Chance Boatyard shows industrial side of history Old Spa Creek yard has been nominated as national historic site

June 18, 1998|By Chris Bubeck

CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE — ANNAPOLIS - By Annapolis standards, the Chance Boatyard is not much of a historic site.

The group of buildings at 222 Severn Ave. is divided into a shopping center, offices, a rusty old boat shed and a waterfront restaurant. It hasn't operated as a boatyard in nearly 25 years.

But to Eastport residents who still remember the luxury yachts that were built there and the double shifts that worked during World War II to churn out boats for the war effort, the boatyard "illustrated the complete flavor" of Annapolis' rough-neck neighbor across Spa Creek.

"That is the historic site in Eastport," said Mike Miron, a local service station owner and historian for the Barge House Museum. "There's a lot of history at that site. It's not just the buildings, it's the people that worked there."

The Chance Boatyard - also known as the Annapolis Yacht Yard and John Trumpy and Sons - has been nominated as a national historic site. If accepted, it would be the first and only industrial site of historic interest in Annapolis, said Alderman Ellen Moyer.

Donna Hole, chief of historic preservation for Annapolis, said Eastport sites are often overlooked by the Historic District in Annapolis and it is time that they get credit.

'An important site'

"It's an important site for Annapolis because it was one of the last working boatyards in Annapolis," said Clifton Ellis, who prepared the proposal for recognition of the site.

"Now that the waterfront has been given over to commercial and pleasure and leisure, there is very little reminder to the public and citizens of what the waterfront was," Ellis said.

The Chance Marine Construction Co. was founded in 1912 and soon began building and repairing boats for Chesapeake watermen in a long, one-story boathouse on the northern part of the lot.

The boatyard expanded to build subchasers for the Navy during World War I. By 1930, the original boathouse had been torn down and replaced with two large concrete block buildings.

It started to specialize in pleasure craft in the 1920s, but that business faltered in the Great Depression and Chance was taken over by the Reconstruction Finance Corp. in 1937.

It was then bought by Chris Nelson, Frederick Reid and Eric Almen, who named it the Annapolis Yacht Yard.

The yard's work in yacht repair was put aside after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when all workers turned to the war effort.

Miller said the yard turned out 28 ships for the British and 100 for the Russians during the war. The Vospers were credited with wreaking havoc on German naval forces along the northern convoy line and for their role in a surprise landing at Petsamo, Italy, in addition to numerous sinkings.

Besides a number of English and Soviet military personnel, about 500 workers came to the boatyard during the war. Miller said there were two wartime shifts, including an all-woman second shift, Eastport's versions of Rosie the Riveter.

Former Annapolis Mayor Al Hopkins remembers when police would stop traffic outside the yard during World War II to let the workers out after their day was over. "They were part of the success of World War II," Hopkins said.

Wartime business led to the construction of five more buildings at the yard, including the in-water boathouse and a boat shed, the only one of its kind remaining. The boats were built in the

shed and the workers put the final touches on them in the boathouse.

Ted Christenson, who worked at the yard in the 1960s, said that many of the workers who were there during World War II, including his great-uncle, carved their names into the rafters of the boat-building shed. "It would be a terrible shame if someone painted over them," he said.

The yard continued to do some work for the Navy after the war but turned largely to building the popular American Cruisers.

It was sold in 1947 to John Trumpy Sr., a Norwegian naval architect who specialized in a line of yachts for wealthy Americans. Known for their fine craftsmanship, they were called "the Rolls-Royce of American motor yachts" by the New York Times.

Trumpy yachts were bought by the Dupont, Guggenheim, Dodge and Chrysler families. Christenson remembers launching parties at Bay Ridge beach, with champagne and shrimp "as big as your finger."

"They built some beautiful boats," said Benjamin Sarles, who owns Sarles Boat & Engine Shop in Eastport.

In addition to yachts, the yard built gunboats and minesweepers for the Navy during the Korean and Vietnam wars.

But a 1963 fire "so intense it melted 12-inch metal frames," according to Christenson, gutted the construction and paint shop and the woodworking shop. The shops were rebuilt after the all-night blaze, and today only the walls are original.

To Nelson Phipps, who worked at Trumpy's for 20 years and was there spraying the first firehose in 1963, the fire stripped the site of its history. "There is none. ... The fire took out all the memories," said Phipps, the former foreman of the labor gang.

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