Note: This story is from the January-February 2011 issue of the Gypsy Journal.
On a visit to Yorktown, Virginia we discovered the charming little Watermen’s Museum, located on the bank of the York River, almost in the shadow of the George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge.
We love small town museums, and this one was a real treat. The Watermen’s Museum tells the story of the Chesapeake Bay watermen, and of the role they played in the shaping of our nation.
Displays inside the museum include everything from small boats used to harvest crabs to fishing nets, antique outboard motors, fishing equipment, model reproductions of historic Chesapeake Bay watercraft, and artwork devoted to the local commercial fishing industry.
Like the Native Americans they found when they first arrived in the area, the Virginia colonists learned to depend on the waters of Chesapeake Bay to survive. Taking the title “watermen” from those who worked England’s Thames River, the people who work the Chesapeake are still called watermen today.
The term applies to anyone who makes their living on the water, including fishermen, freight haulers, ferry boat pilots, bargemen, ship pilots, merchant mariners, boat and ship builders, and dealers in seafood and related goods. The term is common in only two places on earth, the Thames River, and Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
There is no other body of water in North America quite like the Chesapeake Bay, and none has had such an impact on the people who live on its shores. Since the beginning of time, harvesting the Chesapeake has been a major occupation of its inhabitants, and a tradition passed down from generation to generation.
While some seafood species call the Bay home year round, the majority migrate into the Chesapeake to reproduce, following instincts imprinted by evolution. This is why estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay are called nurseries of the seas.
In the last 100 years there have been dramatic changes in every aspect of life in and around the Chesapeake Bay. Changes in the population, changes in technology, changes in the very environment itself.
But even with all of these changes, the watermen are still harvesting the Bay’s bounty with many of the same methods and equipment that served their fathers and grandfathers so well, dating back to the first settlers. Their story is the story of wooden boats and iron men facing the dangers of the sea every day to carry on traditions established long before they were born.
Harvesting the Atlantic blue crab is the largest seafood industry in the region. The seasonal migrations of the blue crab have challenged and rewarded fishermen for years. Crabbing methods range from wire traps to edging, depending on the season and the crab population. The Watermen’s Museum has a display of several different crab pots and nets, as well as this crabbing skiff, similar to ones still used today. Powered by poling, these flat bottom boats are incredibly stable and are popular with both commercial and recreational crab fishermen.
Oysters have long been a popular seafood crop for the Bay’s commercial fishermen, and though their numbers declined sharply a few decades ago, careful management, and artificial reefs have helped them make a comeback.
Besides the nautical artifacts and equipment on display, the museum also has an interesting collection of items brought up by dredges in the fishing process. The display includes antique bottles, China plates, keys, a shaving razor, tobacco pipes, an ax, an early hoe blade, a brass drinking cup, and Indian artifacts.
The museum also has a small gift shop, where visitors can shop for souvenirs and books on the history and traditions of the Chesapeake Bay watermen.
The Watermen’s Museum operates a popular wooden boat building program in which people who have a passion for classic watercraft can gain hands-on experience.
The museum is located at 309 Water Street, on the Yorktown waterfront, next to the newly developed River Walk shopping and dining area. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am – 5 pm, and Sundays from 1 pm – 5 pm April 1 through Thanksgiving. Winter hours are Saturday 10 am – 5pm and Sunday 1pm – 5pm. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and students, and kids under age 6 are free..
For more information on the Watermen’s Museum, call (757)887-2641 or visit their website at www.watermens.org.
Several blog readers have asked where they can find pictures and information on our 2002 Winnebago Ultimate Advantage motorhome, which we are selling. I have set up a page for it, with lots of info and photos. You can access it here at this Motorhome For Sale link.
On another note, if you like a good mystery story, be sure to check out my pal Donna’s McNicol’s new release Paradise Dead. It’s a must have for readers of the popular Lei Crime series.
So far over 50 people have entered our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Crazy Days In Big Lake, book 3 in my Big Lake mystery series. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – Patience is the companion of wisdom. – St. Augustine