Chesapeake Bay Skipjack

7/1/2013: "The Ida May Project" exhibition will be at the Bethel Heritage Museum starting 7/14/13

 "The Ida May Project" exhibition will be at the Bethel Heritage Museum in Bethel DE starting 7/14/13.  Located on North Main Street is the Bethel Heritage Museum, exhibiting Nanticoke and Chesapeake Bay shipbuilding history and heritage. Free.  The hours are limited to every Sunday 2p-4p,  Call the museum at (302) 875-5425 or (302) 875-5871 for any questions concerning hours or directions.   The exhibit consists of "The Ida May Project" Documentary Movie being screened along with Skipjack artifacts, photographs, and boat models.

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Tags: bethel, heritage, ida, may, museum, skipjack


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Comment by ida may on July 2, 2013 at 1:33pm

The real historic significance of Bethel is the connection to Delaware's maritime history, according to Brian Page, Sussex County's historic preservation planner. A unique and highly specialized sailing schooner, the "ram," was created in Bethel. It required less water depth to navigate, and that opened trade to remote and often inaccessible areas of Chesapeake Bay, Page said. 

Comment by ida may on July 2, 2013 at 1:32pm

From an article on Delaware Online:  "To look at Bethel today, "one would never know that at one time a thriving shipping building trade ever existed there," wrote Robert H. Burgess, in his preface to Dr. James Marvil's 1961 book "Sailing Rams: A History of Sailing Ships Built in and Near Sussex County, Del." The shipbuilders used oak and then pine from local woods and eventually used teams of oxen to haul lumber from the great cypress forest near Gumboro. When the pine there was exhausted, lumber was sent in by rail from North Carolina. The giant masts – huge cedar logs – were brought in on rail cars from Oregon.

It took 90 days to build a sailing ram, a ship that was often 100 feet long or more, according to Marvil's book.

When a ship was launched, schools closed and a crowd would gather as the ship was pushed down a greased ramp into the creek.

"It hit the water with a big splash, causing a very large wave to travel up and down the river," Marvil wrote.

The last schooner ram was built at Bethel in 1911. The last ship was launched in 1918. Rail transportation took the place of sailing ships in the region. The area's captains and seamen continued to work in transatlantic shipping, and the ship carpenters worked in local construction. The Bethel shipyard was dismantled in 1940.

"At one time, this little town was known around the world, next to Wilmington, because of the shipyard," said Rudolph Hastings, a local historian who was born and raised in Bethel.

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