Waterfront town a blend of old, new


July 31, 1994|By Donna Weaver | Donna Weaver,Contributing Writer

As a fourth-generation resident of Eastport, Pip Moyer has seen his community develop into a melange of condominiums, high-priced boats and newly built single-family homes. But for the former Annapolis mayor, Eastport will always mean summer nights and Captain Herbie.

As a boy, Mr. Moyer would sleep in the bow of Capt. Herbie Sadler's boat, waiting for the Eastport waterman. At 3:30 a.m., the captain would appear, sometimes with a bunch of other youngsters. He'd steer his boat out of the cozy confines of Spa Creek and onto the Severn River and Chesapeake Bay.

"I think he was the best waterman ever," says Mr. Moyer, 59. "He taught so many young people around about the water. Sometimes he would have so many young boys on board I wonder how he found room to dip the crabs."

Those were the 1940s, a time when Eastport was still a sleepy, blue-collar town of mostly watermen, Naval Academy workers and employees from Annapolis shops. They began moving to Eastport in 1868, when the Mutual Building Association of Annapolis started selling lots. It was a place where residents owned their homes, because land was affordable, and blacks and whites lived together amicably. It was a small town rooted in family relationships, work and the water.

Residents maintained a strong work ethic, and there was no harder worker than Herb Sadler. Gladys Sadler recalls that her husband worked six days a week from 3 a.m. to 9 p.m.

"He was a worker," she says of her husband, who died in 1974 at the age of 72. "He died at our seafood market, waiting for crabs to cook. I haven't had a decent crab since he died."

Marita Carroll's family has lived in Eastport since 1872 on the Back Creek side, the traditional haven for black Eastporters. Her mother, Leona, worked in the Naval Academy laundry for $4 a week. Yet, she still saved up enough money to buy a $150 lot on Chester Street in 1942 and build a four-bedroom house that cost $3,000.

"There was a strong work ethic here," recalls Ms. Carroll, 72. "We very seldom heard of people being permanently unemployed. They felt a need to support their family. Therefore they didn't shun work." That picture still exists, but some residents fear it's eroding. They're working to preserve Eastport's uniqueness, especially by pushing for strict enforcement of Annapolis zoning laws that protect maritime businesses on the waterfront and regulate home construction and renovation.

"Without the protections, without the zoning, without the city's commitment, Eastport could be the look-alike of so many other towns," says Ellen Moyer, a longtime Eastport resident and an Annapolis alderwoman whose district includes Eastport.

"Eastport has the wonderful scale of a small town," says Donna Ware, an Eastport resident and the historic sites planner for Anne Arundel County's Office of Planning and Code Enforcement. "Certainly the draw it has for people is the scale of its streets and the mix of neighborhoods."

Eastport is a small town within a city, connected to downtown Annapolis by a bridge at Sixth Street. And yet, Eastport is vastly different from Annapolis.

"It's its own little town, and it has its own identity," says Ms. Moyer, Pip Moyer's former wife.

But Eastport's biggest assets also are its curses: an attractive waterfront, proximity to Annapolis and narrow, tree-lined streets, lined with mostly Victorian and early-20th century homes. Most streets lead to one of three bodies of water: Spa Creek, the Severn River or Back Creek.

Those assets have drawn people, particularly wealthier ones, to town. Over the past 15 years, they've bought lots and have built large homes, or bought old homes and renovated them. Developers have bought waterfront lots and built office buildings and condominium complexes.

Inevitably, the demand for property has driven up prices.

"Eastport is still affordable, depending on the location," says Peg Wallace, an agent for Champion Realty and president of the Eastport Historical Committee. "Upper Eastport is still affordable. People can buy townhouses and condos for under $100,000. The lower you get in Eastport, the more outrageous the prices are."

A three- or four-bedroom house near the water costs between $175,000 and $200,000.

Mr. Moyer believes the influx of wealthy outsiders into Eastport began after the first Annapolis boat show in 1968.

"People from across the country offered old-timers a lot of money for their land," he recalls.

Some sold their property, but not Ms. Carroll, who lives with her 96-year-old mother.

"A number of Realtors have knocked on this door," she says. "In spite of the changes, I don't know of any place I would rather be than Eastport."

But some new residents have tried to spoil Eastport's charm, building large contemporary houses that don't conform with the other houses on the street. And some developers want more nonmaritime businesses.

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