On my recent trip to the West Side of Wicomico Co., I stopped by the West Side Volunteer Fire Department. Station in Bivalve. Sitting next to the station is an open sided shed that houses a unique boat known as a “Log Canoe” or a “Chesapeake Log Canoe”. One may wonder why this craft is displayed at the firehouse as it really hasn’t any Fire Dept. markings on it and the concrete poles surrounding the shed prohibit it from being removed for use.
In order to tell what little I know about this boat I have to go back to 1967. That is the year that Wicomico County celebrated its centennial. I suppose this story may even go back to a year earlier but my memory is a weak on that point. I’m not sure how the WSVFD became the owners of this canoe but the craft was a sunken wreck somewhere on the shores of the Nanticoke River or its tributaries. Members of the Fire Dept raised the canoe and set about restoring it for the centennial celebration that was being planned for the County. I remember The Messick brothers, Cornelius (Corney) and Wilber did a great deal of the work in restoring the canoe. Many others were involved as well but names escape me right now. The canoe was placed in a small grassy field belonging to the Dayton family, across from the wood shop where the Messick brothers made tong shaft for oystermen and on at least one occasion I know a boat was built there.
These log canoes were used for harvesting oysters in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the many rivers that feed that grand body of water. This type of craft was the main workboat for watermen until the bugeye and the skipjack came along years later. Log canoes were either one or two masted boats and as such lacked the ability to operate a dredge. They were simple crafts and often could be fabricated without the skills required of a shipbuilder. The hull or main part of the boat was created by joining anywhere from 3 to 9 logs together and then digging out the basic hull design inside and smoothing the out the outside surface to create the smoothest line possible. The upper portion of the canoe was completed with “riser planks” to complete the overall appearance. There were some variation in the prow and stern construction. Some canoes, like the one shown here had very basic squared off bow and stern.
The canoe housed at the WSVFD is named the Wm. McKinley. I haven’t a clue as to why this craft was named after the 25th president of our country but I was told that this was the original name of the boat. The hull of this canoe was made from 5 logs and if memory serves me right that is just about all that was recovered when the canoe was raised. The riser planks, rudder mount and rudder were all manufactured for the restoration. When complete the canoe was put on a trailer and used as a float in the centennial parade in Salisbury in 1967. The novelty of the float was that two “oysterman” were aboard the float dressed in nor’easter gear and throughout the parade route they shucked and passed out to the audience oysters on the half shell. After the centennial parade and events the canoe found its way back to the West Side and eventually became a permanent display in its present location. I seem to remember that an auto accident severely damaged the canoe one night as a car failed to negotiate the turn in the road there. Another restoration took place and when the canoe was returned the concrete pillars were put in place in the hopes they would prevent such damage again. At some point in time the canoe and its display was dedicated to a number of the Fire Department members that were Cadets and have passed on.
With all that has been done to preserve this piece of history I found the canoe and its display in sad shape. The rear of the shed is used for storage of “stuff” and is a distraction to anyone wishing to walk around and examine the canoe. There are no less than a half-a-dozen swallow nests in the building and birds dive on visitors and screech at anyone who comes near. The canoe is in serious need of a repainting and I surely don’t mean a weekend project for the members to just slap on a coat of paint. The boat needs a facelift by a craftsman well versed in this type of work. The cradle made for the boat is badly weathered and it honestly looks like a temporary set-up with a permanent and eye pleasing mount never materializing.
Though I was glad to see this canoe and remember its salvation in 1967 I find it is a bit insulting to the past members that worked so long and so hard on having a representative of our history for the Centennial celebration. I hope that someone soon realizes the importance of this artifact and moves toward once again rescuing this gem before nature reclaims it as its own and it is no more.
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