Plumbing for a shucker's shack Anne Arundel County: Oyster shanties modernized for low-income homes in Galesville.

December 13, 1996

AT $24 A WEEK, the rent was not bad, particularly considering the West River waterfront location. But until they were recently given a $1.2 million facelift, 16 cinderblock homes in Galesville, constructed in the 1950s for oyster shuckers, remained among the few Anne Arundel County homes that lacked such modern conveniences as indoor plumbing.

When the non-profit Arundel Community Development Services Inc. began planning the renovation, it was motivated by a desire to preserve an old African-American working-class community.

Now that the renovations have been done, 14 of the 16 units are occupied by families who previously lived there but found temporary housing during the construction. Most earn less than $22,500 a year and will be paying about 30 percent of their monthly income for rent.

Those families can hardly believe the transformation of their old dwellings. There is no longer a need to go outside in rain or snow to pump water. The modernization price tag was steep. "If you try to make economic sense of it, you won't," acknowledges Kathleen M. Koch, executive director of the development organization. But she maintains that new construction would have been even costlier.

"There isn't a for-profit developer who in his right mind would be willing to go in and do this and keep these units affordable," she told the Anne Arundel County Council when she sought funding. In the end, the project was financed with federal, state and county support.

The Galesville community dates to the mid-1800s, populated by watermen and shuckers. When William A. Woodfield founded a fish and oyster company there in 1859, he shipped the seafood in barrels to Baltimore aboard the legendary sidewheeler, Emma JTC Giles. The 700-square-foot cinderblock houses were built on West Benning Road following World War II for employees of the now-defunct company.

The Galesville project is akin to the restoration of Oella, an old mill town in Baltimore County across the Patapsco River from Ellicott City.

But while Oella's modernization has made it a pricey community, the 16 houses in Galesville will provide much-needed modern conveniences for low-income families.

Pub Date: 12/13/96

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