The Bronza Parks Boatyard Tours – 1950-1956

Wingate, Maryland

Bronza M. Parks (1900-1958) was a legendary designer and builder of Chesapeake Bay skipjacks, deadrise workboats, and pleasure yachts.  He built the famous “Three Sisters” skipjacks – Rosie Parks, Martha Lewis, and Lady Katie – during 1953-1955 at his boatyard in Wingate, Maryland.  These three skipjacks are still maintained by maritime museums in the Bay region.

These digital tours are composed mostly of photos and selections from interviews about Bronza Parks and his boatyard operations, found in the online collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM).  See my notes below for details, and to access the collections.

Work Crew

[MH: Mary Parks Harding, Bronza’s daughter.]
[PH: “Pres” Harding, Bronza’s grandson.]

PH:  I think they’d show up, and it was almost like they knew what to do. … I think the way it worked was that between Papa and my Uncle Ralph [Ruark], they had everybody paired up or people doing the jobs that their skillsets allowed them to do. If you weren’t real high-skilled, they still had something for you to do, but it might not have been a high-skilled job. But the whole time in the boatyard, it seemed like there was always chatter going on. Everybody was always talking, or singing, or somebody’d walk by and they’d throw sawdust on somebody, down the back of their neck.  Because it was hard work, and everybody was doing things to amuse themselves, and trying to enjoy what they were doing.  A lot of talking and joking around and stuff, you know. 

MH:  Most of the time he had maybe like six or seven workers. But when he had lots of boats under way, there were more people working there. I’ve known as many as maybe 14 people that worked there.  Dad saved his painting, putting on the prime coat on the lumber and things like that, for days when it was windy and bad, and the watermen couldn’t go out.  Some of those fellows would come there and work putting the coats of paint on the boat inside and out. So, they just worked on like an occasional basis, and they were not regular employees. … But some of those fellows, like Tom Dean, Bobbie Powley, Ralph Ruark, actually built the cabinets, you know, did the fine work that was in there. 

Uncle Ralph Ruark

PH: I would say my Uncle Ralph really considered himself a renaissance man. He really learned a lot of my grandfather’s methods and all that. Later in life, he was a great sailor.  He knew a lot about the water. But he always had some kind of philosophical thing he would tell you. I remember being with him and taking a piece of wood. He goes, “You know, the first thing you need to learn about the water?” And he took this little piece of wood and threw it out in the creek. He said, “You see it there? It’s out there floating, isn’t it?Well, if you don’t work at it and tend to it, and keep that afloat, it’s eventually going to go to the bottom. And no matter what you put in the water, if you don’t work at it and keep it afloat, that’s where it’ll end up is the bottom. That’s the first thing you need to learn about the water.” And when you think about it, he’s really pretty right. He says some things will take longer than others, but he goes, “Old Man Sea will eat everything you put into it unless you keep it up. 

PH: And he bought a plane. He got a pilot’s license and a plane that was like a light metal tubed frame. And it was canvas around it. It was the coolest thing. He’d fly it up here to see Donald Edwards in Rock Hall. They were real good buddies. And yeah, He was just on top of the world. One time I went to my grandmother’s house, and he was sitting there at the kitchen table. He had this book. And I was like, “Uncle Ralph, what are you reading?” He said, “The dictionary. Yeah. Right now I’m on aspiration.” And he had real bushy eyebrows. He’d raise his eyebrows and say,”Now, is aspiration when you aspire to do something?” I was like, “Well, I guess so.” He goes, “Well, it could be the method that an engine takes in air. You know, there’s an aspirating engine. It’s aspiration.”  He would always be doing stuff like that, you know. And thinking and trying stuff. 

PH:  Stine’s Marine Railway was very close to O’Neal Dean’s house.  It was before you got into Wingate town, and it was on the right there just as you were coming up. It backed up to the Honga River. It basically looked like some wide railway tracks going down into the water in this little creek.  it looks like two little wide ditches that are maybe 14 or 16 feet wide that go in there. And there was always maybe five or six boats that stayed there. 

PH:  They had metal wheels on a big high beam, and there was an engine. You could have it pull forward or clutch it and it would go backwards.  There were two sets of wheels and two beams.  And as the boat would come up in the water, that would go underneath of it. And they had wedged chalks that would slide on those beams. And he’d chalk the boat in on it. And then he’d start the motor and it would pull the boat up, so he could get it out of the water to work on the bottom, or paint the bottom.  A man named Stine owned the railway. They called it Stine’s Railway. But I guess Uncle Ralph operated it for him.  And then Uncle Ralph would charge for his labor, whatever he was doing on the boat. 

Stine’s Boatyard and Marina, Wingate, Maryland, in March 2014.  “Stine’s Railway” is visible on the tall, faded sign. [Click images to enlarge.]

Blurb – Stine’s Railway 2.  March 2024.

O’Neal Dean

PH:  O’Neal had told me that when he went to see Papa, he’d gone in the service like really, really young. Age 15 or something like that. And he had gotten out of the service and he was maybe like 17. And he goes, “And you know, and I was an orphan, too. And then Bronzie knew that and he kind of took a shine with that. Papa asked me, he goes, ‘Well, O’Neal, tell me. What do you know how to do?” And O’Neal told him, “I know how to do just about nothing. And he goes, ‘Well, you know what? I believe you’re just the kind of guy I’m looking for, because I can show you the way I want it done, and then you’ll do it the way I want it done.’ And he and my grandfather really were pretty close. They were good friends. He was younger than my grandfather.  

PH: When he went on his own, he built some gorgeous boats. But there were still times after he’d gone on his own and kind of left working at the boatyard where Papa would go to him and say, “Hey, O’Neal, why don’t you come and finish these two cabins off for me?”  It was probably at a time when O’Neal had probably just finished a boat. Maybe he didn’t have something else going on, you know. And that’s the way things would work.  

 PH: O’Neal Dean just a superb craftsman as he got older.    

 PH: O’Neal told me he could remember the day Papa came to him and said, ‘O’Neal, you know what? We need a boys’ scout troop here in Wingate. It’s not right that we don’t have a boys’ scout troop. We got all these young boys. We need to have something going on. And I’ve been checking up on it and we need like a certain amount of men to be part of our board of directors. So you’re going to be one of the board of directors.’ And he said, ‘You know, he didn’t ask me.’ Right? ‘And he just said, ‘You’re going to be it.” And you’re just sort of like, ‘Okay. I’ll do that.’ But that’s sort of like the way it was. 

 PH: I always admired O’Neal. He was a musician, played guitar. And even in later years when I was up working at Tolchester, I would go to see O’Neal Dean, because he had some connection for getting mid-Atlantic white cedar some place out of North Carolina. Go there and buy white cedar from him. And that was always great because you always got to see him.  Even when I was a kid, he was the kind of guy you would just naturally gravitated towards when he was around the boatyard. 

PH: But he was fun to be around…. And he always had time for the kids. I’ve got pictures of us with him on the floor, like walking like a horse, and myself and my sister on his back. And we’re sitting in his lap in the rocking chair. And [Brendan’s?] got on his glasses and I’ve got on his hat.  

PH: O’Neal Dean was a great guy and a good craftsman.  Not only could he build a really nice boat, he had a metal lathe in his shop so he could reshape a shaft for a certain prop or something like that. He could do all that kind of stuff. His place is just as you’re heading [south] towards Wingate, just past Stine’s Railway. It’s right there on the right. There’s a sign there that said “F.O. Dean.” And his boathouse and shop, when you look at it, there are some things that are different. It’s a little bit more modern. But where the windows are in the shop and the way the shop’s laid out and all is very, very similar to my grandfather’s shop. 

PH:  I went there to O’Neal’s shop when I was working at Tolchester to buy a bunch of white cedar from him. And I had picked up my mother in Cambridge. I was like, “Come on and ride down here with me while I go get this lumber.”   My Uncle Ralph showed up and we’re tallying it all up. And my Mom’s like looking around O’Neal’s shop and she goes, “You know, O’Neal, Daddy had like windows down low, just like you have in your shop.”

He said, “Yes, Mary. I’ve — . “

And she goes, “And he had an office kind of off the side of his, just almost like yours.”

He goes,  “Well, yes, Mary. I’ve thanked your father many times.”

And then she looked around. She goes,  “You know, right by his office door, he had these triangle shelves just like you’ve got. And he had nails on them, too.”

And O’Neal turned around and he looked. He said, “Mary, I’ve thanked your father many times.”

And of course, O’Neal was an innovator, too. He would always try different and new things.  It was something that was kind of instilled in him. 

Tom Dean

MH: Tom Dean who was a carpenter for dad. He also was a real artist when it came to painting. He was the one who did many of the names on the vessels. He painted them with the gold leaf or paint. He did lots of painting of the names on the boats. 

MH: I think it was Tom Dean or Ralph Ruark (who later became my brother-in-law) who said that everything he did, he just did it halfway, because he knew dad was going to have him do it over again anyway. (Laughter.) 

Snooks Windsor, Tom Dean, O’Neil Dean, and  Ralph Ruark on launch day.  [0000.1401.0187]

Bronza’s crew launching the power cruiser Margaret A.   Undated.  [0000.1401.0179]

The Wingate Ramblers, Tom Dean, O’Neal Dean, and Ralph Ruark sitting under a hull, waiting for the tide to rise on launch day.  Unidentified men in foreground may be the boat owners, Bronza’s clients.  Undated.  [0000.1401.0183]

The Wingate Ramblers

PH: O’Neal Dean played on guitar. And Tom Dean played mandolin. My Uncle Ralph [Ruark] played fiddle. They played country music, and gospel music, and I remember they’d always play Wildwood Flower by the Carter family. They used to do this song. I don’t know the name of it, but it something about the streets that were paved with gold. It was one of the like songs. And Bury Me Beneath the Willow Tree. Yeah. They’d sing all those songs, you know. And Uncle Ralph’s favorite tune was Golden Slippers. He really loved Golden Slippers. They’d play that song all the time. 

PH:  O’Neal took it pretty seriously. Uncle Ralph, he wasn’t an accomplished musician by any stretch of the imagination, but he loved it.  

MH: Oh, there were some neat personalities, like Tom Dean and O’Neal Dean both sang. Charles Parks sang. There was a restaurant in Cambridge called Dayton’s Restaurant. And Ray Dayton and dad sponsored those fellows to sing over an Annapolis radio station.  They called themselves the Wingate Ramblers.  

Lasbury Parks

MH:  Lasbury Parks  was a cousin of my father’s. I remember him because he had a terrible gash in his foot from a broad ax, and we had to bring him in Cambridge to the doctor to even have some of the toes stitched back onto his feet. And 30 miles was a pretty good distance to travel because the roads were oyster shell roads.  They were not well paved like they are now. And I recall that dad let me ride in town with them when they took him to the doctor. There was a fellow, Bobby Powley, who worked with dad a lot as a carpenter. I remember he and I were both on the back seat. I was a little kid, and we were holding Lasbury’s head so it wouldn’t flop about, because he kind of lost consciousness from so much bleeding.   

MH: Would you believe they did not go to the hospital?  They went to the doctor’s office. And the doctor worked on him on a stretcher right there in his office. And by that time, he was unconscious, and they were afraid to give him any more sedation. And he worked on his toes sewing the leaders together in his toes and put them back together. Dr. William Hanks did lots of things in his office, if the case was critical. Then in later years, I don’t recall that Lasbury even limped. He got along very well. 

Lev Richardson, African-American Caulker

PH: He worked in Papa’s yard, and I think he also worked on Uncle Orville’s boat. He might have actually been the cook on that boat, the Rosie Parks. 

MH: He was a waterman primarily in the wintertime on the dredge boats. And in the summertime, many times the people who worked on the dredge boats in the wintertime had a job farming, either their own farm, or working on somebody else’s farm, or working in a factory part-time for the summer. 

PH:  He was an old guy that worked for Papa. He did a lot of chinking [caulking]. It was just amazing to watch him do it. Sometimes he would take like cotton caulk and pull it out. And he could twist it almost like you’d see women do like when they’re getting wool for weaving.  And he would make some stuff that was really small for tapping in little spaces. But he always did it a certain way, and it always overlapped and chinked in. And when he got done chinking, there was never anything that was out of the seam. It was always in the seam.  

MH: [Caulking] was a specialty for Lev Richardson. And I think he caulked the decks on all three of those boats –  Martha Lewis, Lady Katie, and Rosie Parks. 

PH: I spent a fair amount of time around Lev, because when he was in the boats, they were either out in the yard or they’re getting close to time to throw them overboard [launch]. So that was safer than when they were they were running a bunch of machinery, or it was real busy and you know, the little kid was in the way.  They’d say, “You know, you ought to go see what Lev’s doing.”  And I’d go over to Lev and kind of hang out with him. 

PH:  We went one time to Baltimore with Lev.  I was really excited because besides going to Baltimore, Lev was going to go with us.  I’m not quite exactly sure what Lev was doing, but we dropped him off some place.  I don’t know if he was visiting some family or what.  But my grandfather and I went to MacLean’s.  He’d gotten some hardware ordered for his boats.  And we went to some other places downtown. And then we went and picked Lev up.  We were heading back to Cambridge, and Lev was sitting back there in the back seat. I remember my grandfather saying, “Well, Lev, I’m thinking when we get to Cambridge, I think we all need to stop and get something to eat.”  

And Lev said, “Well, you know, Bronzie, I think I’ll be okay.”  

“Nope. Not going to hear about it. It’s my treat. We’re going to go get something to eat.”  

“Well, I guess if you say so, Bronzie.  But you know, I’m okay.”  

“No.” He goes, “Little Pres, I know he’s going to be hungry. And he’ll want to play the jukebox, too.” 

PH:  And so we finally get to this restaurant in Cambridge. And this is pre-1958.  So I’m maybe like six years old, and I’m all excited.  We walk into this restaurant, and it’s just like – silence.  There’s no fork hitting the plate.  Nobody’s saying anything.  And I’m a little kid, and I just couldn’t figure it out.  So we just went and sat down at this table. And the owner of the place came over and he said, “Well, Bronzie, I can serve you and your boy, but I can’t serve your man.”  And my grandfather stood up.  And there’s times when he stood up and he looked at you, and you knew that he was telling you something, you know.  It’s just a whole different demeanor about him when he got really, really serious.  And you know, they weren’t touching, but he was pretty close to it.  And he said, “Well, I will tell you this.  You will never serve me or my family another meal as long as you live.”  And he says, “Okay. Come on. We’re out of here.” 

PH: And it wasn’t until many, many years later that I really came to understand the magnitude of what he actually did, and what Lev did.  That’s a pretty powerful thing when you look back on it and see it, and think about some of those things. 

Bronza Parks with his crew moving dollies used to transport large vessels from the boatyard to the water’s edge on launch days. [0000.1401.0188 ]

Bronza Parks Boatyard Photos and Interviews at CBMM

Photos

While browsing the CBMM online collection, I came across 230+ photos taken around the boatyard during 1953-55.  This was the time when Bronza was building the famous “Three Sisters” skipjacks – Rosie Parks, Martha Lewis, and Lady Katie – side by side in his yard.  The photos give us a close look at family members, boatyard crew, work methods, and the launch of skipjacks, workboats, and power cruisers that had to be moved a quarter mile from his yard to the water.

This photo collection was a gift to CBMM from William Preston Harding, Jr.  “Pres” Harding was a grandson of Bronza Parks; he spent a lot of time at the boatyard and in the household of his grandparents until he moved away from Wingate with his mother at age 14, after the tragic and violent death of his grandfather.

The entire collection of 238 Bronza Parks Boatyard photos in the CBMM online collection is here.

 

Interviews

W.P. “Pres” Harding was interviewed by CBMM in 2018.  The full transcript is here.

His mother, Mary Parks Harding, was interviewed in 2002. The full transcript is here.

 

The Empty Field

I made a pilgrimage to Wingate in February 2024, looking for the site of the Bronza Parks Boatyard.  With help from “Brian” at Honga Oyster Co. down at the waterfront, and from Del Pritchett of the Lakes & Straits VFD, I found the site and walked through the empty field where the Three Sisters and B.M. Parks, Designer and Builder of Boats, had stood.

More about CBMM Collections

Items that are not exhibited around the CBMM campus are kept in the Norman & Ellen Plummer Center for Museum Collections.  This is a climate-controlled facility that was expanded and modernized in 2023.

You can search all the collections online here.  Look for the links at lower left to search these collections separately:

  • Objects, Photographs, Manuscripts, Ships Plans
  • Regional Oral History Database
  • Books and Periodicals

See my CBMM Collections Search Tips.

The collections and library are accessible only by appointment.  Email collections@cbmm.org or visit the Library and Research page.

Voile-Aviron | Sail & Oar

 

I also write about sail-and-oar cruising in small open boats on the Chesapeake and its tributaries at  Sail+Oar – Chesapeake Log.