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.

In early 2024, I discovered interviews and photos that describe the Bronza Parks boatyard in Wingate, Maryland.  The photos show work at the yard during 1950-1956, when Bronza was building the famous “Three Sisters” skipjacks.  Carrying clues from these interviews and photos, and with help from neighbors in Wingate, I visited the boatyard site – now an empty field behind the Lakes & Straights fire hall.  I selected and arranged text from the interviews and the photos into this series of virtual tours.

Satellite imagery shows the site of the B.M. Parks boatyard a half mile from the waterfront at Wingate, Maryland.

The boat yard was located between the present Lakes & Straits fire hall, on the left, and Bronza’s residence, which is still standing on the right.

Drive up to the Lakes & Straits firehouse.  Del Pritchett or another of the volunteers welcome a few pilgrims like you and me each month.  They’re happy to walk you around back to the empty field where Bronza’s boat shops stood.  And show you portraits of Bronza on the walls of the fire hall.  They talk about Bronza’s murder in 1958 like it was yesterday.

Bronza Before the Boatyard 

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

PH:  Bronza Parks lived in Wingate. He was born right at the turn of the century, 1900. He died in 1958. He worked on the water as a young man, started a seafood packing house at one time. But he had quit dredging pretty much before 1950.

MH:  At one time, he and my mother’s brother, Willie Lewis, who owned the Martha Lewis, had a seafood packing house. I think they quit that after two or three years, because they just didn’t make enough money for them. But my father also worked on the water.

PH:  He started off with one skiff in the yard. And one thing led to another.

MH:   The first boat that my father built was built in the yard up by our house. Dad had built a couple skiffs for people that wanted them, little rowboats. And every time somebody saw one of them, they wanted one, and he built it for them. But then, it must’ve been in the late 20’s or early 30’s that I recall the first one being built in the yard.

MH:  I remember that was a draketail. You all call them draketails, but we call them dovetails. I can recall being around there when the men would come over and take a look at it and hang around and talk whenever they were off, and just visit and look at the boat. It was probably like 35-36 feet. It was a good-size boat.

PH:  He had a sign for a while that said, “B.M. Parks, Boat Builder”. And then later it said, “B.M. Parks, Designer and Builder of Boats”. Uncle Ralph [Ruark] told me he built 438 boats. Of course, he had big crews there at times also.  He started off with one skiff in the yard. 

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

Bronza holding daughter Mary.  His wife Katie holding daughter Martha.  In front are daughters Irene and Lucille.  No date, no place.  [0000.1401.0196]

Left to right: Bronza; daughters Joyce, Mary, Lucille, Irene, Martha; wife Katie.  No place, no date. [0000.1401.0201]

Bronza and Katie Parks.  No date.  [0000.1401.0205]

Skipjacks out in the Yard

PH: When he was building the Rosie Parks, the Martha Lewis, and the Lady Katie – the three skipjack sisters – on the other side of the yard, in the other field right behind the boathouse, they had 19 workboats of various sizes going.  And then there were four boats inside the shed going.

MH: The boathouse was just “a long city block” from the house.  And as a matter of fact, my father took a half hour for lunch when he had quite a few people working for him, and he would just walk up to the house. Mother always had his lunch sitting on the table … so he wouldn’t lose time, he’d come up to the house and eat his lunch and then go back to work. 

MH: The skipjacks were built outside, between the boathouse and the house.  Most of the other boats were probably were built inside. 

All Three Sisters.  Front to back:  Martha Lewis, Rosie Parks, Ladie Katie.  1 September 1955.  [0000.1401.0037]

Photo of Bronza Parks’ boatyard taken from roof of the boat shed.  Woods are north of the yard.  Firehouse out of view to the left, residence out of view to the right.  Skipjacks left to right:  Martha Lewis, Rosie Parks, Lady Katie.  Undated, about October 1955. [0000.1401.0253]

Probably the Martha Lewis in Bronza’s yard, which was built on a later schedule than the other two of the Three Sisters.  August 1956.  [0000.1401.0001]

Hulls of skipjacks Martha Lewis and Rosie Parks at Bronza Parks’ boatyard, Oct. 1955.  [0000.1401.0020]

Martha Lewis, left, and Rosie Parks, right.  26 October 1955. [0000.1401.0025]

The Boat Shops

PH:  He had one long building that was about a hundred feet long by 30 feet wide. It wasn’t a very tall building. All along the wall there, they had windows that you could lift up and stick a stick in and open it up so a breeze could all blow through. And it had two big sliding doors on the front and two on the back, so you could pull the boat in and out. Two big sliding doors on the back. Then he had built a part on the right-hand side – if you’re in front of it – and that had a little office where he had a desk and a chair.  And there was a storage room that had shelves from the floor to the ceiling.

MH: There were [15 boats] in progress at about the time that those three skipjacks were under way. They were built outside the boathouse. And at that particular time, when my father first built the boathouse, it was 50 feet long. And then as he came to be building more boats, he added another 50-foot extension. In later years, another 50-foot extension. And then he added 50 feet beside that. So he ended being able to build like four vessels inside the boathouse.

MH:  We didn’t get electricity down all the way into Wingate until after around 1940. There were about five or six other businessmen who had their own power plants. My father had a 32-volt electric plant that had about 18 very large batteries that were cased in glass. And that was his electrical system. It was on a wide platform in the back end of the boathouse. That provided electricity when he got around to getting electrical tools.

PH:  Before they had electricity, he had a battery system that he had set up, these banks of batteries. I’ve heard it said that as they were bringing electricity down there, they came to my grandfather and they said, “Well, Bronzie, we’re going to come down here. For you to get hooked up, it’s going to cost x-amount of dollars.” And he’s like, “Well, that seems like an awful amount.” And they were like, “Well, you know, we figure there’s 12 poles coming down this road and — ” He’s like, “Well, you’re on your way to Toddville. Seems like I should just pay from the road to my house.” And they’re like, “Oh, no. We’re going out of our way to bring you electricity and all that.” So he told them to go around. I mean, he already had power. Some of his stuff ran on the AC and then some of it ran off of an old tractor. He eventually got the electricity once they went past him. Then he just got the regular hook-up.

PH: He had a couple of pieces of machinery, the bandsaw and the joiner. They would pull up a tractor and it had a big, flat belt. It had these big metal wheels on shafts that would turn from the tractor. The tractor had a power take-off, so you hooked the belt up on this tractor and run it.

Boat shed, northwest end.  Skipjacks were built in the yard to the left and behind the shed.  Undated.  [0000.1401.0324]

Six workboats under constructions.  Undated.  [0000.1401.0021]

Unidentified worker or client in Bronza’s boat shed.  Undated.  [0000.1401.0230]

Early photo of Bronza in the cockpit of a workboat under construction. Undated, probably late 1940s.  [0000.1401.0232​]

Boat shed, probably northwest end.  May 1953.  [0000.1401.0003]

Shed with deadrise workboats under construction.  Undated.  [0000.1401.0024]

Bronza in the yard, Rosie Park and Martha Lewis in the background. 
[0000.1401.0036]

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 1953-56.  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 selections I present above have been edited to improve readability and clarity.

 

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.