The Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network was designed to highlight the stories behind historic, cultural and natural sites around the Bay and its watershed.
A new book now provides the faces behind many of those places, and stories.
In “Windows on the Chesapeake: The Bay, Its People and Places,” author Wendy Mitman Clarke brings alive 35 Chesapeake traditions and landmarks, almost all of them through the eyes of individuals responsible for preserving these legacies.
Each profile is enhanced by beautiful color photographs, most of them taken by John Pemberton of The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, VA, which has published the book in association with, and with funding in part by, the Gateways Network and the National Park Service.
The profiles, which are arranged geographically, begin in the north with the section, “Pennsylvania to the Patuxent,” and take readers on a journey south to the “Eastern Shore,” with stops between “Patuxent to the Rappahannock” and “South to Hampton Roads” en route. Most accounts also provide details about a nearby Gateways site.
Some of the individuals highlighted are responsible for preserving a piece of the Bay’s history, such as Vida Van Lennup and her late husband, Gus, whose “love of old things” led to the creation of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, MD.
For some, the preservation of history is literally in their blood, such as Charles Hill Carter III, heir to and caretaker of Shirley Plantation and its farm on the James River, the “oldest family-owned business in the United States.”
Others aren’t so much preserving history as reclaiming it. These include Curtiss E. Peterson of the Mariners’ Museum, who is responsible for the restoration of the USS Monitor, the Union ironclad sunk in the Civil War, which was recently brought to the surface and taken to the museum. As artifacts are painstakingly extracted from the effects of the ship’s 139-year stint at the salty bottom of the Atlantic, it is up to Peterson to not only reconstruct the ship, but also the lives of the men who served on her.
Another example is Dr. William Kelso, who refused to believe that James Fort, site of the first English settlement in the United States, had been eroded away by the James River. Led by his research and “a gut feeling,” he and the archeological crews working with him discovered the fort’s “footprint” and more than 400,000 artifacts ranging from weapons and armor to jewelry once worn by both the settlers and their Native American neighbors.
Not all of the sites spring from history books. Lewisetta, VA, with its general store/marina run by Helen and Mark Scerbo, is a testament to out-of-the way, tiny towns in which visitors get lost for a time as well as in time.
For a number of people in the book, “lost in time,” is something to be lamented, as they strive to preserve a way of life. Thus we learn about the efforts of Tilghman, MD’s Herb Carden, who is devoted to restoring such old Bay boats as the skipjack Wilma Lee or the crab scrape, Little Doll. Or, there’s Jim Drewery, who is not preserving old boats, but the traditional methods used to construct them, as part of a working exhibition at the Mariners’ Museum.
Like the boats, fishing is another recurring theme. Sisters Beatrice Taylor and Catherine Via of Urbanna, VA describe the long days—and years—of working in their family’s crabbing business. The account of Walter Coles of Mathews County, VA is one of the inevitable ebb and flow of a pound net fisherman’s life.
Then there are the efforts to restore the fish and other natural resources of the Bay and its watershed. Readers learn about the Pamunkey Indian Reservation’s shad hatchery operations, which began in 1918.
Meanwhile, upstream near Ephrata, PA, Matt Ehrhart of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is working to protect wild trout populations by promoting riparian buffers and plantings along streams.
Ellie Altman of Adkins Arboretum in Ridgely, MD is also an advocate of plants—and in some cases, their eradication. Her mission is to preserve the native flora and the diversity of the watershed’s native landscape before it is smothered by introduced invaders.
Some of the stories are boisterous celebrations of life on the Bay, such as the musical ballads and compositions by the Eastport Oyster Boys, a singing-songwriting team based in Annapolis. In others, such as the profile of the Northern Neck Chantey Singers, former fishermen who perform songs once sung in menhaden boats to ease the back-breaking job of hauling in loaded nets, one can almost hear their voices slowly carried away with the tide as the singers, in their 60s and 70s, pass on, with only tapes to record their way of life.
But all is not lost. By the book’s end, the tales will have impressed on readers a greater appreciation for the Chesapeake and its watershed, and that, in itself, is a form of preservation.
Copies of “Windows on the Chesapeake: The Bay, Its People and Places” are available at The Mariners’ Museum Shop, 757-591-7792 as well as in area bookstores. For information, write to The Mariners’ Museum, 100 Museum Drive, Newport News, VA 23606. or visit www.mariner.org.
The National Park Services’ Gateways Network system includes more than 110 sites in the watershed. To learn more about the network, visit www.baygateways.net