Rosie Parks

Status

Updated 24 September 2016:
Rosie Parks is part of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum's floating fleet of boats in St. Michaels, Maryland. She participates in events including the annual skipjack races in Deal Island and Cambridge. Rosie Parks won both the 2015 and 2016 Choptank Heritage Skipjack Races with Capt. Joe Connor.

Rosie Parks, 27 September 2014

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Background

Rosie Parks has had three lives. Her first began in 1955 when she was built by legendary Dorchester County boat builder Bronza Parks in Wingate, Maryland. Bronza built Rosie side by side by side with Lady Katie and Martha Lewis—the "Three Sisters." Rosie Parks was named for Bronza's mother. Lady Katie was named for his wife, Katie Lewis. Martha Lewis was built for Katie's brother, Capt. Jimmy Lewis, and named for their mother. Bronza Parks also built two other surviving skipjacks, Wilma Lee and Barbara Batchelder.

Bronza built Rosie for his brother, Capt. Orville Parks, who began working on the water at age 12. In the mid-1930s, before Bronza began building skipjacks, Orville had Tom Young build a skipjack for him, which he named Joy Parks after Orville's daughter. He sold Joy Parks after his brother built Rosie for him.

In a 1969 Sports Illustrated article, Hugh D. Whall wrote, "It is...instantly apparent to [watermen] that the hull of the Rosie Parks could have come only from the eye and hand of Orville Parks' brother, a man called Bronza, who created a thing of swanlike beauty in the Rosie..."

For Orville, it was a love story with Rosie for almost twenty years. Theodore Cephus began "drudging" with Capt. Orville when he still owned Joy Parks, and continued as his first mate and jib man until Orville finally gave up Rosie in 1975. Cephus' memories of those years were recorded as an oral history for the Richardson Maritime Museum in 2003.

"You just point her to the wind and she would do anything you want her to," said Cephus. "He [Orville] told me one day, he said, 'Theodore, all you got to do is stand to the wheel and she'll drudge herself.' She was a nice rig. He kept her in A-one condition.... She was one of them kind of boats, all you had to do was just hoist the sails up on her and the wind was fair, it was just like settin' in a rockin' chair."

Robert de Gast, in his 1970 book The Oystermen of the Chesapeake, said Rosie "...is maintained like a yacht and is the only drudgeboat kept at a yacht club after the season is over. Her master, Orville Parks, 74 years old, owns one-third of Cambridge, it is said. Nobody has ever grown rich from oystering, but a few people have invested the money they made during good years; Captain Parks is one of the few. Yet today he is still a fulltime waterman and goes drudging every day during the season."

Rosie Parks c. 1975
Rosie Parks, c. 1975 at Richardson Boat Yard
Photo courtesy of Michael Matthews

Besides being a great "drudgeboat," Rosie, with Orville at her helm, was formidable in the races. Cephus remembered sailing with Capt. Orville in 21 races, winning 19 of them. Maryland's Governor J. Millard Tawes made Orville an Admiral of the Chesapeake Bay in the 1960s. Rosie Parks was one of the most famous and photographed skipjacks of the day.

But even though you may be able to keep a boat alive just about forever with enough rebuilding, not so with their captains. Time caught up with Capt. Orville and in 1974, at age 78, doctors told him to stop dredging or it would kill him. Cephus said the boat sat for about a year, with her only taking some fishing and sailing parties out in the summer, until early 1975, when Orville decided to sell Rosie to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland, for $25,000.

Cephus had wanted to buy Rosie, but Orville wouldn't sell her to him. "He said, 'Theodore, I know you'd work her, but you wouldn't treat her right.' ...I'd take care of her, but I'd punish her too much in them bad storms and such. He didn't want that."

On the April day Orville sailed her from Cambridge to the museum, Cephus couldn't bear to go along. He didn't want to see her go, but he did go to see them off. "Well, when I threw his line off and he left that wharf, he was crying just like a baby." Cephus couldn't just let them go like that, so he drove over and met them in St. Michaels. He said they had dinner on board one last time and when Orville got ready to leave, he "cried like somebody had lost a son."

Some months later, Cephus took Capt. Orville over to look at Rosie. "She was bobbin' up and down against the wharf, didn't have no fenders on the outside of her. He said, 'If I had know'd what I know now, I would never of sold her.' A month later he was dead.... It's what killed him. When he gave that boat to that museum.... His wife said every night when it blows, he said, 'I wonder how the Rosie's making out?' ...He loved her to death."

While she no longer worked as a dredge boat, in her new life at the museum, Rosie Parks continued to sail in the races for about twenty years and welcomed visitors as a dockside exhibit. By 2000, she didn't leave the dock anymore.

When owned by Orville, Rosie had the reputation as the best-maintained skipjack in the fleet. When the museum was considering her purchase, Jim Richarson's boat yard advised them that Rosie Parks was in better condition than any other skipjack on the Bay.

But years of deferred maintenance and benign neglect have a way of catching up with wooden boats. By 2006, grass was growing out of Rosie's rotting deck and a muskrat had almost sunk her by eating a hole through her centerboard case. Theodore Cephus, who had been checking on her periodically through the years, quit coming to visit her, too sad at seeing her deteriorating. Rosie needed help.

The museum hauled her out and discovered that it was only the pressure of the water that was holding parts of her together. Bottom planks began falling out. Rosie was set up next to the boatbuilding shed and waited there four years for her fate to be decided.

In 2010, thanks to support from a generous donor, the decision was made to rebuild her. A fundraising campaign contributed to the $500,000 needed for the restoration along with the additional $500,000 deemed necessary for sustained maintenance of the boat.

Lines had been taken off Rosie Parks in the mid-1970s, and the museum committed to rebuilding her as historically accurate as possible. She was, after all, one of the least altered skipjacks left alive and they wanted to keep her true to her origins. They used local lumber and even the saw cuts were made to be similar to the original ones. About 85 percent of the boat had to be replaced during the three-year reconstruction.

Rosie Parks was rechristened on 2 November 2013 in front of a record-setting Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum crowd that included members of the Parks family and Theodore Cephus. She sails once again as an ambassador for the museum and as a still-formidable contender at the races, winning the 2015 Choptank Heritage Skipjack Race.

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