Maritime comeback

Annapolis museum marks $1.2 million restoration

November 30, 2008|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Baltimore Sun

The Annapolis Maritime Museum in Eastport has learned a few lessons from the tropical storm that demolished its headquarters five years ago.

Tropical Storm Isabel ripped off the piers and dock and tore gaping holes in the 90-year-old McNasby Oyster Co. building's cinder-block walls. Water flooded the Bay Room at least 4-feet deep.

The $1.2 million renovation took into account the potential of future storm damage to the waterfront property on Second Street along Back Creek. Builders installed electrical wiring six feet off the floor. Flood valve-flaps put in at the base of the cement-backed walls can drain flood water. The cell-foam installation does not absorb water. Exhibits will be made to be removed within 72 hours.

"We essentially have created an immersible building," said Jeff Holland, the museum's executive director.

Tomorrow night's reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. will be a comeback party for the museum, which first opened in 2002. The 7,000-square-foot building maintains its utilitarian look as a former oyster shucking plant. It has kept its plain white, cinder-block walls, although the wooden ceiling and lights are all new. Its floor is now level and accessible to the disabled.

"We wanted to transform this empty hulk into a world-class museum and keep the funky atmosphere," Holland said.

Luckily, the building, one of the last oyster-packing plants in the Chesapeake region, had little structural damage, Holland said. The project could have cost twice as much without private help. The Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. offered its services at cost, and architect Kirby Mehrhof did some of his work pro bono.

The project was funded by the State of Maryland, the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and the City of Annapolis, along with donations and fundraisers such as the annual Boatyard Bar & Grill Beach Party. Renovations on the office space, a meeting room, and a curator's workshop are scheduled to begin in December and be completed in January.

The building now has an assembly hall, caterer's kitchen, and a large exhibition gallery with two 2,000-square-foot exhibition rooms. The Bay Room will host a book signing during tomorrow night's party, featuring Over the Bridge, A History of Eastport at Annapolis by Annapolis author and historian, Ginger Doyel. A related exhibit will feature artifacts, photos and information about Eastport that were included in the 368-page hardback book.

The exhibit, which runs through January, tells the story of Eastport from 1868 to 1968, before it became home to condominiums and high-priced homes, Doyel said. Eastport, a poor fisherman's neighborhood, was once considered the wrong side of the tracks in Annapolis.

Doyel sought out more than 600 community elders to interview. Many of them provided photos and objects to the exhibit from "attics, albums, shoe boxes and basements," she said.

"I wanted to capture the images and stories that you can't walk out and see anymore," Doyel said. "I'm so grateful to these people for trusting me with their voice."

One of those voices is Mary Belle Thomason, who used to live across the street from the oyster plant from 1932 to 1948. Thomason, 76, who lives in Hillsmere Shores, is the granddaughter of Capt. Tilghman Scible Rawlings, a prominent fisherman in the area at the time. Rawlings was known to help people fish out loved ones who had drowned.

Thomason donated family photos, along with an oyster knife her grandfather used. She recalled spending her days swimming in Back Creek and helping her aunt run a local grocery store.

"I had a wonderful, wonderful childhood," Thomason said.

The museum published Doyel's book with the help of investors. Sales of the book, which costs $58, will repay investors for printing and design and then go toward operation of the museum, Doyel said.

These fundraisers are intended to help the museum support its $350,000 annual operating budget. Holland said the budget will be supported through grants, private donations, fundraisers, membership dues, rental fees and tours to the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse. The museum has more than 1,000 members who pay a minimum of $35 a year.

Still, Holland believes it will be a "scramble" to keep things going. The annual Grand Ole Osprey fundraiser Nov. 22 normally generates $30,000, but Holland doubts that the museum made that much this year. He said he thinks receipts will be lower from the event because of the economy.

"It's going to be a tough year," Holland said.

Over the years, the museum has received funding from a variety of public grants and private fundraising. The city has contributed $70,000 during the past two years for educational programs at the Barge House, which reopened after renovations in 2005.

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