The Rock Hall Clam House - Four Years Later - By Captain Mark Einstein
Four years ago this fall, Rock Hall’s often debated, now celebrated “Clam House” began its remarkable resurrection from a ramshackle “eyesore” on the Harbor to the visually stimulating waterfront landmark that it is today. And, it will be two years this November, since the Maryland Food Center Authority (the owners of the building), the Town of Rock Hall, the Rock Hall Waterfront Committee, the Museum Board and a host of State and local dignitaries brought the community together to celebrate the re-dedication of the historic seafood processing plant.
This process began when Rock Hall Mayor Bob Willis assigned three Town of Rock Hall committees a variety of tasks indified through the Comprehensive Plan and overseen by resident Lillian Zelinski. The work of these committees resulted in the Clam House restoration, Rock Hall - Kent County Learning Center and the acquisition of Rock Hall Jeeps and Trams.
Although, often fraught with frustrating bumps in the road, there is, indeed, much to celebrate as we reflect on the recent progress of this tremendous community-wide success.
At the heart of the transformation was, first, a desire to preserve crucial dock space for our local watermen in the harbor. This, coupled with a vision that the facility might one day provide a home for a waterfront heritage center, as well as prime space for several small businesses that would serve the public, ignited the interest of the community. The concept was strongly supported by Founder and President of the Maryland Waterman’s Association, the late Honorary Admiral of the Chesapeake Bay, Larry Simms. Various models were publicly discussed in a special town committee appointed by the Mayor and Council and the ideas were presented to the MFCA.
MFCA Executive Director, Dr. Donald Darnall and Facilities Manager, Rose Harrell, responded with an enthusiastic action plan that would result in a major facelift with strategies that would lead to future occupation consistent with the wishes of the community and in compliance with existing code and zoning requirements.
On November 3, 2013, the Rock Hall Clam House was re-dedicated in a festive display of community spirit with the second floor named in honor of Admiral Simms. A fascinating exhibit provided by the Museum Board, original songs performed by Mainstay’s Tom McHugh, an assortment of food and drink provided by local restaurants and bushels of fresh oysters caught and shucked by local watermen pleasantly reminded all that the Clam House is much more than just a building. It is a symbol of a community in action.
The building itself was transformed into a virtual work of art with an imaginative color scheme and a visionary mural designed and painted by local artist, Ken Castelli, the son of renowned artist Marc Castelli. The final touches of the mural were painted by students of Rock Hall Elementary School. The logo was chosen through a contest sponsored by MFCA and the Waterfront Committee and the signage was designed by T Alley Hickman.
Today, as the transformation continues, we can see the Rock Hall Clam House coming to life in a big way, first, with the recent openings of Rock Hall Canvas Works and Rock Hall Marine Consignment Shop. And, now, with the newly established non-profit, Rock Hall Marine Restoration and Heritage Center occupying most of the ground floor. The Center is currently making plans for a grand opening celebration on November 7th, 2015.
RHMRHC began as a Town Museum Board initiative that would have consolidated the Museums of Rock Hall at the Clam House along with an added working component specializing in education and restoration of historic boats. Last year, Museum Board members, Captain Scratch Ashley, Warren Zimmerman and Robin Wood Kurowski presented an ambitious volunteer-based design to finish the interior of the Clam House to accommodate the new museum location and to provide in-kind volunteer labor as a means of paying a portion of the very reasonable monthly rent.
The blueprint would require modifying the entrance so that the Center’s most notable exhibit, the oldest known Chesapeake log canoe c. 1860, “Glide” could be displayed and restored at the facility. Although the Town Council voted 5-0 to accept the proposal and move the museums to the Clam House, the political football went back up in the air, resulting in an unfortunate split between the Town’s Museum Board and the Marine Restoration and Heritage Center.
The good news is that Ashley, Zimmerman and Wood Kurowski and a dedicated crew of big hearted local volunteers have relentlessly pursued, and masterfully achieved, on their own, everything that they promised they would do in their initial proposal to the Town. Through private donations, generous support of the MFCA, and a non-stop commitment to the vision, the interior work is nearly complete. The entrance has been widened, and the “Glide” along with a budding array of historic boat models and other artifacts, has been moved into the building for display and restoration. The project has gained the support of the Kent County Board of Education and will be involving high school students in the restoration projects.
Rock Hall Marine Restoration and Heritage Center will prove to be a terrific asset to Rock Hall, as well as, to the Chesapeake Bay region. The possibilities for growth are limitless and the energy is mounting. The transformation of the Clam House has resulted in an artistic and colorful symbol of community pride, as well as an ideal location to collect and display the precious artifacts of Rock Hall’s waterfront heritage.
As with any great endeavor, Rock Hall Marine Restoration and Heritage Center faces many challenges. In order to fully bring this long awaited vision to life, RHMRHC is reaching out to the community for help. As a non-profit organization operating under the Mid-Shore Community’s 501C3 umbrella, there are many ways to get involved.
For example, the Center will be selling unique and beautiful hand painted wooden renditions of boat transoms that will display the names of contributors. These will come in various sizes depending on the type of contribution being made. Crafted by Timmy Price, the mementos will be mounted inside the building as a way to recognize the generosity of its donors.
The public is invited to stop by the Clam House and see what has been accomplished so far and also, to find out how to become a part of this great community project. An official website is now online at www.rockhallheritage.com.
Here you can find out more about the facility, the projects and the volunteers. The Center needs your help. A Grand Opening celebration is being planned for Saturday, November 7th, 2015. Please try to come out and support t Rock Hall Marine Restoration and Heritage Center at the Rock Hall Clam House.