Pinus taeda

Other Names:  Eastern Shore Yellow Pine, Oldfield Pine

Maryland state champion Loblolly is in Worcester Co.

American workboats, local woods

Before 1940, almost all small workboats in America were built of local wood species.  In New England, they were built of eastern white pine and tamarack.  In the mid-Atlantic, it was cedar and sand pine.  On the Chesapeake, it was loblolly pine and white oak.

Lacking sawmills, the first Maryland colonists learned to burn and hew canoes from the logs of loblolly and poplar trees that grew up to 5 feet in diameter.  Few log canoes were built after 1920 when trees large enough even for three- and five-log canoes became too hard to find. [1a]  Plank-on-frame crabbing skiffs and the larger crab-scrapes, deadrise workboats, and skipjacks were built mostly with loblolly through the 1950s.  This tradition continued at Smith Island into the 1980s, but it will probably die there as watermen turn to fiberglass boats – or turn to other ways of making a living.

There is a misunderstanding among some local historians about loblolly in traditional Chesapeake Bay sailing workboats.  According to one source, loblolly was used “only for interior work and cheap construction” in Chesapeake Bay sailing craft.   Another wrote that longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) was the preference of workboat builders on the Eastern Shore [1b].

This was probably true for larger coasting and trans-oceanic vessels built at Baltimore, Norfolk, and other major shipbuilding centers.  And for yachts built for the wealthy.  For these vessels, the preferred pine species for framing and planking was longleaf pine.  But longleaf’s native range does not extend as far north as the Chesapeake.  For three centuries, shipbuilders at Baltimore and Norfolk imported vast quantities of longleaf from North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.  These southern states also exported longleaf to shipyards in Philadelphia, New York, and New England, and overseas.

 

Loblolly in Eastern Shore workboats before 1940

Unlike large shipbuilders who could import the best materials, boatbuilders at smaller yards on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and watermen and farmers building their own skiffs, used the best local wood they could find.  The most abundant and readily available wood was loblolly – “Eastern Shore yellow pine” as Smith Islanders call it.

Loblolly was used almost exclusively for planking, keelson, chine and sheer logs, deck beams, and centerboard cases.  White oak was sometimes used for the stem post, stern post or transom, and frames.

Maritime historian Howard Chapelle documented loblolly use in Eastern Shore sailing workboats which he surveyed and measured in the 1940s. One of the oldest crabbing skiffs he measured was a Chesapeake Bay flattie (small sailing craft with flat bottom forward and v-bottom or “deadrise” aft) built at Bishop’s Heads about 1897.  Its keelson was hewn out of a natural crook of loblolly pine. [2]  Another built at Elliott in 1901 was “heavily and roughly built of loblolly pine and was iron-fastened.” [3]  His survey of dozens of deadrise sailing workboats built on the Eastern Shore after 1900 showed most were made entirely of loblolly. [4]

Even the larger oyster dredging skipjacks, up to 55 feet in length, were usually built throughout of the heartwood of old growth or virgin loblolly pine. Only the centerboard, skeg, rudder, and sometimes the stem apron (stem liner or inner stem) and cutwater (outer stem) were built of white oak. [5]

 

The long life of the Chesapeake Bay skipjacks under hard usage is due to the construction methods employed; the timber used is loblolly pine.

– Howard Chapelle

Crabbing flattie built at Bishop’s Head, 1897.
[Chesapeake Bay Crabbing Skiffs, figure 2.]

Loblolly in Smith Island crabbing skiffs in the 1980s and 90s

Smith Island boatbuilders were well-known for the variety of hulls and sailing rigs they used for oystering and crabbing since the 1880s.  By 1920, most Smith Island workboats had been converted to power, with modifications to their original elegant hull designs, construction methods, and materials, to adapt to changes in load, propulsion, and speed.

In The Workboats of Smith Island, maritime historian Paula J. Johnson documented the construction of wooden crab-scraping boats, deadrise workboats, and smaller skiffs from the 1960s through and the 1990s, with notes about wood species used.

In one example, the keel timber and planking for the 30-foot crab-scraping boat Darlene were shipped over from a lumber mill in Crisfield.  The heavy keel of “yellow pine” was towed in the water behind the delivery boat.  While the timber was still green, the keel was shaped then left to season in the open air for three months.  [6]

Crab-scrape under construction at
Rhodes Point in the 1980s
[Workboats of Smith Island, p. 22]

Crab-scrape Darlene under construction at
Rhodes Point in the 1980s
[Workboats of Smith Island, p. 27]

Johnson found it difficult to determine the “yellow pine” species used for the keel of Darlene.  The builder called it “Eastern Shore yellow pine” and used no other name for the pine planking and timbers he used in all his workboats.  Although Johnson stated that longleaf pine was “preferred” by Smith Island boatbuilders, it seems unlikely that they ever obtained green (unseasoned) longleaf pine from any mill in Crisfield or elsewhere on the Eastern Shore, since the native range of longleaf doesn’t extend north into the Chesapeake Bay region.  She concluded that the keel timber was probably loblolly, because of the high cost of longleaf, and because loblolly is abundant on the lower Eastern Shore.  [7]

By the 1990s, skiff builders at Smith Island seemed less concerned about which pine species they used.  This may have been due in part to the increased use of fiberglass to cover both older workboats and new wooden boat construction.

Johnson documented the construction process and materials used by Haynie Marshall to build a crabbing skiff at Tylerton in April 1994 for his own use – “fishing a few crab pots”.  Marshall expected to complete the 18-foot skiff in less than a week.  The keel was formed from a salt-treated (pressure-treated) pine 2×4. The bottom was planked with 1×6 “ponderosa pine”.  Marshall planned to cover his new boat with fiberglass to prolong its life and reduce maintenance. [8]

Haynie Marshall building his own skiff
on the dock at Tylerton.
[Workboats of Smith Island, p. 63]

It appears that Marshall was using common kiln-dried lumber like what we find today at Lowe’s or The Home Depot.  His “ponderosa pine” may have been #2 SPF – the variable mix of knotty, construction grade spruce, pine, and fir found in the lumber yard stacks.  He was probably counting on the fiberglass skin to protect his boat in the same way that careful selection of wood species and seasoning of air-dried wood had served in the past.

By the time Johnson surveyed the Smith Island workboat fleet in the late 1990s, fiberglass was indeed the preferred finish material. Of the 136 skiffs surveyed, 83 were 100 percent fiberglass, 23 were wood covered by fiberglass, 15 were metal, and only 15 were built entirely of wood. [9]

Finding Loblolly today on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

[Source: Maryland Biodiversity Project]

Status

Loblolly Pine is one of the four major pines of the southeastern United States, the other three being Shortleaf, Longleaf, and Slash. Of these, only Shortleaf and Loblolly occur in Maryland. The state marks the farthest north that Loblolly pine is found (Maryland DNR, 2016). On the southern coastal plain of Maryland, Loblolly Pine is very common, but is uncommon north of Anne Arundel and Queen Anne’s counties. it is the dominant tree at the transition zone between salt marshes and woodland.

Loblolly is the dominant pine species on the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland. It occurs naturally, but is also grown commercially there in large plantations.

Description

The needles are long (5-7″) and in bundles of three.

Find More

More field notes about Loblolly Pine at the Maryland Biodiversity Project

More photos and data about Loblolly Pine at the Maryland Plant Atlas.

Observations by USGS Quadrant.
Map at Maryland Plant Atlas

Loblolly pine native range
Map at PlantMaps.com

Finding Old Growth Loblolly Today

Champion Trees

Caroline Co. – 34″ diameter, 102′ tall

Talbot Co. – 45″ diameter, 85′ tall

Dorchester Co. – 47″ diameter, 88′ tall

Wicomico Co. – 41″ diameter, 97′ tall

 

See more at Maryland Big Tree Program

 

The Wicomico County champion tree at the Salisbury Zoo
is 128 inches circumference and 97 feet tall.

Sources

[1a]  Richard J.S. Dodd and Pete Lesher, A Heritage in Wood, p.

[1b] Frederick Tilp, Chesapeake Bay of Yore, pp. 124-127.  And Paula J. Johnson, The Workboats of Smith Island, p. 89 footnote 8.

[2] Howard I. Chapelle, Chesapeake Bay Crabbing Skiffs, notes to Figure 2.

[3] Chapelle, American Small Sailing Craft (ASSC), pp. 313.

[4]  American Small Sailing Craft, p. 316.

[5] American Small Sailing Craft, p. 326.

[6]  The Workboats of Smith Island, pp. 24-25.

[7] The Workboats of Smith Island, p. 89 footnote 8.

[8] The Workboats of Smith Island, p. 64.

[9] The Workboats of Smith Island, Appendix A.