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.

The Ditch 

Satellite imagery shows the site of the Bronza Parks Boatyard and the ditch into which he launched many vessels over 40 feet in length.

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

MH:  My father’s boathouse was like a quarter of a mile from the Wingate boat basin. Now there was a ditch that was maybe 12 feet wide, and that’s where my father launched the boats. He had to get a permit from the county roads to block the county road for a while to haul them down.  

And Mr. Carlton Windsor had his yokes of oxen to haul them down to the water. And they locked the boat up along the shoreline of that wide ditch that I mentioned, and they waited for the tide to come in. When the tide came up high, they had shoved skids under it, little smaller poles with grease on them. And they had ropes fastened some way, I don’t recall how that was, and let the boat slide down in this water at high tide. It was a big splash. And then my mother was involved. Her job was to catch the splash when it hit the water on the camera. By now, we had a camera. And she, her job was to catch the pictures of it as they went in the water. 

[CBMM catalog number appears with each image. Click images to see the catalog items and full-res images.]

Bronza and his crew move a power cruiser to the water for launch.  Undated.  [0000.1401.0043]

Deadrise workboat launched into the ditch.  Undated.  [0000.1401.0161]

Deadrise workboat launched into the ditch near Bronza’s boatyard.  Undated.  [0000.1401.0165]

Power cruiser launched into the ditch near Bronza’s boatyard.  Undated.  [0000.1401.0164]

Sliding Yachts Over the Bulkhead

PH:  They’d get that big old Army truck and hook to the front of those wheels. And they would tow it down the road.  He’d have to get a permit to close the road. And I have a picture some place of where they were with the skipjack, and they were coming under either a telephone wire or an electrical wire.  And one of the workers is standing on the boat and he just grabbed the wire and pushing it up so that it would clear it. Can you imagine doing that today? 

PH:  But then, down at the dock, all kinds of people would be around looking. And sometimes, like with the skipjacks, they would skid them off sideways with logs. Just let the boot kind of skid down the logs and into the water. But I’ve got some pictures where they’ve got these wheels, and they’ve got the boat with the bow right over the edge of the dock, of the bulkhead there. And then they just jack it up and tip it.   It’d just bow off, you know. And they’ve got a couple boats out there waiting for it. And they’d latch onto it.   

Neighbors gathered to watch and help launch a yacht into the ditch.  15 October 1955.  [0000.1401.0062]

Same yacht as above.  15 October 1955.  [0000.1401.0073]

Skids in place, ready to launch into the ditch. Same yacht as above.  15 October 1955.  [0000.1401.0124]

Sliding a workboat over the bulkhead into the water.  26 October 1955.  [0000.1401.0130]

Launching the yacht “Kathleen”.  Undated.  [0000.1401.0129]

Undercarriage for transporting yachts to the water.  [0000.1401.0048]

Undercarriage for transporting yachts to the water.  [0000.1401.0072]

Launching into the shallows.  Undated.  [0000.1401.0047]

An early photo of launch of a large cabin cruiser shows the wheeled rig like the one used to move skipjacks.  Undated, possibly before 1950.  [0000.1401.0069]

Bronza’s Skipjack Launch Rig

MH:  His very first boats were hauled down by three yokes of oxen. And they pulled what my father called rigs.  He went in the woods and cut black gum trees, very hard wood. And they were big trees. He put like an axle through the middle of them and those big rollers.  And that’s what they rolled the boats down on.  He had one at the stern of the boat, and he had a long stem that operated like a rudder that he’d move from side to side to steer this mechanism as it went down the road. 

PH:  My grandfather had this rig.  And he’d gotten these two really large-diameter metal tractor tires.  He had an axle made for them, and they were spread.  They had chalks on them, sort of like on the railway, where you could move the chalks and chalk the boat in between the wheels, so it wouldn’t tip, and it would hold it.   Then underneath the keel there, he would have what looked like a little sled that fit up underneath there.  And there was a wheel on that with a really long tiller arm. So the boat’s like on three wheels.  You could take that tiller, and you could tip it.   

Launching the Skipjack Rosie Parks

Undercarriage for hauling Rosie Parks to the water.  26 October 1955.  [0000.1401.0257 ]

A clear view of the wheeled undercarriages used to move Rosie Parks and other skipjacks to the water.  Three of Bronza’s grandchildren – “Pres”, Brenda, and Candie – in the foreground. October 1955.  [0000.1401.0255]

Bronza’s army surplus truck hauling Rosie Parks to the water.  26 October 1955.  [0000.1401.0259]

Rosie Parks up on wheeled undercarriage for transport to the water.  Steering carriage is visible under the stern.  26 October 1955.  [0000.1401.0049]

Launch Day Crowds

PH:  A launch was a big deal.  And if you see some pictures, there’s people all around. People come to watch it.   

MH:  No ceremonies, but everybody came around to watch it. That was a big thing.  And my father needed lots of extra hands at that time when they got ready to launch the boat.  He had a hand fire siren that he mounted inside the boathouse door.  And when he was ready to launch his boat, he rang that siren. That was before the days of having a fire department down there.  And people came from all directions. They dropped what they were doing and came to be there when the boat was moved down.  

MH:  There might’ve been some party behind the scenes, but I don’t recall it until the later years was some of the wealthy people had their cocktails and things like that around. But I can’t remember that, you know, as a younger person. 

PH:  I’ve got a picture of my Uncle Ralph, and O’Neal Dean, and Tom Dean. And they’re sitting underneath a boat in the shade playing music.  They got the boat down to the dock.  And they were waiting for the tide to come up behind them.  So they were just sitting there playing music.  People would be all dressed up and bring chairs and sit around. 

MH: [Finishing a boat] was an event for everybody to come see it. I remember a preacher might stop by and climb up on the boards and look over the boat. You know, people just like to see it. … There’s the one named Vandersloot that always brought his girlfriend, not his wife. 

MH: It was usually my mother’s job to have lunch for them when they came to look at the boats. And it was always on a weekend, you know. And my Aunt Iva, who was mother’s sister, would come out to help her in the hot summertime. In later years, we didn’t have to use a wood stove in the kitchen. And it was cooler because we had a kerosene stove. And they would fry oysters and crab cakes and things like that to have real fine meals for these people when they came from like Baltimore, Philadelphia or somewhere down to look at the boats. 

MH: The dovetails [workboats], I believe, were all made for people who were nearby. They were not made for people out of town. The out-of-towners she would cook for, because there were no restaurants. You were like 30 miles from a restaurant. 

Bronza’s neighbors gather to watch and help.  Undated.  [0000.1401.0122]

Bronza’s neighbors awaiting a launch.  Undated.  [0000.1401.0182]

Bronza boatyard crew members Tom Dean, O’Neal Dean, and Ralph Ruark play mandolin, guitar, and fiddle while waiting for tide to come up to launch.  Unidentified men in the foreground may be Bronza’s clients. Undated, probably 1954-56.  [0000.1401.0183]

Launch day.  Dressed up crowd and Bronza’s launch cradle.  Undated, probably 1955-56.  [0000.1401.0125]

Probably two of Bronza’s grandaughters pose for launch.  Undated, probably 1955-56.  [0000.1401.0134]

Bronza and his crew haul cradles for moving heavy boats to the water. Undated.[0000.1401.0188]

The 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.