Shipbuilding has been a part of the economy of Whitehaven since the early nineteenth century. Initially, the town developed as a land transportation hub, and later, after the Wicomico River was dredged, the area became an official port. Both the deep water location of the town and the presence of several roads made it an ideal location for a town.
The earliest evidence suggesting large-scale shipbuilding in Whitehaven is documented
in 1808. That year shipwright Daniel Whitney built a vessel named the Charles N. Bancker at
the ―Lower Ferry‖ (Brewington 1957). This vessel may have been named for Charles Nicoll
Bancker (1778-1869), a New York merchant and financier with ties to the Teackle family (APS
2010). The Teackle family was a prominent Somerset County family that moved to Princess
Anne in 1801. The family was heavily involved in the trans-Atlantic and Caribbean trade.
In 1812, ship carpenter Chaplin Conway constructed a 105-ton schooner named the
Osprey in Whitehaven (Brewington 1957). Occasional shipbuilding probably continued
throughout the nineteenth century. The earliest reference to a permanent shipbuilding
establishment was documented by the Lake, Griffing, and Stevenson Atlas in 1877 and the
Wicomico County, Maryland directory of 1878 (New River 1878). The Atlas and directory both
listed a marine railway owned by William. A. Billingham. A William A. Billingham was listed
as a 36 year-old farmer in Tyaskin District in the 1870 Census (Bennett 2010). This railway was located on the property of Walter A. and Amanda Billingham who acquired the property in 1869.
The property was conveyed to George H. Robertson, George W. Robertson, and James W.T.
Robertson in 1879 (MHT 1994). An 1891 deed described the property as the ―Billingham or
marine railway property and bounded on the North and West by the property of Mrs. Elizabeth Catlin on the East by the property of Brennus Palmer…and all the improvements thereon consisting of a dwelling house, store house, oyster house, the marine railway, and all the tools, machinery, appliances, and materials thereto belonging…‖ (MHT 1994). The property was convened from George and Charlotte Robertson to Granville M. Catlin in 1895 for the price of $1500.00 (MHT 1994).
Corddry (1981:46) indicates that a marine railway and the Whitehaven Shipyard were
located on the west side of the town in the vicinity of a marine railway documented during the 2005 survey (Moser 2007). The property was part of a three acre tract called ―Ben Robbins Marine Railway‖ (Stump 2000:58). At least one other shipbuilder named Otis S. Lloyd, Sr. operated a shipyard in Whitehaven until circa 1901, when he moved to Salisbury and purchased the Salisbury Marine Railway Co. (Jacob 1981:73). A ship carpenter, aged 19, was named Otis Lloyd in the 1880 Census of Wicomico County. His father was listed as the son of Ralph L. Lloyd and both enumerated in the Barren Creek Census district a few miles north of the town of Whitehaven. The Census records list Lloyd as Otis L. Lloyd rather than Otis S. Lloyd, which may represent a mistake in the transcription of the census records.
Regardless of whether he was the same Otis S. Lloyd, Sr., while he worked at
Whitehaven he specialized ―in the construction of round-sterned bugeyes‖ (Burgess 2005:54). A bugeye is a type of vernacular sailing vessel developed in the Chesapeake Bay for oyster dredging in the 1870s. These two-masted vessels typically possessed a shallow draft, wide beam and low freeboard. Lloyd is known to have constructed the Bugeye Sallie L. Bramble in 1890 and the round-sterned, single masted Hattie Lloyd in 1898 (Burgess 2005:54).
In 1908, two shipbuilding/repair firms were listed in Whitehaven. These firms were W.J.
Catlin & Brother and Catlin and Elliott (MD Bureau of Statistics and Information 1908:186).
Granville M. Catlin was born January 9, 1860 and died on July 8, 1916. He was the shipyard
foreman in Whitehaven (Pevear 2004). His brother was Dr. William G. Catlin. While very little
public information is available about these businesses, recently, a private account book called the Catlin Ledger was discovered in the attic of the Catlin-Scott house near Whitehaven (Boyer, Personal Communication, 2006). The ledger documents some of the business activities of Dr. William J. Catlin and Granville Moore Catlin between 1905 and 1915. Between 1911 and 1913 the ledger was primarily used to document work at the shipyard. Analysis of the account book suggests that approximately 150 boats were repaired in 1912; however, the analysis is complicated by the absence of clear chronological ordering and dates within the account book. The types of vessels repaired at the shipyard represent a wide cross section of the types of boats that operated on the Wicomico River and throughout the Eastern Shore during the early twentieth century. They included bugeyes, schooners, scows, skiffs, launches, bateau, flattie, boats, canoes, yachts, pungy, and skipjacks (Caitlin Ledger). The transactions described within the ledger indicate that the shipyard was predominantly involved in repair work rather than the construction of new vessels.
It is not clear which of these two firms were the Whitehaven Marine Railway. In 1908,
the White Haven Marine Railway was listed as a boat repair company. It had 14 employees, an investment of approximately $6,500 in capital; and annual wages totaling $8,500. The gross production value of the shipyard was $17,000 (Maryland Bureau of Statistics and Information 1908:185).
During World War I, the Whitehaven Shipbuilding Co. was contracted to construct of
3,000 tons of wooden tugs and barges for the Emergency Fleet Corporation (United States
Shipping Board 1918:126). In 1918 Hilton W. Robinson was called before congress to clarify
contract differences between the Emergency Fleet Corporation and Whitehaven Shipbuilding Co. His testimony before Congress provided significant details about the operation of the Whitehaven Shipbuilding Company. At that time, Mr. Robinson served as 50 percent owner and general manager of the company. He described the White Haven Shipbuilding Co. as a chartered company with the other charter members including W.A. Anders and George H. Larimore of White Haven, MD (US Congress House 1920:3407). The contract stipulated that the yard was to construct 2,500 ton wooden schooner barges for the price of $190,000. The hearings on the establishment reported that the Whitehaven Ship Building Co. had a total of 156 employees on the pay roll in 1918. Of these, three were office employees while 153 were shipbuilders on E.F.C. work and none was on repair work. The average attendance of shipbuilders on E.F.C work was 107 shipbuilders (US Congress 1919).
Source: "The Art and Mystery of Shipbuilding": An Archaeological Study of Shipyards, Shipwrights and Ship Building in Somerset County, Maryland 1660-1900.
Note: a red arrow points to the location of the marine railway, the red rectangular box lays out the railings, a town map further identifies the location of marine railway. All that is left is the railway cogs (on private property and must be viewed from the street). At the water's edge railings are visible implying the underwater railing is still in place.