This presentation is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Diana Penkiunas: Okay, our first presentation for the second half of session four is about Mallows Bay as a Maritime Cultural Landscape. We have two presenters. The first is Susan Langley. Dr. Langley has been the Maryland State Underwater Archaeologist for more than 20 years, directing the Maryland Maritime Archaeology program. She is an adjunct professor at several colleges and universities where she teaches underwater archaeology and the history of piracy. I think we need to talk to her at the cocktail party. She also taught maritime archaeology in Thailand for several years. She is an active master scuba diver trainer and lectures globally on a variety of subjects. Then, I love the last part of her bio. She is also the governor’s beekeeper.
Our second presenter for this topic is Debra Marx, and she is a maritime archaeologist with NOAA’s office of National Marine Sanctuaries. She has an MA in maritime archaeology and history from East Carolina University and is a NOAA science diver. Since 2002, she has worked with a number of national marine sanctuaries. Deborah has extensive knowledge on preparing National Register of Historic Places nominations and has coauthored over a dozen shipwreck nominations including three multiple property submissions and one historic and archaeological district. Welcome.
Susan Langley: Well, as Don mentioned this morning, we’re ecstatic in Maryland that our nomination has … that NOAA has issued its notice of intent to go forward with the public process on Mallows Bay as a National Marine Sanctuary. As you all know, the new process involves a very community-driven method, and we have probably over 60 people sending in submissions, letters of support. We have a very active group on this, and I’ll come to that in a moment. Just to get us started. There we are.
Mallows Bay is mostly known for and is quite outstanding for this collection of vessels. There are nearly 100 300-foot vessels stuffed into a half mile wide embayment, so at low tide you could almost walk across on them. This certainly is what comes to the fore. Most people overuse or misuse the word unique, but it certainly is one of the very rare collections of ships of this nature, and perhaps it is the only one, the only ships graveyard where they are all largely from one era which is the World War I era.
We’re very, very excited about all this. There are many more stories to tell with this, and we’ll come to that in a moment. There are a lot of cultural elements in the landscape beyond these vessels. You can see many of them throughout the photos as we go along. These are absolutely enormous ships and it’s a very impressive set of structures. Now, as I said, there are other elements, and these are part of the stories we have yet to tell, and that also make up that landscape and history of the bay because they’ve all left their imprimatur on the land around the bay and in the bay itself.
The native peoples who have occupied the area and their traditional uses, and we have had Piscataway representatives on our steering committed from the very beginning, and they’ve been extremely helpful in putting our proposals together. We’re working with several educational institutions like the St. Mary’s College or the College of Southern Maryland to consider archaeology in the future and further studies of these uses.
We have at least one, we believe, Revolutionary Wall vessel in the area, a long ship from The Protector. It’s not all World War I. You can see that we had two intervals of fishing, 1820s, 1860s. There’s no commercial fishery in the area now, great deal of recreational fishing, but certainly at the time there was a very active sturgeon fishery and caviar cannery. These are all other stories that interrelate with the landscape, and there are still structures from all of these.
The Civil War, the park, the land base is actually on the site of Camp McGaw. The road system was developed with crossing the Potomac both prior to the Civil War, but largely developed during the Civil War, were not too far across the river from Quantico. They’re very happy to have their view shed protected with this lovely historic site. Of course, the main focus, as I mentioned, when you first look at it, this eye popping number of vessels there from the civilian, the US Emergency Shipping Board fleet that were largely wooden steam ships.
They were built in a number of shipyards around the country. All of them were sold off for the cost of one vessel at the end of the day. They were out in the river for a long time, but they kept breaking loose and causing hazards to navigation and catching fire. Finally, the Marines spoke to the Civilian Shipping Board and said, “You have to get these out of the river,” and that’s why they ended up there. There is still some in the river. There were some that went to other places. There were some that went to other places. There are some in James River, there are some up in Baltimore, so there are more of these vessels around.
During The Depression, it became a mom and pop sort of wildcat salvage area because the companies themselves had gone under. At one point it was providing 15% of the per capita income for the county during The Depression. Of course, also related to these ship breaking periods, we find other signs of … Well, when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, you need something. We have stills up on the land. We found some floating … We don’t know if we have floating brothels. We know they were in the area. There may be. So, wine, women and song on the Potomac. During the second World War, Bethlehem Steel built a burning basin in the back, so there’s another addition to this. Ultimately, of course, determined that it wasn’t worth the effort of trying to do the … to break them all down.
Between ’46 and modern times, there were others efforts. We can talk about them over cocktails, but largely the ships slumbered on, and there were their other concerns about dragging them out, so they ended up staying there, thank goodness. Now, largely, the focus is recreation and heritage tourism. Kayaking is amazing, so do bring your kayaks down.
You can see evidence of the ship breaking here. There is still about 80 vessels in the bay, another 10 around, so there’s a lot of them. There’s also the litter mentality. If somebody else dumps their stuff, it’s a fine place to dump yours, so there are other vessels that were left there. The most recent addition, 1973, was a steel-hulled Hog Island ferry, so there are other vessels in the area as well, the part of the landscape.
The area has been surveyed. We had it surveyed by, well, a number of people, but Donald Shomette, the maritime author actually wrote up the area. He is writing some more revised books now, but he helped document all of these, played a key role in this. Over the next 20 years, we’ve done assessments of the environment. The lower left photo is the Institute for Maritime History helping document some of the vessels at Whitewater, off Virginia. There’s the burning basin, of course, as I mentioned. There were shipways from barges from other ship breaking periods, so there’s all these contributing elements to these vessels that you can see on the right-hand side.
Wonderful teaching opportunities, studying the taphonomy of the vessels, ship architecture. We have student groups interested in using them. We’re also documenting and interested in documenting the flora and fauna. These vessels themselves are providing really a platform for going forward with a lot of, not just the cultural studies but natural studies. They’re a nursery for the very popular bass fishery. It’s a living laboratory. We’re not going to haul the vessels out, we’re not doing any mechanical preservation, so they are going to continue to rejoin nature.
In the interim, I looked up the rare threatened and endangered species of the county, thinking there would be half a dozen … three pages of them, most of which reside in this bay. We have this very significant preservation aspect, but there’s also the invasive species, Hydrilla, Nutria. There’s a study there that can be done as well. Sorry, my own timer is trying to tell me things.
I’ll pass it off to Deedee here, but I’ll just say that we’re looking very much at integrating the flora, the fauna, cultural studies, natural studies, and looking very much, as I said, this is a living laboratory with a lot of stories to tell as we go forward in a very holistic way, not just any one aspect. They all contribute to the greater good.
Deborah Marx: What do we do with these amazing resources and this incredible history? Well, of course, we nominate it to the National Register. Earlier this year, NOAA’s Office in Natural Marine Sanctuaries undertook nominating Mallows Bay to the National Register to give the area recognition that was also done in partnership with the state, of course, as well as other partners. In April 2015, it was listed as a historic and archaeological district. Woo hoo! It qualified mainly due to its association with the World War I ship breaking activities even though, as was mentioned earlier, there are a number of other sites not associated with those ship breaking pursuits.
A little bit about the district, just to give you some perspective as a comparison if you’re thinking about doing a district or you’ve done one of your own. The district is 11,000 acres of 17 square miles within Maryland State waters only. This includes 124 vessels; 101 of them are World War I era steam ships with varying degrees of structural integrity. I would highly suggest that you Google “Mallows Bay.” There’s some amazing aerial photography as well as all the kayakers take great pictures. It’s a really neat, I don’t say “ship graveyard,” but it’s worth taking a look.
There’s also twenty-three other sites that are not related to the ship breaking activities that were also part of this district. I think that’s what makes a district really important is that you can have contributing resources that are part of this unique environment but are not necessarily relevant to some of the topics. We also have eight debris piles of vessels that have not been identified. Those are including the possible Revolutionary War vessel, loss of small craft schooners and several barges. It seemed once people saw, “Hey, there’s all this great territory here. We’re just going to abandon our vessel and don’t have to worry about it.” It definitely did become a depositing area.
There’s also interesting six non-vessel sites. These include wharfs, pylenes, and the physical alteration of the landscape that went along with the ship breaking operation, so that’s where I think that we can adapt the maritime cultural landscape approach more than we have done in the past.
Why is it significant? Well, it’s three of the criteria. The first one, Criteria A. Its association with World War I US Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Ship Breaking Operations. To give you a little background, they basically didn’t know what to do with these vessels, so a company bought them up, brought them up to Mallows Bay, burned them, brought them to shore and scrapped them. If you can imagine, all of these vessels tied up together in some of the pictures on fire and then the poor guys that had to go in and get all of the materials out. Not a good thing to do, I imagine.
Interestingly, this was a test bed where they developed ship breaking techniques for later on use, so I think that’s one of the aspects that we can elaborate on more. We think it’s the largest assemblage of steam ships in the world in a substantial component of the entire US merchant marine fleet that was built between 1917 and 1922. Their ships represented from shipyards all around the country and they’re also wooden in composite which is a really interesting juxtaposition and various designs. There were several design types of these emergency fleet steam ships, and all of those types are represented in the district.
For Criteria D, the archaeological sites provide information on vessel design, use and adaptation along with ship breaking and salvage operations as well as site formation process and the landscape alteration, which I talked about.
This is really a good example of interaction between man and the landscape. They brought these ships there. They built wharfs. They built cofferdams. They really, really changed the environment to suit the needs, so I think that’s where, again, the maritime cultural landscape is a good way to approach this.
I think it’s a matter of thought, looking back at writing the district’s nomination and now thinking about the maritime cultural landscape approach. There’s some different ways that we could have approached it, that we were lacking in by using the maritime cultural landscape lens.
The main focus of the nomination was the World War I era ship breaking, but there’s a lot more history as the Civil War, the Revolutionary War that could be elaborated on, but since you can’t write everything about everything, you kind of have to limit what your rationale is by doing these landscapes.
The sites are only in Maryland State waters in the district even though there are sites on the Virginia side. Things play into it, and it just was easier for the process to limit ourselves to those in Maryland. It should be recognized that there are other sites over on the other side.
We also have strong ties to other associated historical and archaeological sites. There is 20 unfinished hulls that were abandoned in Texas that I think are worth noting. Also in Curtis Bay, Maryland there is a bunch of abandoned steam ships as well as the James River where they stage these vessels before bringing them up to Mallows, so I think the cultural landscape approach can widen this and be able to recognize these other places.
We also need some more contacts for the non-World War I ship breaking archaeological sites. We got to go out and confirm is this actually Revolutionary War era vessel? I think that would add a lot to the region and also include more connections to the land, the Native American peoples, the traditional uses as well as the nature and the biological aspect.
What does this all mean now? As you heard, Mallows Bay is on tap to potentially be a National Marine Sanctuary. Again, this is a community driven process. They came to NOAA, prepared the nomination and submitted it back in 2014, and it was accepted in ’15 and the Federal Register notice just went out about a week ago that the scoping and draft DIS management plan are going to be prepared. I think this is a great news, and it is looking to not only include the historical resources but also the natural resources because of the kayaking and the endangered species, and I think it’s a good fit.
If anybody is interested, I do have some more information about the process if you’re looking to nominate a site in your community. I think the four criteria for the nominations is something that we should all think about if you’re looking for other sites for potential sanctuaries. The nominations need to address the area’s natural resources and ecological qualities and they are special significance.
In our neck of the woods, the area contains submerged maritime heritage resources of special historical, cultural or archaeological significance. In fact, the nomination must address how they fit the National Register criteria, so I think that’s a really important gauge to use. It also talks about the present and potential economic uses of the sites related to tourism, fishing, I don’t think we’re doing much diving, but that could be included, and how the conservation and management of those resources can aid with the heritage tourism. There must be a publicly derived benefit of the area depending on the conservation and management of this area.
I think if you’re interested in submitting comments on this, we welcome them. Again, if you’re in a community that you want to nominate for Marine Sanctuary, turn in those nominations. We want some more, and we want some more shipwreck ones. Wisconsin and Mallows isn’t enough. We want some more.
Thank you very much.