Ceremony to reopen maritime museum

Volunteers put in 1,000 hours of work to rebuild after storm


Tropical Storm Isabel might turn out to be the best thing that ever hit the Annapolis Maritime Museum.

"At the time, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm, but I was there and I called it a hurricane," said Jeff Holland, director of the museum. "Somebody reported seeing waves crashing over the [McNasby Oyster Co.] building. The museum dock ended up on the other side of the building."

Isabel left gaping holes in the McNasby building, displaced the on-site watermen's boats and flooded the museum's Barge House with about 4 feet of standing water.

But today, the Eastport-based museum celebrates its official reopening with a dedication at the Barge House - a celebration that would not have been possible without widespread community support and about 1,000 hours of volunteer effort.

The event is open to the public from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., with a formal ceremony scheduled for 3 p.m. and led by Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.

The event will give visitors a chance to sample a completely renovated exhibit hall that includes a handful of informational stations, large Chesapeake Bay navigational charts and a new documentary, Legacy of the Light, that focuses on the historic importance of the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse and will run on a brand-new 42-inch television.

Organizers hope to open the full museum, off Second Street, by early spring.

In Isabel's wake, the museum has received individual contributions ranging from $25 to $10,000, organizers said.

Its pool of supporters has increased from 325 to 1,200 people. And its paid membership numbers have surged from fewer than 100 to more than 400.

The storm provided an "opportunity to grab people's attention and get support from the community and rebuild in a way that is much, much stronger," Holland said.

The storm surge that accompanied Isabel rocked Annapolis on Sept. 19, 2003, coursing up a 10-mile stretch of the Chesapeake Bay and collecting debris as it moved shoreward, Holland said.

"There were pilings acting like battering rams and pounding into our buildings," he said.

Isabel demolished the eastern side of the museum's McNasby building, punching about 8-foot-wide holes through its cinder block walls.

Farther inland, the Barge House was spared much of the exterior physical damage that wrecked the McNasby building. But the flooding damaged the smaller building from the inside out.

As a result, the first phase of the reconstruction process involved cleaning out the mess, Holland said.

"You just can't believe the crud that either normal building material or normal things that you have in a building suddenly become," he said. "There's an unbelievable amount of cruddy trash, things you don't even want to touch, much less pick up and put in a Dumpster."

After a few months of waste removal, the museum's board of directors turned to the process of rebuilding.

"That's when River Crest [Design Build Inc.] came to the rescue and adopted the project as a kind of volunteer team-building project for their staff," Holland said.

The Annapolis-based design and construction company decided to get involved last fall, handling the electrical work, air conditioning, plumbing, walls, roofing and windows for the Barge House.

"We designed the repairs, got the permits, did all the interior demolition work, repaired it, brought in electricians, plumbers, and redid the walls," River Crest President Joe Duval said. "Pretty much all of it's been done through volunteers and donated time and materials."

Duval said the renovation of the museum was a natural fit for his company. He and River Crest Vice President Mark Bartlett, his business partner, had worked in the marine industry for several years, he said.

Duval had worked in heavy marine construction and then spent 10 years as a boat carpenter and repairman before starting his current business 19 years ago.

"It flowed into what we were already doing," he said.

Up to 50 percent of the company volunteered in the reconstruction project, Duval said.

"The real fun of it was just getting everybody to chip in," he said. "It's nice to see it all come together."

Today's reopening offers a first glimpse at the results of the cooperative effort.

"We couldn't do it without what I think is really the model of a private partnership," said Holland. "I hope that's a model that can be used down along the Gulf Coast. We all benefit from it."


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