosie Parks’ trip out of the Cambridge harbor Saturday morning with Captain Orville Parks at the wheel was an occasion of mixed emotions. It combined a pang of regret that one more skipjack was retiring from the oyster dredging fleet. More personally, it was a poignant time for the 79-year-old skipper, ordered by his doctor to leave a lifetime on the water.”
Stinson says she remembers Captain Parks talking about his late brother Bronza, who had been murdered by a mentally unstable customer 17 years earlier. “He talked about how much he missed his brother.”
After a cold, spray-soaked ride out of the Choptank and up Eastern Bay, Rosie rounded Tilghman Point and headed into the Miles River under full sail toward her new home at the Museum. “Captain Orville stood aside and Museum director Holt took the wheel for a turn as captain,” Stinson wrote. “Peter Black had a turn, followed by Ralph Wiley, Ted Graves and Hank Luykx. Their grins threatened to split their faces.”
Thinking back to that day, Stinson, now 85, says, “One of the things that I recall was when we got to St. Michaels, Captain Orville clearly wanted to stay on the boat until the last possible minute. He was so reluctant to leave, he kept fussing over it. He wanted to make sure everything was clean and that everything was in its place. Then he got very quiet. He sort of collected himself and got off the boat. He walked away and did not look back.”
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,