Timber for three skipjacks side by side

Bronza Parks built skipjacks and hundreds of other sailing workboats at Wingate, Md., from the 1930s through the 1950s. He built his last skipjacks – Rosie Parks, Martha Lewis, and Lady Katie – side by side in 1955-56.  According to maritime historian Robert Burgess, Parks was betting on the future of the oyster dredging trade and wanted only the best building materials for his three skipjacks.  So he searched for the best stands of “old-growth yellow pine” on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  His skipjacks required 12 by 14-inch pine keelson timbers and pine planking 20-30 feet in length. Timber and planking this size could only come from old pines at least 24 inches in diameter. [1]

Bronza Parks’s three skipjacks
Martha Lewis, Rosie Parks, and Lady Katie –
under construction at Wingate, Md., in 1955. 

Photo courtesy of Steve Martinsen,
Chesapeake Heritage Conservancy

Bronza Parks with his skipjacks Martha Lewis and Rosie Parks, 1955.
Lady Katie is out of view to the right.
Image from Skipjack Lady Katie.

Bronza was looking for Loblolly

You might think that Bronza was looking for longleaf pine. Longleaf was the preferred timber, along with live oak, for building coastal and oceangoing wooden vessels since colonial times.  Longleaf pine and live oak had been shipped north from North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama to shipyards in Baltimore, New York, and New England since colonial times.  Modern shipwrights building the new Maryland Dove call longleaf pine la crème de la crème.

But builders of Eastern Shore sailing workboats almost always used local, native wood species.  Longleaf pine and live oak don’t grow anywhere in Maryland or on the shores of the Chesapeake.  So these species were rarely used in Chesapeake workboats. Traditional skipjacks and crabbing skiffs were built almost entirely of loblolly pine. [2]  In Maryland and other southern states, spars were also made of loblolly. [3]  Smaller parts of these vessels – transoms, stem posts, and frames – were often fashioned from white oak. [4]

As late as the 1980s, before fiberglass construction began to dominate, Smith Island boatbuilder Leon Marsh was still building crab scrapes with loblolly, which he called “Eastern Shore yellow pine”.  He knew no other term for the wood he acquired locally.  [5]  

Lady Katie under construction at Wingate, October 1955.
(From Robert Burgess, Chesapeake Sailing Craft.)

What was “old growth pine” in 1955?

When Bronza Parks went looking for old-growth loblolly, he saw plenty of ads like this:

(The Star-Democrat, Easton, Maryland, Fri, Jul 24, 1953)

Fifty years earler, “old growth” loblolly pine was common on the Eastern Shore – and not newsworthy.  But by 1920, ads like these began to appear regularly in Eastern Shore newspapers.  When farmers, timber dealers, and sawmill operators advertised old growth trees and lumber for sale, they were probably talking about trees 24 inches in diameter or larger, which were becoming less common.  By the 1940s, logs as large as 48 inches were truly rare and made headlines in local papers when they arrived at the sawmill.

Logs 48 in. by 20 ft. made the news when they arrived in Salisbury in May 1941.  The trees were felled near Parksley, Va. and were estimated to be 125 years old.

A survey of Eastern Shore newspaper ads during 1920-1955 indicates that 85 percent of the Eastern Shore’s remaining old-growth pine trees were growing in Wicomico County. Ten percent were found in Talbot and Worcester Counties, and 5 percent in Caroline County.   Large stands of old growth pine were valuable assets that were  surveyed and certified by a state forester before being placed on the market.  As late as the 1940s, the timber valuation was still influenced by the Chesapeake shipbuilding industry and builders like Bronza Parks. 

Bronza was looking for old growth timber stands like this one:

The Daily Times, Salisbury, Md., Jul 3, 1941

Bronza’s old-growth pine is more scarce today 

In 1955, Bronza Parks used loblolly planks over 20 inches wide on his three skipjacks.  Most shipwrights restoring traditional Chesapkeake sailing workboats today have to settle for less.

Martha Lewis restoration, 1994 and 2022

The Chesapeake Heritage Conservancy in Havre de Grace, Md., restored Martha Lewis in 1994.  Another major repair has been under way since 2019.  Both restorations used side planking 10-12 inches wide.

Rosie Parks restoration, 2011-2013

Capt. Orville Parks (Bronza’s brother) sold Rosie Parks to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in 1975.  Funds were donated for her restoration in 2010, and work was completed during 2011-2013.  Read more here.

It appears that when Rosie was repaired before 1975, her original wide planks were also replace with 5-6 narrow ones, at least in the bow section.  With $500,000 in funding, CBMM was able to do an authentic restoration with full-width planks.

 

 

Sources

 

[1] Robert Burgess, This Was Chesapeake Bay, p. 144-150.

[2] Howard I. Chapelle, American Small Sailing Craft, p. 316.

[3] Chapelle, Boatbuilding, p. 555.

[4] Chapelle, American Small Sailing Craft, p. 326.

[5] Paula J. Johnson, Smith Island Workboats, p. 89.