Boat builders' history preserved

Family: The Hartge Nautical Museum in Galesville, which opens Saturday, chronicles 133 years of maritime heritage.

June 03, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The maritime roots of the Hartge family -- owner and operator of the Hartge Yacht Yard in Galesville for 133 years -- unfolded on the banks of the West River along a 17 1/2-acre strip that became known statewide for its boat building and repairs.

This is the family that became known for building Chesapeake 20 racers, the best-known racing sailboats on the Chesapeake Bay in the 1930s and 1940s. It's the family that built the ketch sailboat still used to represent Washington at official celebrations.

Now the family's long and colorful history is cataloged in a tiny museum that opens this weekend in Galesville, at the boatyard at the end of Church Lane. The Hartge (pronounced HART-gee) Nautical Museum is the newest addition to a string of small south Anne Arundel County stops for history and maritime heritage.

The Captain Salem Avery House Museum in Shady Side, the Barge House Museum in Eastport and the Galesville Heritage Museum in Galesville all highlight the area history of their farming and watermen communities. Solomon's Island and St. Michaels also have maritime museums.

"This is a very large family, and it's too much to be lost if someone doesn't record it and make it come alive through a museum," said Laurence Hartge, 82, the family historian who envisioned the humble museum and is now its director. "I have a great collection of Hartge history. All these things would be irretrievable if I didn't do it."

So Hartge asked his nephew, Alex Schlegel -- who runs the family business of yacht sales and repairing and upgrading classic boats -- for a room in the old homestead, now used as the sales office.

The result is a 14- by-15-foot light-blue room with 100-year-old golden-pine floors. On the walls hang old photographs of Hartge family members, descriptive placards and model boats -- many of them built by Hartge.

The displays are illuminated by fashionable Art Deco tract lighting strung across the ceiling with silver cables. Hartge said he enlisted the design help from his cousin, Annapolis graphic artist Peter Tasi, and secured gifts of labor and supplies from other family members. So far, it's taken only $2,000 to put the museum together.

The placards tell the story of Henry Hartge, a cabinetmaker who emigrated from Germany in the 1830s and became a piano maker. Along one wall is a rectangular grand piano made by Henry Hartge & Co in his Baltimore shop on Franklin Street.

In 1850 Henry bought 467.5 acres in what is now west Shady Side and moved his family to the waterfront to continue the piano business. But the Civil War squelched demand for the hand-crafted instruments. His sons turned to working the water, building boats and hotels for the vacationers who took pleasure trips on the Emma Giles, a side-wheeled steamboat that made regular stops between Baltimore and several West River ports. The land in west Shady Side was passed down through the family and later sold off piece by piece.

In 1875, Henry's grandson, Emile Alexander, bought 17.5 acres on the West River and founded the Hartge Yacht Yard, where the family started building skiffs, scows, bateaux and log canoes. One of Emile's sons, Earnest Henry "Captain Dick" Hartge, brought the most notability to the yard with his fleet of a few dozen Chesapeake 20s, built there from 1939 to 1945.

Another of Captain Dick's handiwork is the Mabel Stevens, the custom-designed ketch sailboat built in 1933 that has sailed the East Coast the last 25 years, representing Washington in official celebrations.

The Mabel Stevens, billed as an historic vessel for day trips and special charters, stopped into the yacht yard yesterday afternoon after experiencing a little engine trouble. Laurence Hartge reminisced about helping Uncle Dick launch the 45-foot boat, originally named Phyllis, during a storm. He was eager to mesmerize Mabel Stevens' captain, Ned Chalker, with the tale of the wooden vessel, just as he is to share his family history.

"It's really funny -- the only one who knows the history of that boat is me," Hartge said.

The Hartge Nautical Museum, on Church Lane in Galesville, opens at 10 a.m. Saturday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Information: 410-268-1837.

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