Calvert Marine Museum

The Chesapeake Bay area is rich in maritime history. As a result, there are many museums to visit - some quite small and open only one or two days a week - others large with generous donors. In May, 2003, I visited one of the mid-sized museums - the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Maryland.


Getting to the museum entails a mostly pleasant 1-1/2 hour drive through the country from my current home in Virginia. I say "mostly" because there are two quite scary bridges one must cross. Both bridges are quite high off the water, only one narrow lane in each direction, and the barriers on the sides are only about 3 feet high. I normally have no problems driving over bridges, but I have to confess to a small amount of panic driving over these! Fortunately, there was little wind, but I'd have to think several times before I'd drive over one in a high wind, let alone a driving rain storm.

Nevertheless, I arrived safely at Solomons, which is situated on the lovely Patuxent River. Solomons, and the adjacent Solomon's Island, are largely made up of marinas, restaurants, and a few tourist shops. It's a nice little town that you can see in its entirety in about 5 minutes. The Calvert Marine Museum is housed in several buildings. One, now used as the museum's library and administration center, was originally the town's only school. The museum's displays are predominantly in one new facility built for the purpose. In addition, there is a small boat shed with historic small craft as well as the Drum Point Lighthouse and the buy boat William B. Tennison.

Admission to the museum is a modest $5, which includes a guided tour of the lighthouse. There is a small gift shop just inside the entrance. Upon passing the ticket desk, the visitor arrives at the main display floor that has a few dozen very nice models, some full-size craft, and various displays of other artifacts. The museum focuses on the maritime history of the Patuxent River area. As one would expect, there are models of skipjacks, bugeyes, and other vessels used in the oystering and fishing industries. The Patuxent River area was used extensively by the US Navy during WWII, so there is a display about the Navy's history as it relates to the area. For many years, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was a regular passenger ferry service throughout the Chesapeake Bay area and one of the stops was Solomon's Island, so there is a display and several ferryboat models relating to that service. The Patuxent River was used by the British in the War of 1812. English vessels sailed up the river to discharge troops for their eventual attack on Washington, DC. There are a couple of models and information about ships used during that period.

You'll notice one picture that I've included of a Chesapeake Bay schooner. She is modeled on the ways and is having her rigging installed. What a GREAT way to avoid stringing all those ratlines!!! Just show the model with no shrouds. I can definitely see something like this in my modeling future :-)

In a mezzanine surrounding the main floor, was a display of outboard motors, from the earliest to the most current. This area appears to be used for changing exhibits, so the outboard motors may well be gone by the time you visit. There were probably 50 or 60 motors up there but, I confess, they didn't hold my attention.

Surrounding the main floor, in a separate area, is as series of displays and aquaria related to the life of the river itself. One impressive display was the fossil skeleton of a prehistoric shark. Its teeth were 5 inches long! In all, the body was about 30 feet in length. I thought it was a whale until I got a look at its mouth! Very scary. By following the displays from beginning to end, one gets a perspective on the changes to the river from prehistoric to modern times. Very nicely done and something I'm sure kids would enjoy.

Outside the museum was the small boat shed. It houses 15 or 20 small craft of various types. I am most fascinated by log canoes. Although some log canoes are what we normally call dugout canoes (as made by early indians) some very sophisticated boats were built using carved logs and the same basic process. One such boat was built from just 3 logs. These were large pine logs, fastened together by various means, and carved out to make a boat. In this particular boat, each log was at least 3 feet across! This boat (still called a log canoe) is more than 20 feet long. The hull of the William B. Tennison was made from just 9 carved logs. She is 60.5 feet long, 17.5 feet wide.

The William B. Tennison is a Cheseapeak Bay buy boat. She was originally built as a 9-log, two-masted bugeye in 1899. In 1906-7, an engine and pilot house were added and one mast removed. From that time, she made her living as a buy boat. Buy boats cruised the bay, pulling up next to skipjacks and other oystering vessels and buying their catch. Oyster season lasts only 9 months (any month in which there is an "r" in the name). During the off-season, buy boats often hauled watermelons and other produce to markets in Washington, DC and Baltimore. For an extra $6, museum visitors can take an hour-long cruise on the Tennison. She cruises thru the harbor and down the Patuxent river a couple miles. She has been maintained in pristine condition and her hull is still original after more than 100 years. Note the unusually long stem on the Tennison. I have no explanation for why it's so long I'm afraid.

The Drum Point light originally sat 100 yards off of Drum Point - about 2 miles downriver from the museum. The light was decommissioned in the 1960s and was eventually moved to the museum in the 1980s. The lighthouse was tended full-time by a keeper who lived there year-round with his family. During foggy weather, the keeper had to wind the mechanism to ring a bell every few seconds. The mechanism had to be wound every two hours, so the keeper had to be a light sleeper (hopefully his wife and kids took their turns!) yet somehow able to tune out the sound of the bell when he WAS sleeping. As far as "facilities" there was a nice little one-hole outhouse on the deck surrounding the living quarters but one did have to go outside to get to it. Not likely to be much fun on a black, snowy night. The main source of water was rain, held in two 150 gallon barrels. A coal stove provided heat and cooking facilities. The lighthouse has been fully restored and is a pleasure to tour.

There is a beautiful modelmaking shop on the museum grounds. Visitors can only go inside a small room at the entrance. The shop itself is off limits but visible thru glass windows. It appears to be very well equipped and as large as a two-car garage. I was told that someone is working on a model of a Baltimore clipper. I could see that the POF hull is about done with no deck beams yet in place. The hull looked to be about 3 feet long, so it's going to make a nice model some day. The modelmaking shop is manned by volunteers and is typically open only one afternoon a week. However, there is a modeling club that uses the shop every other Saturday. The club predominantly builds and races RC skipjacks. There was one such skipjack on display in the shop. It's not a highly detailed model, but quite striking in any case at about 50. The club sells plans for the skipjacks. If you're interested, you can find more information about the club and plans at http://www.calvertmarinemuseum.com/simbc/history.htm

The Calvert Marine Museum is well worth a visit if you're ever near the area. It's about an hour's drive from Washington, DC. and you won't have to cross those two awful bridges coming from that direction! Combined with a nice lunch or dinner at one of Solomon Island's many restaurants, it would make for a very pleasant day. It might, however, be best to avoid the place on a warm summer weekend. The island is small and, I imagine, can get very crowded indeed at such times.

On to the pictures =>