William Newnam

[ Age 77 ] `Original Eastern Shoreman' worked on the water before becoming a mason restoring historic buildings.

February 13, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

William "Mudd" Newnam, a mason who was known and respected in St. Michaels for his historically accurate brick restorations and his gift as a storyteller, died Friday at his farm in McDaniel from injuries suffered in an automobile accident a week earlier. He was 77.

Mr. Newnam was born and raised in Neavitt, the son of a waterman. He grew up working with his father and brothers oystering and crabbing, and at harvest season going from farm to farm operating threshing machines.

He was 13 when the family moved to St. Michaels, and he attended St. Michaels High School.

After leaving high school, Mr. Newnam worked as a commercial waterman for a number of years while learning the masonry trade from a brother-in-law.

Mr. Newnam worked for his brother-in-law and Al Tyler Contracting Co. in Easton before going out on his own and establishing Newnam & Sons in the early 1970s.

In addition to commercial and residential work, Mr. Newnam was associated for many years with the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, where he helped restore the historic buildings that were moved there.

"He was a great guy, storyteller, a historian, and a damn good mason," said Richard G. Scofield, the museum's boatyard manager and a longtime friend.

"Mudd has been taking care of the chimneys at my parents' house for as long as I can remember. They were built in 1720. He used to walk down to the water and pick up oyster shells to point the brick with because the calcium in their shells became part of the grout. That's how it was done hundreds of years ago," he said.

"He knew everybody and they knew him. He never moved and grew up at a time in St. Michaels when you either worked on the water, farmed or in a store. Today, we've become more worldly, and he is the culture that we are so desperately trying to save," he said.

"He spent and lived his entire life in a 10-mile radius," said a son, Thomas W. Newnam of McDaniel.

"I remember when we were given the old bandstand from Tolchester and we moved it to the grounds of the museum. Mudd was bidding on the job to build the foundation," said Mark Adams, former head of buildings and grounds at the museum.

"His bid came in all balled up and wet and looked as if it came out of a ditch. He said that it was on the picnic table and his goat started to chew on it," Mr. Adams said. "Well, in spite of all that he got the job."

Mr. Newnam was recognized around town by the pickup trucks he liked driving.

"Heck, there were better old trucks abandoned in the woods than what Mudd was driving. I remember he had an old Green Chevy and later a yellow one. They were all hand-me-downs," Mr. Adams said. "He'd always drive around with Leroy, his chocolate Lab, and later Smitty, who is part black Lab, riding with him."

"Mudd was the old original Eastern Shoreman, and [he] worked hard at it all of his life," said P.T. Hamilton, a friend for more than 50 years and owner of P.T. Hamilton Seafood Co. in St. Michaels. "He was a really good fellow."

Mr. Newnam had also worked as a commercial waterfowl hunting guide during the 1960s and 1970s. He liked hanging around the waterfront, wharves and boatyards, talking with watermen and swapping tales.

Through the years, he acquired a vast repertoire of stories and historical knowledge from what residents call the Bay Hundred area.

Mr. Scofield said that anytime Mr. Newnam was working at the museum, he liked going to the boat shop for a coffee break and regaling workers with a few of his tales.

"He'd tell some stories, and a lot of those stories were probably true," Mr. Scofield said with a laugh.

Mr. Newnam was an avid baseball fan and for years coached the championship-winning St. Michaels Rotary Little League baseball team, which he transported in his station wagon.

One of his young players was Harold Baines, the St. Michaels native who later became a right fielder and designated hitter for the Orioles and Chicago White Sox.

"Mudd used to tell Harold, `You better learn how to hit because you can't run,'" Mr. Adams said.

For the past 45 years, Mr. Newnam lived at York-Hazzard Farm, a 55-acre farm that is more than 200 years old.

"He did a lot of the restoration work there himself," said his wife of 56 years, the former Bobbie Leonard.

Mr. Newnam liked hunting and fishing.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Christ Episcopal Church in St. Michaels.

Also surviving are another son, Robert L. Newnam of Saba, Virgin Islands; a daughter, Kimberly Newnam Hopkins of Harmony in Caroline County; a sister, Eunice V. Habicht of Timonium; 11 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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