In the 1990s it is estimated that less than 20 skipjacks remained. In 1994, the Chesapeake Heritage Conservancy, the City of Havre de Grace, and the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum worked together to restore and put forth a program around the Skipjack MARTHA LEWIS, who was donated by Dr. Randy George of Birmingham, Alabama.
These organizations, volunteers, teachers, ship building professionals (especially master shipwright Allen Rawl) worked hard to put the MARTHA LEWIS back into the oyster fleet and help keep the heritage alive. Within her mission she was also to serve as an environmental “classroom.”
The MARTHA LEWIS was built in 1955 by Bronza Parks. Two sister ships (The Lady Katie and Rosie Parks) were in the yard alongside the MARTHA LEWIS. Mr. Parks built MARTHA for Captain James Lewis, who named the boat after his mother. Most skipjacks were named after mothers and daughters, since other relationships could always end.
Later the MARTHA LEWIS was acquired by Gene Tyler on Tilghman Island. He worked her for 21 years, finally selling her to his brother-in-law, William Rowe. Two years later, Mr. Rowe would not be able to afford the upkeep and Dr. Randy George stepped in to purchase the boat in the hopes that an organization could preserve the boat and keep it traditionally working.
Martha Lewis owners in chronological order:
James Lewis (deceased) Wingate, MD 1955-1962
George Davis Faulkner Tilghman Island 1962-1967
Daniel Dize Tilghman Island 1967-1986
Gene Tyler (deceased) Tilghman Island 1973-1991
William J. Roe, Jr. Tilghman Island 1991-1993
Chesapeake Heritage Conservancy, Inc. Havre de Grace, MD 1993-present
The boat had a rich life and always did well in the oystering and racing of skipjacks. And today she still sails the Chesapeake reminding all of us of her rich heritage and of her need for stewardship going forward.
Martha being launched from Bronza Park's yard
Martha during 1993-94 restoration