The corner of Hayward and Maryland avenues in Cambridge, MD, is not quiet.
Outside, workmen are almost done installing a new transom and planking on The Jolly Dolphin, a wooden sailboat berthed under a tall shed. Inside the Ruark Boatworks building, 83-year-old Ronald "Mac" McGlaughin - known to all as "Junior" - is putting what he calls "the final kisses" on a 28.5-foot deadrise. Next to the boatworks, carpenters are banging away on the frame of a reassembled old barn that will soon house a boat-building school.
But nobody is complaining. These are the sounds, at long last, of progress on a plan to reinvent the James B. Richardson Maritime Museum, which stands just a few blocks away in Cambridge's downtown. When it's finished, the museum will no longer be a static place to relive moments in maritime history. It will also be where Cambridge rewrites its future: a waterfront community that not only embraces condos and restaurants but also its rich working-waterfront heritage.
"We're not a static museum," said Jay Corvan, the project's architect. "We're trying to build a living legacy."
Plans for The Richardson Maritime Heritage Center will expand way beyond the collection in the museum downtown, named for master boat-builder James "Mr. Jim" Richardson, who died in 1991. They include a marine railway that will be able to haul boats out of the water and allow workers to repair them, a boat-building school that will eventually employ more than a dozen skilled craftsmen and a public park along the water. All told, the project could employ close to 100 people in an area where jobs have been scarce.
Eventually, the Richardson center hopes to work on the historic replica, Pride of Baltimore II, which currently has to leave Maryland for repairs because no shipyard in the state wants to work on its wooden hull. The Pride's senior captain already assured the museum's organizers that, if they built it, he would come.
And if boats like the Pride came, people would, too - they'd flock to the picturesque site along Cambridge Creek, where old-line seafood companies share space with marinas, seafood restaurants and condos. They would watch as craftsmen worked on one of the most beautiful boats in the region. Although the facility will only be able to work on nonprofit vessels, the students would learn a valuable trade that could transfer to marina jobs in Annapolis and elsewhere.
"The stuff built in Annapolis is air-freighted all over the world," said David Singelstad, a marine attorney who has been working on the museum project for several years. "Why can't we train young people, give them the rudimentary understanding of state-of-the-art boat building and repair? There is a future to it."
Corvan also said that he believes the marine restoration work would help the 650 or so watermen who live in Dorchester County, home to the fishing communities of Hooper's Island and Church Creek.
Already, the Richardson's volunteers have accomplished something many would consider impossible: They persuaded the U.S. Navy to donate a steel marine winch, dismantled it and hauled it in pieces to Cambridge from Annapolis. Today, the winch sits next to the waterfront, looking like something straight out of the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, the winch began hauling boats out of the water for repairs during the War of 1812, according to Singelstad, and only stopped in 1985, when the U.S. Naval Academy no longer needed its services.
Corvan and Singelstad received a state grant and are seeking more government money, as well as private foundation money, to help with construction. They will be building the center in phases.
Cambridge officials have enthusiastically endorsed the plan.
"The Richardson really captures a lot of the history that is important to this community, and that, unfortunately, is starting to fade," said Natalie Chabot, Cambridge's economic development director.
Not only are city officials happy about the potential for jobs and tourism, but they also see the project as a way to better connect Cambridge's waterfront with its resurgent downtown.
For decades, Cambridge has struggled with economic hardships and racial discord. The 1967 riots were a violent, public expression of anger and resentment that had long simmered under the surface. Cambridge was more than a third African-American then, but the town was divided into a black section and a white one. The main drag, appropriately called Race Street, separated the populations.
As major employers left town and unemployment rose, the picture didn't improve much. While sailors and day-trippers flocked to picturesque towns like Oxford and St. Michaels, Cambridge remained more rough-hewn. Its beautiful, department store-size buildings fell into disrepair.
But that changed about 10 years ago. Newcomers ("come-heres" in local parlance) began buying buildings and remodeling them. Cambridge Main Street, an organization dedicated to bringing the downtown back, worked mightily to help businesses and art galleries establish themselves.
Today, downtown Cambridge boasts a first-class restaurant, Bistro Poplar, as well as the down-home Jimmy and Sook's and several other eateries. Boutiques and art galleries featuring local works line the streets. A couple of years ago, the city elected its first black mayor, Victoria Jackson-Stanley.
And until its collection moves to the waterfront, downtown visitors can check out the Richardson's High Street museum, which features replicas of skipjacks, antique navigation devices and murals and photographs of maritime memorabilia.
Cambridge doesn't want to lose what sets it apart: a laid-back attitude, a deep waterfront harbor, affordable housing prices and a good mix of natives and newcomers. Chabot said that she thinks it's precisely that mix that draws people to the town. And the Richardson Maritime Center will only add to the draw, she said.
"We know we have to sell that history to bring people here and maintain that character," Chabot said. "It's not one of those things that we just think. We know."
The museum, currently at 401 High St., is open 1â€“4 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; or by appointment. Work is in progress at the Ruark Boatworks on Haywood and Maryland avenues 9 a.m. to 2 p.m Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A docent is on duty 1â€“4 p.m. Saturday.
For information, call 410-221-1871 or visit www.richardsonmuseum.org/.