E. C. Collier

Status

Updated 17 June 2024:
E. C. Collier survives as a permanent exhibit at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland.

E. C. Collier, 15 February 2015

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Background

Skipjack E. C. Collier is one of the better documented of the old skipjacks, thanks to her acquisition by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. When she was donated and before she was installed as a permanent exhibit, her lines were taken, a full set of drawings produced and her history researched by the Historic American Engineering Record team, a program of the National Park Service, cosponsored by CBMM, with funding from the Maryland Historical Trust. Those 1989 plans and history, from which much of the following was taken, can be found on the Library of Congress website.

Alan S. Michels was a college student from West Texas at that time and spent a "very, very interesting summer" going through the boat, measuring and doing "as is" drawings. The new cannery building, where E. C. Collier was to be displayed, was under construction, and it was feared she would break apart when they lifted her out of the water. He said, "Her back was broke and she'd been sistered many, many times." But that was in 1989. Her story begins about eighty years earlier.

E. C. Collier was built in 1910 by George Washington Horseman on the east side of Wenona on Deal Island, Maryland. He had already built several boats for the Collier family, including Eddie Collier in 1902 and George W. Collier in 1900. Eddie Collier, like his father George W. Collier, was a blacksmith for most of his life, but by 1910 had accumulated enough money to have a skipjack built. It would seem that he named the boat after himself—except that apparently he didn't. Eddie's middle initial was "B", and none of his recorded family members have the initials "E. C." in their names, so the origin of the boat's name remains a mystery.

Horseman built E. C. Collier mostly from Eastern Shore loblolly pine and white oak. No original set of plans exists, and none were commonly used for skipjacks at that time; but the subsequent engineering study indicated that she underwent few alterations and additions over the years. She was, however, likely rebuilt and repaired numerous times in her eighty years on the water, "with the quality of the workmanship declining as the state of the oyster industry declined," according to the study.

Nothing is known about her first pushboat, but her last was built around 1970 by Sam and Dave McQuay of Wittman, Maryland.

Eddie Collier was E. C. Collier's first owner, but she changed hands quite a number of times during her life on the water. Her first homeport was Crisfield, with Moody Webster as master. By 1917, Eddie had sold half the boat to Ross E. Collier. Moody was still captain.

The Collier family parted with the boat in 1920, when she was sold to William C. Todd and Robert McBride of Chance. She still sailed out of Crisfield, now with McBride as master. In 1926, she was bought by Jefferson Dix, owner and master from Tylerton, Maryland, who sailed her out of Cape Charles, Virginia, until 1941, when she went through a decade of owner changes.

In 1941, Dix sold her to Rufus Crockett of Crisfield but continued as captain. In 1942, she went first to Ozzie L. Dize and Coley Dize of Tangier, Virginia, sailed by Ozzie out of Cape Charles, then to William Smith who sailed the boat himself out of Baltimore before moving himself and the boat to Crisfield the following year.

By January 1944, she was back at Cape Charles, owned by Harry Wheatley of Tangier and sailed by Frank Parks. By October, she had returned to Crisfield, again owned and sailed by Smith. That didn't last long either. January 1945 finds her owned by James Whitelock and Charles Whitelock of Chance, sailed by Charles out of Crisfield. A year later, Gordon S. Pope of Oxford, Maryland, owns and sails her out of Cambridge.

The revolving door of owners slows down at this point. Pope holds onto her for almost four years before selling her in December 1949 to John P. and Laura J. Kapisak of Avalon, Maryland. John is captain and continues sailing her out of Cambridge for almost six years. In 1955, she is sold to John R. and Elsie B. Larrimore of Tilghman, Maryland, and John sails her until his death at age 72 in 1983.

When John died, Elsie shared ownership with Pauline L. Cummings and John R. Cummings. Pauline or "Polly" was Capt. Larrimore's daughter. John R. may have been John Ralph, her son, who once worked on the Collier. By January 1985, Pauline and John are listed as the joint owners.

E. C. Collier was a hard-working boat most of those years.  When not dredging, she was laid up or hauled produce from the Eastern Shore to Baltimore. There is a painting by Louis Feuchter entitled "Watermelon Laden Sailing Craft at Long Dock, Pratt Street, Baltimore c1930" in which she appears in the background, her deck piled with melons.

She also had her adventures in the often dangerous world of oyster harvesting. One opening day of oyster season in the late 1940s, a Saturday, Capt. Pope apparently didn't like where the Laura J. Barkley was dredging, rammed her with the Collier and dismasted her. (By Monday morning, the Barkley's mast had been splinted, and she was working again.)

On 31 December 1952, E. C. Collier went to the rescue of the crew of Gladys Melba, a dredgeboat that wrecked near Sharp's Island. The Collier had her own close call in December 1971 when a storm blew her and four other boats from their moorings at Knapps Narrows. She was swept out into the Choptank River and ran aground near Neavitt, leaking considerably. She was repaired at Richardson Boat Yard outside of Cambridge.

E. C. Collier participated with the other skipjacks in the races held around the Bay. She is listed in the 1962 roster for the race at Solomons, Maryland, with J. R. Larrimore owner and homeport of Avalon. The 1970 and 1979 Chesapeake Appreciation Days rosters have her listed again with Capt. Larrimore and port Tilghman. In 1978, she took first place at Chesapeake Appreciation Days.

By the 1970s, there was growing attention toward preserving the deteriorating skipjack fleet and the Collier had her share of the spotlight. In 1972, she was featured in an article in The Sun Magazine, in which the boat's cook, Peewee Grace, was mentioned for his "talent for turning out hearty meals on the little butane gas stove in the cabin," according to the engineering study. In 1978, she was the subject of a New York Times profile. She was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, one of 22 dredgeboats nominated and one of 19 then surviving working skipjacks built before 1912.

But after Capt. Larrimore died, with the oyster industry in steep decline, the Collier spent most of her time at the dock in Tilghman Island, and she retired from dredging after 1985. Pauline and John Cummings donated E. C. Collier to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in 1988, where she remains on permanent display.

 

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