The Story of North Carolina's Maritime Museum

Written in 2000 for the the Museum's 25th Anniversary


Though the museum has roots back to the 1898 International Fisheries Exposition in Bergen, Norway, the year 2000 was chosen as the 25th Anniversary.

"My family and I came down from New Bern on an excursion train," recalls J.O Barbour, long time resident, and machinist and local businessman, describing an event he says happened about 1917. "We went over to a building on Piver's Island. It was open to the public on occasion, but it wasn't an everyday thing. I saw huge turtles there and they were alive and kept in a circular pen. That was quite a sight for a kid five or six years old. And we went in the building and saw the exhibits. I remember that very well."

The Beginnings
The museum's roots lie deep in the history of the State's coastal development. What we know of its earliest incarnations is very sketchy indeed. The exhibits Joe Barbour and his family saw in 1917 were a collection of fish casts, bird skins, jars of preserved crustacea, and examples of old fishing tackle, that were assembled especially for the 1898 International Fisheries Exposition in Bergen, Norway, one of several international expositions in which the state participated between 1882 and 1893. After the expositions the state retained the exhibits for its own use and beginning about 1904, they could be seen in what was then the U.S. Fisheries Laboratory on Piver's Island in Beaufort. The Lab added living specimens.

J.O. and his family could not have guessed, not even in their wildest dreams, that decades down the road, the display of turtles, shells, and sea life that he and his family so much enjoyed on that memorable day, would have grown into a multifaceted, innovative, nationally recognized museum. But that is what happened. Today, the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort is an exemplary exhibition of maritime artifacts, live aquarium displays, historical exhibits and natural history specimens, combined with interactive education programs, demonstrations, lectures, field trips, workshops, and hands-on instruction classes in sailing and how to build boats, and special studies curriculums in marine and coastal ecology.

For nearly half a century the early exhibit of natural history specimens was maintained in some fashion at what was informally dubbed, the "fisheries museum" on Piver's Island. During this time, and following research and collecting excursions, additions were made, and in the 1930s Work Projects Administrations artisans added fish mounts and other exhibit items to the collection.

A Struggle for Survival
In those five or so decades, government agencies changed; old buildings were demolished and new ones were built. The collection, with its purpose still undefined, was shuffled, exhibited, housed and stored in one government building after another, sometimes even across the Newport River in Morehead City, and sometimes close by, in Beaufort, shifting like the coastal breeze. During its many moves, records indicate the collection was known by various names, most of them unofficial. Among them, though, were the 'fisheries museum,' the 'marine museum,' the 'Morehead Museum,' and, 'The Hampton Memorial Museum.'

By 1950, the previously unrealized potential of the specimens in the collections came to the attention of Harry T. Davis, a geologist and Director of the State Museum of Natural History, in Raleigh. Born and raised amid the sea oats and salt air of North Carolina's Outer Banks, Harry Davis recognized the significance of a collection that represented the unique coastal flora and fauna, and maritime history of the State. He took it under his wing, designated it an "official" State Museum collection, and thus was sewn the seed for what would become the North Carolina Maritime Museum.

In 1951, the collection, still without its own home, received its first official title when the North Carolina General Assembly authorized the name, Hampton Marine Museum, to honor Roy Wade Hampton of Plymouth, who was then Chairman of the N.C. Department of Conservation and Development, and a longtime member of its board. At the same time, the General Assembly dedicated the museum as an extension of The State Museum of Natural History, which was administered under the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

An ardent supporter of commercial fisheries, Roy Hampton favored a more prominent display of the collection and encouraged its exhibition in the more highly visible Conservation and Development building at Camp Glenn in Morehead City. In those new quarters, Dr. Al Chestnut, then an Assistant Professor at The University of North Carolina Institute of Marine Sciences, located in Morehead City, became the curator. Dr. Chestnut had the task of sorting and organizing the specimens for exhibition, and insuring their safe keeping. Because of its more prominent location and accessibility, the collection began to attract many more visitors, including bus loads of school children. The little museum, under these new pressures, began to struggle for lack of funding.

The 1951 authorization was vague and the "dedication" language did not really provide for the museum's continued financial support. In 1959, Carteret County's representative to the General Assembly, D.G. Bell, worked out an agreement with the State Museum of Natural History and introduced a bill officially placing the collection under their charge. The bill passed and the collection was given "indefinite loan" status by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This action also appropriated the first real operational money for the Hampton Marine Museum. The funds were earmarked for redesigning an area in the Camp Glenn Conservation and Development facility for museum use. For the first time, there was a sense of permanent ground, in which the seed could take root.

The "new" Hampton Marine Museum officially opened its doors in 1960. W.M. "Bill" Palmer, of the State Museum of Natural History, succeeded Dr. Chestnut as curator. The collection then consisted of models of fish native to North Carolina, a display illustrating the evolution of life from the sea, exhibits of indigenous poisonous snakes, models of crustacea, various species of frogs, and display cases of shells. Admission was free and an estimated 6,508 people visited in the first month.

In a letter to Palmer, Director Davis urged him to "speak to teachers and offer to give groups guide service."  Davis himself wrote a number of letters to school superintendents, praising the museum as an educational resource and informing them of its talks and tours. Even though the museum operated seasonally and on a shoestring budget, reports show weekend visitation as high as 900, with as many as 300 visitors on a week day.

Adeline W. Land became curator in 1962, and although her salary was minimal her efforts were unfailing. She added a Fresnel lens from Portsmouth, Va., fishing gear from local fishermen, and relics from Shackleford Banks. She gave many volunteer hours to the museum, which was then open seven months of the year. Visitor count for the biennium totaled 33,458.

Ruth Deyo took over as curator in 1965 and she, too, added to the collection, acquiring replicas of whaling gear, seashell displays, native birds, and Indian artifacts and fossils. Piece by piece, the collection grew and so did the museum's audience.
By 1970, the building in which the collection was housed was slated for demolition to make way for what is now the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries complex. Officials canvassed Morehead City but found no housing suitable for a museum. They began to look toward Beaufort. Downtown Beaufort was a collection of rundown storefronts and dilapidated wharfs. However, far-sighted civic leaders envisioned a vital historical village blossoming from a program of renewal and preservation, and plans for renovating the waterfront area were already in the works. The Beaufort Historical Association and Restoration Site had established headquarters on Turner Street. It seemed a logical move and the availability of two empty, adjoining storefronts on Turner Street, convinced officials to move the museum "across the bridge" to Beaufort.
On April 1, 1970, the Hampton Marine Museum opened its doors on Turner Street under its own rented roof. Deyo continued as curator and the museum extended its season by two months, remaining open April through December. During its first year, visitation totaled 19,737. Some fifty teachers used the facility as a teaching resource and reported that they considered it a "worthwhile learning experience."

Mrs. Deyo remained as curator for the next several years, but in 1975, change for the little museum was once again in breeze. 1975 would become known as a pivotal year in the museum's life, for it was then that Charles McNeill was hired as the museum's first full-time salaried curator.

The "First" Five Years
McNeill was former manager of Morehead City State Port and a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point. Because the museum operated under the N.C. Museum of Natural History, which was under the N.C. Department of Agriculture, McNeill presented ideas for developing the little "one-room museum" to James A. Graham, commissioner of the Department of Agriculture. His timing was fortuitous. Commissioner Graham was at the time wrestling with a troubling decision: whether to discard the museum, or put more support behind it. He saw McNeill's proposal as the answer to his problem, and McNeill recalled Commissioner Graham's comments about getting the museum off the ground: "I'm not going to tell you how to do it. You do it. Do the best you can. Do whatever you want and let me know when you need something." Such words were music to the ears of a man with a vision.

Mr. McNeill's first suggestion was to change the name of the museum from Hampton Marine Museum to Hampton Mariners Museum, thus changing the museum's emphasis from science to maritime.

"The name, Hampton Marine Museum, was very misleading," said Mr. McNeill. "People thought we had something to do with the Marine Corps." (The proximity of two Marine Corps bases played no small role in this perception!) His suggestion was accepted.

For a brief time, the museum was a one-man operation in a quiet little town that was said to roll up its sidewalks come sundown. That would soon change as the museum and the town embarked on a course of refurbishment and revitalization. McNeill began his work by rolling up his sleeves and slapping paint on the old storefront walls. Within a year, he was able to hire three employees.

Bobby Springle, one of the first employees, remembers the early days. "The south wall was corrugated metal with lots of holes," said Springle. "We could often feel the wind blowing through it, and sand blew under it. The fish mounts were attached to seafoam panels and were as welcome for their insulation value as for their aesthetics. There was a large crack in the floor of the first room, caused by the south wall bearing down on the foundation. I had to paint the floors about twice a year, as sand from visitors' shoes scuffed it down to the concrete floors with regularity." The building leaked and toilets overflowed during heavy rains. There was little operational money and no support group or endowment. "If you needed money for something you sent a bill into the State Museum in Raleigh," recalled McNeill. "That went on a long time before we got our own budget."

The small but enthusiastic staff shared many duties in those early years. Everyone helped with cleaning, painting, running the small bookstore, building exhibits, mounting donated shell collections, and leading up to three field trips a day. Transportation consisted of a donated old truck, dubbed "the purple dragon," because of its conspicuously odd paint job. The staff developed programs for school groups and the public and, with nearby outdoor sites, began teaching what was then a relatively new topic in education: coastal ecology. It also staged its first Traditional Wooden Boat Show, a program that continues and attracts hand-crafted boats from up and down the coast.

The museum bookstore, which chiefly carried a few inexpensive nature guide books, and a couple of boatbuilding manuals, also carried a broad-range of navigational charts to attract the sailing community. This proved especially valuable to long-distance sailors and boaters traveling the Intracoastal Waterway, and word spread up and down the coast that the "maritime museum in Beaufort" was an essential stop for cruising mariners. McNeill even loaned the purple dragon to sailors needing to restock their provisions or take something to a repair shop.

In mid-March of 1976, the museum appointed an advisory board made up of volunteers from a broad spectrum of disciplines and occupations. Members included civic leaders, area naturalists, historic preservationists, shell experts, area scientists, the Chamber of Commerce director, the town planning director, a marine designer, the town mayor, a city commissioner, National Seashore personnel and a retired U.S. Coast Guard commander. The board functioned solely in an advisory capacity, with the exception of sponsoring a monthly lecture series. Because few places in the county offered public programs in those days, the lectures proved to be extremely popular. The majority of speakers came right from the local community. Area scientists, retired professionals and residents with livelihoods linked to the sea gave enthusiastically of their time and expertise. With the museum providing a place and forum for the sharing of ideas and experiences, the cozy makeshift lecture hall usually saw standing room only audiences. And, instead of being stiffly technical or scientific, the talks were geared toward the general public, being both informative and entertaining.

Volunteers were attracted to the Turner Street museum almost immediately, often bringing with them special skills. They repaired collections, cataloged the "ship's library," prepared mass mailings, served food for museum receptions and special occasions, and assisted in myriad other duties. Even family members of the museum staff volunteered.

Jane Wolff, another one of McNeill's original staff has been responsible for a large part of the volunteer effort since the beginning. It's hard to say when a formal volunteer program was initiated," she says, "because volunteers were attracted to the museum almost immediately. The first advisory board members were among those who volunteered their time and expertise to the museum in many different ways. Likewise were local craftsmen and musicians, who gave demonstrations, and many professionals who taught classes and led field trips."

Residents such as Bill Simpson spoke on Indian fishing and boatbuilding. Lucy Piper led shelling trips and gave talks on North Carolina shells. Irving Hooper gave slide shows on nature photography. Paul Lockwood demonstrated sail making and gave talks on sailing. John Fussell led birding trips. Ruth Barbour presented talks on pirates, and her husband, J.O. Barbour, discussed the use of windmills to harness coastal winds. Stanley Potter, a noted naval architect who moved to the area upon retiring, talked about small boat and yacht design. Mike Alford lectured on North Carolina boats and boatbuilding, and did programs on snakes of the area. Sally Moore gave sea-story-telling sessions. Rick Laubly led sailing classes and gave talks on celestial navigation. Josiah Bailey spoke on spritsail skiffs. Beth and Perry Taylor piloted their personal boat for museum "Trawl and Dredge" trips. Lloyd Davidson presented programs on his three-year sailing voyage around the world. Lester Berger led tours through his orchid greenhouse.

The expertise of area scientists was also called into play. Dr. Frank Schwartz of the UNC-Institute of Marine Sciences gave programs on sharks. Dr. Jan Kohlmeyer gave slide presentations and talks on area fungi. Dr. Bill Schaff of the National Marine Fisheries Services Laboratory spoke on hurricanes. Jim Tyler of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries spoke on North Carolina's artificial reef program. Manley Fuller of N.C. State University lectured on wetlands. Marcus Hepburn of UNC-Wilmington discussed maritime history of Carteret County. Many other speakers, representing such agencies as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Duke University Marine Laboratory, Cape Lookout National Seashore, Fort Macon State Park, East Carolina University, the U.S. Coast Guard and other facilities gave talks, presented programs and led field trips.

With so much local involvement, many in the community began to think of the museum as their own, and considered it an integral part of the local scene. There was no doubt that the museum had found a niche, not only in the community, but among visitors and boaters, many of whom returned year after year.

To augment its exhibits, the museum solicited work by area artists, with paintings by Martha Davidson, Alexander Kaszas, and others. Artisans like blacksmith Gene Patton demonstrated fabrication of ship fittings; waterfowl woodcarver Joe Fulcher exhibited hand-crafted decoys. Scrimshander Jamie Hayes demonstrated the art of carving on ivory and Ferne Winborne demonstrated the use of natural dyes.

In 1976, the museum expanded its programming by taking over the Summer Science School for Children, a program originally begun and operated by faculty spouses from the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences and Duke University Marine Laboratory. Designed for students in grades four through seven, original staff members Judie Spitsbergen and JoAnne Powell developed classes in natural history and coastal ecology, using hands-on teaching techniques and field excursions. The program's initial curriculum attracted students from across the state, with some parents planning vacations to coincide with the Summer Science School sessions. That same year, the museum doubled its space by leasing two adjoining storefront buildings. After repair and renovation, part of the new area was transformed into an education office and ship's library and additional staff were hired.

These progressive steps were evidence of the museum's growth both physically and in reaching a larger audience. With that obvious growth came an increasing awareness on the part of the staff of their responsibilities as museum professionals. They were no longer part of an obscure little museum. Realizing the importance of exhibits and collections, they also saw that the bookstore could augment exhibits and programs with a thoughtful selection of coastal natural history and maritime history publications. They thought of the bookstore as a service rather than a business. The store's inventory boasted a broad range of charts, many not obtainable elsewhere in the area. It carried hard to find navigational instruments and books on navigation, maritime history, natural history, weather, and cooking joined the inventory, along with books of interest to children.

As the museum found its footing, its mission became better defined; its niche was preserving and interpreting North Carolina's maritime heritage and coastal natural history through exhibits, programs and field trips. The community bolstered the effort, donating sailing models, modern vessels and boatbuilding tools. Many were priceless, some dating back to the 1700s. Donated books and magazines on boatbuilding, navigation, natural history and other subjects began to fill library shelves.

Members of the local community have always been considered one of the museum's most valuable assets. With their support and that of the visiting public, the facility's popularity grew rapidly. It soon became apparent that the little storefront building wasn't just a museum; it was a community hub, a place where people grew and worked together to turn visions into realities. Even today, a number of its staff are ten, fifteen and twenty-year employees, and many of its volunteers have been on the roster since the very beginning.

As a result of the museum's excellent programming, and the growing success of Beaufort's revitalization, visitation and participation in museum programs experienced remarkable growth. It quickly became obvious that the level of support provided by the state budget was inadequate for the activities, programs, and exhibits that the small but dedicated staff envisioned. In 1977, the advisory board, with the enthusiastic support of the staff, established The Friends of the Museum, a legally incorporated non-profit group whose purpose was to support the museum in areas where the state could not. The Friends organization was structured to work closely with the museum director and staff to determine how to best support the museum's mission. Because the Friends provide a degree of flexibility to operate programs and negotiate details that would otherwise be impossible through state government channels, its relationship with the museum is invaluable to the facility's growth, as well as its day to day operation.

One of the most obvious contributions of the Friends is publication of "The Waterline," the museum newsletter, which contains articles on programs and activities, as well as expository features on natural and maritime history. Today, the Friends group totals more than 1,600 members. Its unfailing support and unflagging allegiance remains an integral and indispensable part of the museum's life.

In 1977, the museum introduced a novel program emphasizing underutilized seafood. Titled The Strange Seafood Exhibition, volunteers and staff demonstrated the cleaning and preparation of such uncommon seafood fare as whelks, conchs, shark, sea urchins, octopus and seaweed. A few brave souls sampled the unusual foods, and in the years to come more than a thousand adventuresome gastronauts would descend on the event annually.

The museum's first major thematic exhibit opened in 1977. Down to the Sea, an exhibit designed by staff at the State Museum in Raleigh for temporary exhibition there, featured photographic enlargements of coastal and fishing scenes, many never previously seen by the public. It was transported and carefully reassembled in the small exhibit hall in Beaufort in time for an official opening during the museum's first Christmas Open House. The exhibit was augmented by boat models and other artifacts from the museum's growing nautical collections. That same year Dr. and Mrs. Richard Borden of Morehead City donated an excellent example of an early spritsail skiff of the type traditionally used in the Beaufort area.

Among Charles McNeill's pet goals was establishing the museum as a center of traditional boat building activity. McNeill owned a small North Carolina built sharpie that he named IDIE after his Grandmother. In 1976 he had Mike Alford measure and develop plans for the boat, and together they authored an article about the boat for an early issue of Wooden Boat Magazine. It was a strategy to get the attention of the growing traditional boat movement, which began in New England and was moving down the coast and across the country. McNeill wanted them to know we were here, and had something to say. The plans were made available through the museum book store, and Bill Hettler, a biologist for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Piver's Island obtained a set, and built one for his own use. Bill became one of the museum's loyal volunteers and he and his boat participated in many museum events for several years.

In the Fall of 1977, Geoffrey Scofield, a boatbuilder from England, was weather bound in Beaufort Harbor, and finding time weighing heavily on his skilled hands, offered to build a traditional lapstrake dinghy if the museum would supply the material. The project was carried out in the museum's back yard, in plain view of visitors, and was great success. ESSEX, as it was named, served many years as a sail training boat and a sort of "showboat" for the museum. It was the first boatbuilding project at the museum and clearly confirmed the wisdom of McNeill's view of small craft as a vital part of the museum's mission.

The Traditional Wooden Boat Show, in its third year in 1977, attracted twenty-three entries, and the museum had expanded its maritime programming to incorporate additional sail training programs, evening classes on navigation, and field excursions to photograph, record and seek out vintage and classic examples of wooden boats.

The blending of coastal natural history and maritime history sat very naturally with the enthusiastic staff. And, it accurately reflected the coexistence of coastal people with the environment. The people, the environment, the boats, and the water-related activities were all wrapped up together. Museum educators implemented an interdisciplinary teaching approach long before such instruction became the norm. Hands-on, in-the-field teaching methods became the backbone of its educational and natural history programming. The vast majority of those early educational programs took place outside its walls; on sandy beaches, barrier islands and mud flats, on trawlers and in canoes on rivers and ponds, in maritime forests, pocosins, national wildlife areas and woodland savannas. Teachers, students, area residents and visitors examined such subjects as wildflowers, insectivorous plants, tidal flats, eel grass beds, plankton, ocean dynamics, migratory birds, echinoderms, medicinal plants, fossils, weather and myriad other subjects. They set standards for excellence and precedents for programs that followed. The coast was the museum's classroom.

Museum educators designed programs to suit the abilities of certain age groups and different learning styles, and teachers in public and private schools were encouraged to use museum tours and field trips to reinforce learning and stimulate classroom discussion.

All this activity and success did not escape the notice of the museum's two governing bodies, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and the N.C. Museum of Natural History. Attendance was 48,000 in 1976. The following year it jumped to 60,000. The N.C. Legislature acknowledged this evidence of success with an increase in funding, enabling the museum to expand its operations and facilities.

By special arrangement with a charterboat operator, sailing cruises were offered in the Fall of 1977. The cruises plied the waters between Beaufort and Ocracoke under the billing, "Around Our Little World in Four Days" and offered educational opportunities in sailing, navigation, coastal ecology, and local history.

In 1978 the Museum was given a 38-foot classic sport fisherman named RUN RUNNER. That Fall, evening birding cruises aboard the boat were regular features on the program calendar.

Geoffrey Scofield, the boatbuilder from England who had built ESSEX the previous year, returned to the area in 1978 with a proposal to implement McNeill's goal to operate a boatbuilding school at the museum. During the construction of ESSEX, Scofield left no room for doubt that he was an extraordinary craftsman and a talented teacher. His training was as good as it gets, having matriculated through the rigorous apprentice system in England. Through an arrangement with The Friends of the Museum, Scofield was hired to build boats in a public setting, and to work toward a permanent program to teach boatbuilding. A shop was set up in borrowed space in the rear of a building facing Front Street. Visitors were delighted to witness Scofield's woodworking skills and listen to his well-rounded interpretation of maritime history and boatbuilding.

As its credibility grew, funding improved and the museum was able to hire additional staff. Their skills ranged from botany and maritime research to collections and exhibit design. A wider variety of educational programs was developed, and in 1978-79 grants were awarded for boat restoration and preservation programs.

Late in 1979 the museum found itself involved in negotiations for property on which to build a permanent home for its exhibits and programs. An architect was selected to design the facility.

The museum had come of age.

The 1980s
After five years under McNeill's guidance, a sense of assuredness settled over the museum staff. The days quickly fell into the steady rhythm of field trips, guided tours, boatbuilding activities, research, and planning sessions. By now, the staff was traveling and contributing papers to professional meetings. A new training program in traditional wooden boatbuilding was launched and a statewide small craft research project was begun.

Having proven itself as a serious and reputable institution, the museum was recognized in 1980 by acceptance as full members of the Council of American Maritime Museums. The museum co-hosted the first North Carolina Maritime Conference, the purpose of which was to identify interested persons and share expertise and resources concerning the state's maritime history.

Beaufort's waterfront revitalization project, begun in the late 1970s, proved to be a plus for the museum. The scenic downtown area began attracting more tourists, and new shops began to cater to sailing traffic. This combination resulted in more people discovering the storefront museum, and it soon became a favorite drop-in spot for locals, boaters and visitors. It also had captured the affection of one local family in particular - Harvey and Evelyn Smith. Harvey Smith owned and operated one of the largest Menhaden fishing and processing businesses in the country.

The Smiths had become strong supporters of the museum, and Charles McNeill often visited Harvey in his fish factory. Smith's menhaden fleets operated up and down the coast, and in South America and, over the years he had collected numerous ship models and other seafaring memorabilia. He hoped one day to put these in a museum he would build. Sadly, he didn't live to fulfill his dream, but in 1980, after his death, Mrs. Smith donated the property on Front Street where the museum now sits. The agreement stipulated that the state would begin construction on the building within four years. She also offered McNeill anything the museum could use from her husband's extensive maritime collection for use in the museum.

The museum had $85,000 in planning money and chose Robert Carr of Carr Associates in Raleigh as the architect. Building and furnishing a new facility called for funding sources beyond the usual and, once again, local community and state sources lent a helping hand.

Scofield's Boatbuilding Skills Preservation Program opened its doors in January 1980 in temporary quarters. Six students came from various parts of the country for the privilege of learning the craft from a master boatbuilder. In 1982, the program moved across the street into the old Paul Motor Company building, another contribution of Mrs. Smith. Despite its run-down condition, the staff began calling the motor company site the watercraft center, rather than simply, the boat shop, because of the variety of activities that occurred there. Classes, exhibits on boatbuilding and traditional boats, and offices for the boatbuilder and maritime researcher were located there. The boatbuilding program was expanded to a five-month format in 1981 and enrollment filled to capacity. One of the projects undertaken was restoration on a shadboat in the museum's collections.

Probably the most significant project to take place in the old building was construction of ELIZABETH II's ship's boat. In 1983 state and private sources were involved in a number of projects under the scope of the Quadricentennial Commission. Among these was the re-creation of ELIZABETH II, one of the ships that brought the first colonists to Roanoke Island in 1584. The vessel was envisioned as a roving ambassador for the state, and an attraction for Manteo's historic waterfront. Such a vessel needed a ship's boat, and the museum was selected to build it.
It was an ambitious project for any institution to take on but NCMM was in a unique position to handle it. It had staff who could do the historical and technical research, carry out the design work, and construct the boat to the most exacting standards. Mike Alford and Geoff Scofield dug through manuscripts and period art housed in museums and libraries, Alford did the design work; and Scofield built the boat with the able assistance of David Flagler, a former student in the museum's program. The completed boat, christened SILVER CHALICE, was launched after twenty-two months of research, design, and construction. After initial sailing trials CHALICE was delivered to her owners and has had an active career as an educational vehicle and adjunct to the Roanoke Island Festival Park program.

Late in 1984, the State General Assembly authorized a name change, and the museum became the North Carolina Maritime Museum, reflecting its status as the state maritime museum. With the name change the museum was designated a subsidiary of the N.C. Department of Agriculture rather than a section of the State Museum of Natural History. It was a significant change that simplified many management and budgetary operations.

By the early to mid-1980s, Beaufort's reputation as a friendly port for the boating community had spread the length of the Eastern Seaboard, thanks in part to services and activities offered by the museum.
Boaters could sign-out a vehicle to attend to such necessities as restocking provisions, doing laundry, visiting physicians and arranging for boat repairs. Sea chantey concerts, knot tying demonstrations, tours to local boatbuilders, and talks on such topics as "Traveling by Freighter in the Pacific" and "Icebergs in the Atlantic," proved entertaining and informative for boaters and landlubbers alike.

And, too, the museum bookstore's wide selection of nautical charts was a great asset to boaters. Today, the museum is the largest NOAA chart dealership in the North Carolina and the only source in the state for the purchase of Defense Mapping Agency charts. It also carries a large variety of U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps.

On the heels of the museum's 1984 name change came its beautiful new building on Front Street. Spacious, multi-gabled and smelling of fresh wood, the facility officially opened on May 18, 1985. The style of the 18,000 square-foot, $2.5 million structure combined 19th century Beaufort architecture with early designs of US Lifesaving Service buildings. Its massive interior beams and heart pine woodwork evokes pleasant feelings as soon as one enters the building.

Donations paid for the new building's library fireplace, bookcases and furnishings, and additional contributions came from Weyerhaeuser Company Foundation and R.J.R. Tobacco Company. Energized by its new home, the staff looked to the future with ideas for new programs and exhibits. With the new building, the museum was able to double its staff size and triple its operating budget. Overall program offerings increased and guest speakers now lectured in a proper auditorium with ample, comfortable seating. More wall and floor space allowed room for development of more comprehensive and interpretive exhibits. Jerry Heiser joined the staff as a very talented designer, and soon assembled a staff of woodworkers and a graphics person. Because of the separation between the museum and its Raleigh support the museum developed a high level of self-sufficiency in the exhibits and graphics area. Almost all design and construction is done in-house. The design staff also handles preparation and production of most educational materials, brochures, and program guides.

The year's attendance exceeded 150,000, and programs and special events, such as the Strange Seafood Exhibition, Summer Science School for Children, and Traditional Wooden Boat Show had begun to attract national attention. But success would not spoil the still young museum. Area residents and scientists were still regarded as important assets, and continued to supply their expertise in programs and field excursions.

Almost immediately after moving into the new building, plans were laid for a permanent boatbuilding and small craft conservation shop - a proper watercraft center - but its completion would be a struggle and several years in the making. In the meantime, the boatbuilding program continued to develop programs and activities, although severely restricted by the facility. About that time several interesting underwater vessel remains were discovered by archaeologists and the watercraft center staff turned some of its attention to research and documentation. In 1987 Alford and Scofield were involved in documenting more than two dozen prehistoric dugout canoes at a site at Lake Phelps. The earliest was found to be 4500 years old.

The following year, the museum helped document two dozen dugout canoes at Lake Phelps, North Carolina, one of which was at least 4,500 years old. Thirty-five boats entered the Traditional Wooden Boat Show and the museum replica beach punt, OSSIE was launched and sailed to Georgetown South Carolina, to help kick off that city's first wooden boat show.

In 1987, after thirteen years as curator and inspiration, Charles McNeill retired. The museum had been a life long dream of his, and he took it from an obscure, storefront, part-time affair, to a nationally recognized maritime museum. At his retirement, the staff was hard at work on accreditation by the American Association of Museums, a significant achievement for museums. The staff assembled by McNeill was a talented and dedicated group and remained nearly intact - growing, almost without turnover - during his tenure.

Entering The Nineties
Rodney Barfield came on board as director in February 1988. Mr. Barfield had fifteen years of museum experience and came to the maritime museum from the North Carolina Museum of History, where he had been a writer, researcher, exhibits curator and a branch museum curator. Prior to accepting his new post at the maritime museum, he had established the Museum of the Cape Fear in Fayetteville, a four-year project.

Generally speaking, a new administration means an infusion of new ideas, and so it was with the museum's changing of the guard. Having a stringent professional museum background, Barfield reorganized the museum staff, divided it into sections, and appointed section heads. Harboring an admitted bias toward community and cultural history, he maintained the museum's major maritime mission but embarked on a new direction.

Plans were laid to expand its exhibits department and education programming, overhaul its collections procedures and broaden its emphasis on local maritime history. The staff entered a new dimension in museum development. Over the next three years, seven employees were added: a collections manager, exhibit carpenter, exhibit illustrator, boatshop technician, a coordinator for a new program (Cape Lookout Studies Program), and a part-time aquaria supervisor.

With input from the director, museum staff, an exhibits' committee, and a professional designer, a five-year exhibit plan was developed. "Coastal Marine Life" in-progress since 1986, was completed and erected in 1988 as the museum's first major permanent installation. Focusing on color and adaptation of marine animals, the fouling community, molluscs and ecology, the exhibit incorporated nine display aquariums.

The museum also continued to display temporary exhibits by local and regional artists and on-loan and traveling exhibits with coastal and maritime themes, such as the special 1989 exhibit, "The Golden Age of Toy Boats," a traveling exhibition that featured samplings from the Forbes miniature boat collection. The facility's popularity continued to grow and long-range plans indicated a need for more space. The museum pursued the purchase of Harborside, a three-story building across from the museum, by raising $50,000 and lobbying for a special bill for funds. With the aid of the Friends group, the museum bought the property in 1989 and converted it into office and classroom space for its Summer Science for Children program. The building's 6,000 square feet of decks provide important water-access from which to launch the museum's many water-related activities.

In 1989, along with conducting its regular programming, the museum accelerated its effort to more broadly interpret maritime history, particularly local maritime history, by sponsoring grant-funded folklorist Michael Luster of Beaufort.

Elaborating on the museum's mission statement, Director Barfield explained, "Maritime history is more than boats. It includes the maritime community. It's about people who work on boats, fish from boats, repair boats, and set and mend nets. It's about the families who wait at home for them, the churches they go to, who they pray to, how they got their schooling. It's about the women who were assistant light keepers, the black community that worked Pea Island, the songs they sang. All these elements are a part of maritime history."

While doing field work and collecting oral histories, folklorist Luster discovered the survivors of a work crew of menhaden fishermen who more than 30 years ago sang sea chanteys as they hauled in heavy, fish-filled nets at sea. The men agreed to reunite to sing once again and, along with many regional appearances, performed for the N.C. General Assembly, Charles Kuralt's CBS "Sunday Morning," and in New York's Carnegie Hall. Billed as The Menhaden Chanteymen they received the prestigious North Carolina Folk Heritage Award in 1990.

Another new museum endeavor, Traditional Trades and Pastimes, introduced visitors and residents to the specialized skills of down east fishing communities. Featuring demonstrations by area artisans and watermen skilled in oar, net, clam rake and crab pot making, decoy carving, boat modeling, sail making, knot tying and other trades, the unstructured event allowed visitors to interact one-on-one with demonstrators and guest speakers. Adding to the festivities were work songs by the Menhaden Chanteymen, and ballads, storytelling and old-time fiddle music by local residents.

In 1989, the museum's application to the American Association of Museums for accreditation was approved. The museum had reached a coveted milestone signifying compliance with the high professional standards of that organization.

With nearby islands readily accessible, visions of a permanent island field station to complement the museum's natural history programming had long been in the minds of the staff. In 1990, the museum approached the National Park Service's Cape Lookout National Seashore with the idea of converting the decommissioned U.S. Coast Guard station at the south end of South Core Banks into a habitable field station to conduct natural history studies. An agreement was reached, allowing the museum sole, long-term use of the site, and Keith Rittmaster was hired to coordinate the Cape Lookout Studies program.

Offering workshops and lectures on natural history and the marine environment, and a wilderness experience, the studies program has become one of the museum's most innovative successes. Since its implementation in 1991, participation demand has remained high. Part of the program's attraction is its field station on an undeveloped barrier island. Each year two to three hundred visitors, many of whom have made significant contributions to environmental conservation and research, are overnight guests at the field station.

Sponsored by the friends of the museum, the Studies program features workshops on such topics as dolphin biology and behavior, barrier island ecology, and sea turtle conservation. Participants range from public school students to college students to novice birdwatching groups. Instruction incorporates field work, lectures, slide presentations and discussions.

The Studies program may be one of the best dolphin study programs in the country. When seminars and conferences are held on dolphin behavior and migration patterns, they are usually at the Duke Marine Laboratory in Beaufort. Rittmaster is always invited to speak, and is often the coordinator. He and his wife, Vicky Thayer, probably have the longest running study of dolphin migrations and behavior on the east coast.

Also in 1990, work began on "The Sea Shall Not Have Them," an exhibit to relate the significant histories of the U.S. Life Saving Service and its eventual transformation into the modern U.S. Coast Guard. The elaborate and permanent installation opened in 1991, with interpretation of the cultural and historical impacts of the U.S. Lifesaving Service, U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, U.S. Lighthouse Service, U.S. Coast Guard, beach rescue drill, and the breeches buoy. Methods of operation and rescue procedures, general summary of duties and responsibilities, a map of extinct and extant structures and the economic value to maritime and coastal communities, are illustrated through dioramas, photographs, text and artifacts. Among notable artifacts are the life-car and Fresnel lens.

Another museum accomplishment has been the establishment of the N.C. Maritime History Council, co-founded by Barfield and Deputy Director of the Division of Archives and History, Larry Misenheimer. The council is a statewide board and advocacy group for maritime programs, events and projects. It conducts a conference each year, with invitations extended to other museums, professional organizations and individuals interested in North Carolina Maritime History.

One of the Council's most notable contributions is the discovery and donation of a complete set of previously unpublished coastal North Carolina civil war sketches, done by Edwin Graves Champney in 1861-62. Champney served in the Union Army occupying eastern North Carolina and his drawings depict scenes of Beaufort, Morehead City and Fort Macon. Following a 1992 exhibition at the maritime museum, the council donated the collection to the state. The collection is now housed in Manteo in the Outer Banks History Center. Another Champney collection was located the following year, an even larger scrapbook from the same period and area, which the Council also purchased and donated.

Tributaries, the state's only journal devoted to maritime history, was also begun by the Council. Sponsored and published annually by the maritime museum, the journal adds to the museum's academic publications and has been enthusiastically received by other maritime museums, libraries and universities.

In 1991, the museum's education section announced its International Tour Program open to the public with plans to travel to the Amazon and jungles of Peru. The tours explore environmental issues in sensitive locations.

By 1992, the museum's collection of historical craft numbered 28 vessels, and had recently added a ca. 1870 complex logboat, an exceptionally significant historical artifact because of its remarkable state of preservation and for the construction style it represents. The maritime section continued its traditional boatbuilding programs, classes and demonstrations, but the staff was eager for the completion of the new watercraft center.

It was a red-letter day in June of 1992, when the new half-million-dollar Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center opened to the public, a monument to the vision of Charles McNeill, the success of Scofield's early boatbuilding programs, and the perseverance of museum staff and director Barfield. Tragically, Geoffrey Scofield was stricken with cancer and died shortly after completion of the building. His memorial service took place in the new Watercraft Center, and was attended by family, staff, and friends. SILVER CHALICE was moored in the slip behind the speaker's stand, the British Red Ensign flying from her bow.

With the handsome, capacious, clerestory style building, the museum's small craft program came of age, providing a permanent facility dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of water transport. A raised viewing gallery allows visitors to peer down on boatbuilders, students and volunteers, whose skilled hands and sharp eyes fashion sleek, clean, handsome, wooden boats. Included in the watercraft center is the John S. MacCormack ship model shop, named for ship model builder and friend of Charles McNeill, who volunteered his skills in the early days of the museum. The model shop gives visitors a chance to watch craftsmen build scale-model vessels, and young people a chance to learn model making skills.

The Watercraft Center, under its new manager, Roger Allen, has produced a constant flow of new boats and restoration projects. As an example of an up-to-date working boat shop, it encourages the preservation and continuation of traditional boatbuilding, offering classes in lofting, tool making, oar making, finishing, half-models, and general boat carpentry. To expand the museum's interpretation of maritime history, boatbuilding programs have been integrated into research and curatorial functions, fostering a more comprehensive understanding of maritime history and technology.

Visitation at the museum in 1992 made for a banner year, with nearly 217,000 visitors taking part in more than 300 public programs. Even at that, the staff found time to mount new exhibits and tend to curatorial chores.

Like the space required for boatbuilding, space for the fabrication of exhibits and storage for boats in the collections had long plagued the museum. In 1993, with the help of the Friends, the museum purchased an off-site carpentry shop and boat storage building. This greatly expedited the production of exhibits and provided much needed space for boats in storage, or waiting to be repaired or restored.

Moving along with its five-year exhibit plan, the museum installed  "The Silver Clipper"  " ...and throw away the oars!" exhibits, featuring highlights of the development of pleasure motor boating in North Carolina. The Silver Clipper, a 1958 16-foot pleasure craft with lapstrake hull and mahogany trim built by Barbour Boat Works of New Bern, is the focal point of the exhibit's showroom. Included is the evolution of outboard motors and a typical 1950s boat repair shop.

In 1993, the exhibit staff also designed and built the "USS Monitor," a traveling exhibit that received the Southeastern Museums Conference Curator's Committee Exhibition Competition Award for Outstanding Achievement. Funded by a grant from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through the N.C. Division of Archives and History, the exhibit is a self-contained unit of some 100 square feet. The turret facade is covered with "iron-plated" walls upon which are mounted text panels, photographs and models relating the Monitor's fate from concept to sinking to rediscovery. Since its completion, the exhibit has traveled around the state to such sites as the Outer Banks History Center in Manteo, the CSS Neuse Historic Site in Kinston, the Schiele Museum in Gastonia and to the NOAA complex in Silver Spring, Maryland.

In 1994 the museum took a quantum technological leap into the present by computerizing its collections, education and maritime sections. This was a major undertaking involving $50,000 worth of computer equipment, but it has greatly increased efficiency, particularly in accessions and daily museum operations.

A good indication of success, in terms of merit or popularity, is the continuation of programs over time. By that definition, the museum is a resounding success. Its Traditional Wooden Boat Show, Summer Science School for Children, Strange Seafood Exhibition, Family Day, and the Cape Lookout Studies Program are its signature accomplishments, but even now, some twenty-five years later, its natural history programs, field trips, talks, lectures, and boatbuilding activities remain its meat and potatoes. These programs continue to fill to capacity.

The Carolina Maritime Model Society under the guidance of Paul Fontenoy encourages interest in, and the continuation of, model ship building by inviting model boat enthusiasts to meet and exchange ideas and improve their skills. Each month the society showcases a member's ship model in museum's main exhibit hall. Begun this summer and continuing through mid-winter, the Watercraft Center is conducting numerous workshops and classes in traditional boatbuilding skills. The Junior Sailing Program teaches youngsters age 8 to 15 to sail by using prams built in the Watercraft Center.

1995 saw the opening of the major exhibit, "North Carolina's Working Watercraft," in the main gallery. Based on the museum's small craft research project, the exhibit offers a comprehensive look at the state's working watercraft and illustrates what makes North Carolina boatbuilding distinct from that of oter maritime areas. An innovative and complex display, it features a ten-foot dugout canoe that revolves to show both interior and exterior surfaces, a model steamboat that has a spinning paddle wheel and revolves on a pedestal for viewing, an environmental diorama depicting dugout construction, two full-size boats, and numerous models and photographs from the museum collections. The exhibit won the museum's second Southeastern Museums Conference Curator's Committee Award that year, further affirming the high professional standards an extraordinary talent of the museum staff.

Several titles by museum staff have been published. Seasoned by Salt, by Rodney Barfield, joins the list in 1995 of other titles: Sea Coast Life; A Tour of Tidal Flat Town; and Strange Seafood Cookbook, all by Judie Spitsbergen, and A Guide to Salt Marsh Plants Common to North Carolina; and A Guide to Ocean Dune Plants Common to North Carolina, by Jeannie Wilson Kraus; and Traditional Work Boats of North Carolina, by Mike Alford.

Reflecting on the little storefront museum that began some twenty years ago, Charles McNeill summed up the years, saying, "A lot of things just fell our way, like getting the land to build the museum from the Smith Family. It was such a fun thing the whole time. I don't know what the final outcome will be, but I know the museum will continue to grow, and I hope it will continue to highlight the preservation of North Carolina's maritime heritage and coastal natural history."

Rodney Barfield, writing in 1995 had this to say about the Museum he directed. "Twenty years is young in the life of a museum, and its staff continues to explore the future. What we have accomplished has been deliberate. We have set goals and achieved them step by step. We are doing a good job, but there's an incredible amount of preparation, planning and mutual support that goes into making us who we are." More than 220,000 people visited the museum that year.

An opportunity to acquire major properties on Gallants Channel in west Beaufort faced museum administrators in 1996. It was property formerly occupied by the Smith fish factory and consisted of 36 acres, with 1800 feet of waterfront. The Friends of the Museum mounted a campaign to raise money and take out an option on the property. Barfield, Friends president Grayden Paul, and key staff began preparing a plan for using the property.

The museum's staff of twenty was now using the existing facilities to at maximum capacity, and in fact, found themselves restricted from developing programs they felt were needed. In a sense, the museum was bursting at the seams. There was no space for additional artifacts. The important capability of conservation and preservation of artifacts, including small craft was limited or non-existent. In-the-water display of boats, and access for water related programs was extremely limited. Expansion was seen as a necessity, not a luxury. The plan included conservation facilities, moorings for tall ships, living exhibit programs, maritime botanical gardens, and more.

Early in 1996, OUR STATE magazine announced the results of a poll they had conducted to ascertain their readers' estimation of "the best" in several categories. North Carolina Maritime Museum was their choice among the state's museums. It carried no weight and yielded no financial rewards, but it was an affirmation of the staff's talent and dedication.

Early in 1997 the museum was designated as one of several agencies to participate in a project to explore, conserve and exhibit artifacts from a shipwreck discovered off the coast of Beaufort. Recovery of a ship's bell dated to 1709 and other evidence indicated a high probability that the vessel was Queen Anne's Revenge, flagship of the infamous pirate known as Blackbeard. The wreck site has thus far yielded many notable artifacts, some of which are exhibited at the museum and in a special traveling exhibit designed and built by the exhibits staff.

Another significant event was overshadowed in the media frenzy that followed the Blackbeard announcement. The museum joined with the Carteret County School system in a pilot program to apprentice selected high school students as wooden boat builders. The initial group was graduated successfully after a semester and a second group began that Fall. Jarrett Bay Boat Works is a collaborator in providing intensive training for potential entry level workers in the field of recreational boatbuilding.

In June the Board of Directors for the Friends of the Museum authorized negotiations for the purchase of the Gallants Channel property at a cost of 3.2 million dollars. Negotiations between the N.C. Department of Agriculture and the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources in mid-1997 resulted in a request to the legislature to authorize shifting the Maritime Museum to Cultural Resources. Later in the year Rodney Barfield announced his retirement and Bobby Springle served as Interim Director while a search for a new director was conducted.

1998 was proclaimed "The Year of the Spritsail" by the maritime staff. During the year there were various events celebrating one of the state's unique vernacular watercraft. Around Beaufort the boats were usually around 20 feet long and were rigged with spritsails, a rig of ancient ancestry. Unique to North Carolina boats were topsails that enabled the boats to maneuver close to shore where tall trees prevented the wind from reaching lower sails. After the advent of motorcraft, the boats were mostly used for pleasure and Beaufort was the site of festive July 4th races between the craft. The museum sponsored races and took their restored example on tour visiting venues as far away as St. Michaels, Maryland.

The museum also became a partner with efforts in Manteo to establish a maritime museum there. The George Washington Creef Boat Shop, for many years a feature of the Manteo waterfront,  was reopened under the supervision of museum staff. Under an agreement between the City of Manteo, which owns the building housing the shop, the Roanoke Island Festival Park, and North Carolina Maritime Museum, the museum will continue to operate the boat shop and work toward establishment of a maritime museum in Manteo.

Facing a New Century
In October 1998, Dr. George W. Shannon, Jr., formerly of the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum was appointed director. Shannon has roots in North Carolina, having grown up in the eastern part of the state. He arrived just in time to see to the details of re-accreditation, a grueling procedure that the American Association of Museums requires every ten years. Welcome aboard, captain!

A new permanent exhibit interpreting the state's commercial fisheries opened early in 1999. Spanning the period of time from colonial to the Second World War, it features models, photographs and artifacts from the museum collections, dioramas, and an interactive computer program.

The museum became the owner of a classic 42-foot cabin cruiser built by Barbour Boat Works in New Bern. The famed boat works closed following the death of owner/operator R.R. Rivenbark. The boat, named STARDUST, was part of a large amount of material donated to the museum and East Carolina University. The University will catalog and house much of the company business records. Although the Boat Works had experienced a decline in business in recent years, it was a landmark constructor of pleasure craft, commercial vessels and boats for the navies of this country and Great Britain. The museum features one of their lapstrake runabouts in a permanent exhibit on recreational boating.

Charles McNeill passed away after a long illness. His funeral was a celebration of his many accomplishments and was attended by a large number of people, including museum staff members. The museum library had recently been dedicated as the Charles R. McNeill Library.

The state General Assembly designated the Manteo maritime museum project and the maritime museum in Southport as branches of the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Branches will allow the maritime museum system to be more effective in interpreting the state's varied -- and vast -- maritime and coastal natural history.

A 6000 pound diving bell became an exhibit in the museum's main gallery early in 2000. Built in the 1960s for salvage operations on oil rigs, it was capable of descending to depths up to 1100 feet. As an exhibit it offers young people—and the adventurous in spirit—an opportunity to take a simulated dive by means of videos attached to the bell's portholes.

The year 2000, widely hailed as the "Millenia Year," marked the twenty-fifth year since McNeill took over the little storefront museum and began developing his vision for a state maritime museum of national significance. Yet the museum stands at the threshold of even more growth and bigger programs. Director Shannon has taken up the museum's mission and goals with enthusiasm.

"The museum now faces an unparalleled opportunity to take the next step to becoming a major museum truly fulfilling and expanding its mission," says Shannon. "Through major funding by the North Carolina General Assembly, private donations and grants, the Friends have been able to acquire for the museum an ideal waterfront site on Gallants Channel. The property is 36 acres of land located one mile from downtown Beaufort at the intersection of Gallants Channel and Town Creek adjacent to the Town Creek Marina and the Michael J. Smith Airport. The 12,000 square foot, brick shell of a former menhaden fish factory on the site would be usable as an exhibit centerpiece with a new roof and other restoration. With almost 1,500 feet of deep-water frontage, the site is ideally suited for the long-range needs of the museum."

Shannon says, "The North Carolina Maritime Museum - Gallants Channel Site, will compliment the main museum on Front Street and will feature a boat restoration facility, an underwater archaeology conservation laboratory, a replica North Carolina windmill, a maritime village, a nature trail, and will be home to our Junior Sailing Program. It will be able to berth museum constructed vessels and will be the port-of-call for tall ships visiting our area. The expanded facility will permit hands-on educational programs on the environment and the need to protect and preserve our magnificent coastal heritage. The site will also provide the space for a large parking area, a critical resource in downtown Beaufort. A shuttle bus and water taxi will operate between the Gallants Channel Site and the downtown museum in Beaufort's Historic District."

When the museum achieves these goals, it will rank among the biggest and best maritime museums anywhere.