Annapolis Maritime Museum refocuses after Isabel

Officials to start efforts to raise funds to renovate two of its buildings

August 23, 2004|By Mary C. Schneidau | Mary C. Schneidau,SUN STAFF

The Annapolis Maritime Museum seems to be everywhere - and nowhere - all at once.

The museum is sponsoring weekly summer lunchtime concerts at the Annapolis City Dock; its staff is located temporarily at an office in Eastport; and some of its exhibits are housed at sites throughout the city.

But its buildings along Back Creek near the Severn River stand abandoned, the crumbled walls and boarded holes evidence of the destruction caused by Tropical Storm Isabel almost a year ago.

The disarray created by the storm, however, has enabled museum officials to regroup and focus their energies on areas they said will create the cornerstone for the Annapolis Maritime Museum. Officials also will soon launch a campaign to fund renovations for its two buildings - the old McNasby Oyster Co. on Second Street and the Barge House just behind it - both of which they hope to reopen in the spring.

"What this disaster did for us was really gave us the impetus to marshal our resources," said the museum's director, Jeff Holland. "The community's really rallied behind us.

The museum was born from the Eastport Historical Society, which was formed in the mid-1980s and provided community programs for the Eastport area of Annapolis.

A 1999 focus group convinced society members that Annapolis had "a bigger story to tell" about its ties to the water, Holland said. The historical society evolved into the Annapolis Maritime Museum, and the first exhibits opened in the McNasby building in 2002.

Damage from Isabel

Tropical Storm Isabel, which hit in September, brought 6 feet of water into the McNasby building, and wind and flying debris crumbled parts of three walls. Before the storm, volunteers had removed most of the museum's collections, but some artifacts and administrative documents were lost, said L.B. "Buck" Buchanan, chairman of the museum's board of directors.

The buildings will need repairs and renovations, including installation of wheelchair access and a heating system. The museum's docks and piers will also have to be rebuilt.

Holland also said he would like to open a children's museum and reopen the cafe that was in the McNasby building when Isabel hit.

About 100 volunteers have logged more than 2,000 hours of service for the museum.

Officials moved into temporary offices in December and have increased the number of people on its board of directors.

The museum also entered into a public-private partnership in May to help operate the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse.

And it started the Chesapeake Music Institute, which has produced a CD of maritime music and brings performers to City Dock each Wednesday in the summer.

On a recent day, more than 70 people, some with their children and grandchildren, gathered on the dock to listen to the duo Magpie perform from aboard a boat.

"The real beneficiaries are the kids," said Fred Millhiser, a member of the Chesapeake Area Professional Captains Association who volunteers for the museum.

The concerts are "a great chance to learn an awful lot. It gives them a sense of participation."

Exhibit participation

Participation is at the center of the plan Holland and the board of directors have for the museum.

When the museum opens in the spring, "Oysters on the Half Shell" will be its permanent exhibit, using the Chesapeake Bay's oyster population to tell the maritime story of the area.

Officials said they hope the exhibit will be interactive and give visitors the opportunity to tong oysters.

Boats will take visitors from the McNasby building to the Thomas Point lighthouse for tours, and a virtual tour will be produced for those who cannot make the boat trip. The museum is also working on a walking tour of parts of the Eastport neighborhood, to which it is closely tied.

`Worthy venture'

In all, renovations and the museum's new exhibits are expected to cost about $2.3 million, Buchanan said.

The museum has about $650,000 from private donations, bonds and grants, and is hoping to generate about $100,000 from operation of the lighthouse.

The rest of the funds will have to be raised through private donations, he said.

But museum officials are encouraged by community response in the wake of Isabel.

"We decided that this museum was definitely a worthy venture," Buchanan said. "We have lots of public support."

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