Photo credit: P. Kurtze , 12/2009

Property Name: Martha Lewis (Skipjack)
Date Listed: 12/11/2008
Inventory No.: HA-2189
Location: Havre De Grace, Harford County

Description: The Skipjack MARTHA LEWIS is a wooden-hulled V-bottom two-sail bateau built according to traditional methods employed by boat builders and watermen on the Chesapeake Bay. This vessel was built by master shipwright Bronza Parks at Wingate, Dorchester County, Maryland, in 1955 along with two nearly identical skipjacks, ROSIE PARKS and LADY KATIE. The vessel was constructed by formula and without architectural plans. She is 49’5” long on deck and has a beam of 16’7”. Length on the waterline is 46’2”. With the centerboard raised, the draft is 3’8”. Her present mast is of Douglas fir and rises 65’ above the waterline. Traditional gold leaf ball signifying construction is complete and that the vessel is debt-free tops it. The boom is also formed from Douglas fir and extends 50’ from its fitting to the mast. The ship has a longhead bow and a straight raking stern. In keeping with the tradition of an oyster dredge boat, the engine used to operate the boat when not under sail was placed in an accompanying yawl boat. When not in use for power, the yawl boat is suspended from davits athwartships beyond the stern of the skipjack. The wooden hull has hard chines and is planked athwartships in a herringbone pattern below those chines. This design minimizes the need for internal frames. Meant to be used for dredging in shallow waters, the hull is stabilized below the water by a moveable centerboard equal in length to the broadest beam measurement of 16’7”. Planking on the flush deck runs fore-and-aft. The present wood planks, installed in 1993, were fabricated from a Central American hardwood because the original planks of pine were seriously decayed. Without the new planks, the boat would not have achieved USCG certification. The plank seams have been repeatedly caulked with traditional cotton, oakum and pitch treatments. Above deck structures include a summer cabin just aft of the mast, used to facilitate passage below decks and to provide seating for passengers. A flat hatch cover usually replaces it when the boat is used for oyster dredging. The oyster dredging equipment is mounted on the deck aft of the summer cabin. This consists of the original winding gear fabricated of steel. Adjacent to the winding gear is a 1950s 6-cylinder automobile engine rigged to operate the dredge winding gear. The winder engine is enclosed in a wooden box. Side rollers are mounted amidships on the rails. The main cabin, lying directly in front of the quarterdeck, is paneled with tongue-and-groove pine installed during the initial construction. There is an area for food preparation with updated propane stove, three bunks, navigation equipment, and tool storage plus limited bench seating. The steering mechanism, operated by a metal wheel, lies directly above the rudderpost. The hull is painted white above the waterline. This is the traditional color for Chesapeake Bay workboats. Below the waterline, red antifouling paint is used. The color red also appears on the lower hulls of most skipjacks. The number 8 is displayed on plaques fastened to the standing rigging on both port and starboard. This is a display of the boat’s original oyster license issued by Dorchester County. She also displays decorative tailboards on both port and starboard. They are mounted on the sides of the longhead bow. These painted and gilded carvings show the name of Martha Lewis set against a blue background. A traditional gilded eagle is also mounted on the underside of the longhead bow. The tradition of carved tailboards on Chesapeake Bay vessels dates to the early 18th century, and seems to be a carry-over from European shipbuilding traditions. MARTHA LEWIS also carries two name boards on the hull abaft the bow and above the rub rail. In 1993 the vessel was moved to Havre de Grace, where she was restored and upgraded to USCG standards required for carrying passengers. The boat remains in excellent repair, is still USCG certified, and continues to dredge for oysters under sail power.

Significance: Skipjack MARTHA LEWIS is architecturally significant as an example of a regionally distinctive type of sailing vessel which was developed in the late 19th century to serve the oyster industry of the Chesapeake Bay. It derives additional historical significance for its association with the oyster industry which as contributed to both the economy and the identity of the Chesapeake Bay region. Constructed in 1955 according to traditional design and construction techniques rooted in the 19th century, the MARTHA LEWIS reflects a boom in the oyster industry which took place in the years following World War II. The vessel has been active in the commercial oyster fishery continuously from the date of her construction to the present, except for the 1993 season during which she was undergoing restoration. The Skipjack MARTHA LEWIS is an integral part of the surviving Chesapeake Bay Skipjack Fleet--the last commercial sailing fleet in the United States--whose national significance was documented in a thematic nomination to the National Register in 1985. At that time, the fleet comprised a total of 35 vessels, 12 of which were constructed after World War II. The postwar vessels reflect a continuing tradition of working sail which is profoundly important to the identity of the Chesapeake Bay region; however, because they were less than 50 years old at the time the Thematic Group nomination was prepared, they were not accepted for listing. Over the years since the Thematic Group nomination was prepared, the number of surviving skipjacks has dwindled from 35 to perhaps a dozen as of 2008, with only four or five remaining active in the commercial oyster fishery. The MARTHA LEWIS remains an active member of the sailing oyster fleet. During the off-season, educational and recreational programs provide revenue for her upkeep. The surviving skipjacks of the Chesapeake Bay signify a remnant of the last commercial sailing fleet within North American waters. MARTHA LEWIS stands out as an excellent example of this type of vessel designed specifically to work the shallow oyster beds of the Chesapeake Bay. Designed by local watermen in the late stages of the 19th century at the height of the Chesapeake Bay booming oyster industry, the boats exemplify the resourcefulness of the local watermen as they drew upon existing resources to meet the continuous demand for oysters in commercial markets throughout the country. Inexpensive to build and efficient to operate, the skipjack proved to be capable of supporting the oyster harvesting industry throughout the 20th and even into the 21st centuries. MARTHA LEWIS is one of the last working skipjacks to be constructed by traditional boatbuilding methods. She is an excellent example of how local design and innovation played an important role in meeting specific economic needs of the watermen and the culture of the residents of the Chesapeake Bay region. To some extent, this influence is still being felt today even when the vessel participates in diverse activities. These newer activities still include oyster dredging but also encompass environmental and historical education programs for both adults and schoolchildren.




close