Nellie L. Byrd


Updated 19 June 2024:
When last seen, Nellie L. Byrd had been on land since 2005 next to a small nonprofit organization, Chesapeake Bay Memories, on Middle River in Baltimore. The organization's efforts to restore her waxed and waned, with ownership at one point changing to Lawrence Murphy, owner of Skipjack Thomas Clyde, who hoped to restore her to dredging, but as a power boat. Last known word was that those plans, in turn, had faltered, and Chesapeake Bay Memories volunteers were back working on her and hoped to restore her. However, her current status is unclear.

Nellie L. Byrd, 24 February 2009

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Skipjack Nellie L. Byrd was built in Oriole, Maryland, in 1911, builder unknown, as is much about her early history. Even her later history is not clear in parts. In 1985, when she was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, among her notable characteristics were that she was "particularly wide amidships" and had "heavy ice sheathing carried well above waterline."

At least by the early 1930s, she was owned by Oliver Webster of Dames Quarter, Maryland. Capt. James O. Webster, born in 1919, recalled beginning work on the water at age 13 on his father's skipjack, Nellie L. Byrd, working on her for seven years. Captain Clifton Webster owned her at some period, likely in these early years.

By the 1960s, Orville Parks and William "Billy Buck" Bloodsworth owned her. Waterman Theodore Cephus recalled that Bloodsworth "got into some hard luck in the trucking business," and Orville bought Nellie L. Byrd, giving Bloodsworth half ownership. The roster of boats for a 1962 race at Solomons has W. T. Bloodsworth and Orville H. Parks as owners with her homeport at Cambridge.

At some point, Bloodsworth may have become full owner, as Capt. Scott Todd recalled that his grandfather Emerson Todd's brother, William Todd, bought the boat from "Bill Buck." By 1970, the Chesapeake Appreciation Days roster had her listed with captain William Todd and port Cambridge. Her National Register listing noted that "a trio of skipjacks owned and skippered by the Todd family was for many years based in Cambridge." William Todd's brother Wilson owned Sally Bramble and Emerson owned Rebecca T. Ruark. William Todd owned Nellie L. Byrd for about twenty years. Skipjack ownership continued in the Todd family. Scott was a longtime owner of Lady Katie.

According to Dr. Edward R. Thieler III, who researched and later carved new trailboards and eagle figurehead for the boat, in the early 1970s, when the Calvert Marine Museum was in its infancy, it asked local watermen to donate memorabilia to the museum for display. The owner of Nellie L. Byrd at the time, presumably William Todd, was enticed to do so by the offer of a new eagle and trailboards in return for the old. Todd sawed the eagle in half, mounted it on a board, and gave one half to the museum; the other half he either kept or sold. The original half-eagle and both original boards are on display at the Calvert Marine Museum. Pepper Langley carved a replacement eagle and set of boards.

In the early 1980s, Darryl Larrimore, whose uncle, Stanley Larrimore, owned Lady Katie at the time, bought Nellie L. Byrd from William Todd for $800. She was described as a wreck, and Darryl said, "you could take a good pair of Nikes shoes and kick her apart." In 1985, he started fixing her up. A businessman friend, Herb Cardin, who later owned skipjack Wilma Lee, sent him three truckloads of lumber for the project. Although he originally planned only to patch her, Darryl said, "I couldn’t find a place to stop," and it turned into an almost complete rebuild. Five months later, the only original parts reportedly were the keelson, skeg, deck and mast.

With interest picking up in preserving the dwindling fleet of skipjacks, National Geographic came around to shoot some film of the reconstruction of Nellie L. Byrd. Darryl arranged the work to accommodate their schedule, but when he asked if the organization might be able to kick in $1,000 to help him get the boat finished, Darryl said he never saw them again. At some point in her life, master carver Joey Jobes carved decoys out of old pieces of the boat.

Darryl got Nellie L. Byrd back to work in time to have one good year dredging out of Tilghman Island before the oyster harvests plummeted. He put more money into the boat, including $13,000 for new sails in 1987 and another $1,000 for a new figurehead, but kept coming to the conclusion that he couldn't afford to hang on to her. At the beginning of one dredging season, Darryl had given up and put Nellie L. Byrd up for sale for $30,000. The one interested buyer ended up not being able to come up with the money, so Darryl rigged her up and went out dredging for another year.

By 1996, however, he had sold her to Bart Murphy, who continued to sail her out of Tilghman Island. Over the years Bart had also owned the skipjacks Lena Rose, Ruby G. Ford and Esther F. He loved to race and reportedly bought Nellie L. Byrd so he could race against his brother, Wade Murphy, Jr., who by that time owned Rebecca T. Ruark. Bart beat Wadie in their first race.

Short of money, Bart sold Nellie L. Byrd's eagle figurehead and trailboards, the ones carved by Pepper Langley, to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum to raise funds. She received a new mast through the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum's Skipjack Restoration Program around 2001.

Shortly thereafter, Bart sold the boat to Capt. Michael Hayden, still sailing out of Tilghman Island. Hayden said he bought her mostly for sailing, and would only dredge for oysters "as long as there's something to catch, but that's no guarantee." Hayden was an oyster diver and hoped to dredge in winter and give sailing tours during the summer months. He began running two-hour tours and oyster dredging demonstrations up the Chester River from Kent Island's Chesapeake Bay Exploration Center (now the Chesapeake Heritage and Visitors Center.)

In 2000, Edward Thieler had seen Nellie at Oxford Boatyard and was struck by how incomplete and forlorn she looked without trailboards or eagle, and he carved new trailboards and a new eagle figurehead for her. Earlier, when he was helping to rebuild Skipjack Thomas Clyde, Thieler had traced Nellie L. Byrd's eagle as a pattern to make an eagle for Thomas Clyde. The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum allowed him to trace the Pepper Langley boards. By the time he had them finished, Bart and Mike Hayden had agreed on the sale.

Fearing that the new boards might again be auctioned off to the highest bidder at some future point, Thieler arranged with Bart and Mike that the boards would actually be owned by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, and that should the boards no longer be needed by the boat, they were to be returned to the museum and could not be sold. Documents were executed to that effect and signed by the two parties.

In 2005, ownership of the boat transferred to a nonprofit organization, Chesapeake Bay Memories Charities, and Nellie L. Byrd was delivered to a new berth on Dark Head Creek off Middle River outside of Baltimore. She was put on land next to the organization's headquarters in the Wilson Point community. Not in good shape, she reportedly sank before they got her up on the hard. The group provided children's education and Chesapeake Bay stewardship and leadership programs and planned to restore the boat, selling ornaments with Nellie L. Byrd on them as part of its fundraising effort for her planned restoration.

The effort stalled, and when we found her there in 2009, little work appeared to have been done on her. In 2014, the organization sold her to Lawrence Murphy, owner of Thomas Clyde, for $1, reportedly with a promise that he would fix her up back in Tilghman Island. Lawrence planned to restore only the hull and dredge her as a motor boat; but an accident that left him with severe injuries sidetracked that effort, and she remained at the Dark Head Creek property. In 2017, Thomas Clyde broke her boom and Nellie L. Byrd's boom ended up on Thomas Clyde. It was rumored that Lawrence managed to obtain her pushboat engine, too.

Our last contact with Chesapeake Bay Memories Charities in 2018 indicated that their resources and volunteer base had improved, and they were in the process of taking back legal possession of the boat. They had made a new bowsprit and still hoped to restore her. It is believed she is still at the Wilson Point location, but her status is unknown.

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