Annapolis' 'Red-headed Stepchild' Celebrates Its Past

Eastport Museum Will Showcase Heritage Of Once-thriving Fishing Village

March 15, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

Peg Wallace stands in a yard off the Chesapeake Bay, her yellow slicker whipping in the wind, scanning the crab pots piled near the water's edge.

Others might dismiss the old pots, crates and scarred boat in the neighbor's yard as a pile of junk. But Wallace sees a treasure, a collection of maritime artifacts that tell Eastport's history.

For six years, she has been working with a handful of Eastport residents to open a museum celebrating the heritage of the once-thriving fishing village.

They hope to improve the image of Eastport, often seen as a shabby stepsister to Annapolis' historic district, by creating a counterpart to the restored Colonial houses on the opposite side of Spa Creek.

Supported by a $5,000 donation from Robert Leonard, a nuclear physicist concerned about the "yuppification" of Eastport during the 1980s, the Eastport Historical Committee began researching the town's origins.

Now the committee has found a site for the museum, which will showcase the lives of the watermen, carpenters, butchers and dressmakers who made Eastport their home for more than acentury.

A narrow, one-story house built on top of a barge will become the Barge House Museum once the city gives its final nod of approval. Tucked next to a tiny, waterfront park off Bay Shore Avenue, the museum still is unknown to many residents and business owners in Eastport.

But Wallace, 68, plans to change that come spring.

Sheis organizing walking tours starting the first weekend of May and hopes to have the museum open at least two weekends a month during the summer.

"Eastport has always been the red-headed stepchild of Annapolis," she says with a grin.

"A lot of us have felt concerned about what was happening here. With all the development and new people coming in, we felt there was this perception that Eastport has no history."

The history of the small peninsula between Spa and Back creeks is shorter and less prestigious than its stately neighbor across the bridge.

Maryland's signers of the Declaration of Independence and first governors didn't build their Georgian mansions in Eastport. In pre-Revolutionary days, the land was owned by an Englishman, Robert Clarkson, who had a patent for 300 acres.

Still, Eastport has its own historic landmarks.

In 1655, when Annapolis was a down-at-the-heels fishing village, Catholic and Puritans battled it out on the peninsula. During the Revolution, a fort was built at Horn Point to protect Annapolis. The French army later bivouacked at Eastport, camping in tents on Benjamin Ogle's farm, along a grassy knoll near today's Burnside Street, according to a monograph written by the late LarryS. Mickel, a committee member.

Eastport remained a farming settlement until after the Civil War, when a building association subdivided several parcels of land and sold off the lots to watermen, Wallace says. The group also built the first drawbridge connecting Eastport with Annapolis.

By the 1930s, Eastport was a busy watermen's village. A photograph taken before a hurricane swept across Maryland in 1933 shows most of today's streets already were lined with homes.

"Our history is only 100 to 150 years old, but what's great about that is some of the families are still around and can preserve their history," Wallace says.

One of those people is Tilghman Rawlings Jr., the son of the waterman who lived next door to what is now the Barge House Museum. Rawlings has promised to donate his father's crabbing equipment to the museum.

Wallace is slowly filling the museum with artifacts from Eastport's rich heritage as a fishing and ship-building village. She also has collected everything from baby shoes to honey jars for an exhibit on lifestyles.

But the committee still is looking for artifacts, volunteers and financial help, she says. One of itslong-term goals is saving Eastport's first firehouse, located on Second Street and slated for demolition. The project needs an infusion of financial aid.

Anyone interested in the museum should call Wallace at (410) 268-1802.

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