Lots To Do At Reedville Fishermen's Museum

The Reedville Fishermen’s Museum is literally at the end of the road. U.S. Highway 360 winds halfway across the Commonwealth before turning into Main Street and coming to an end at Cockrell’s Creek. The Museum’s growing campus, perched on the starboard side of Main Street, offers exhibits and activities for residents and visitors alike.

The museum is dedicated to preserving the heritage of the maritime history of the lower Chesapeake Bay area and the watermen who have plied their trade here for hundreds of years. It chronicles the rise of the menhaden industry that sprouted in Reedville over a hundred years ago, and continues to exert powerful economic and cultural influence over the region.

The museum acquires, documents and displays materials that are historically important to the areas fisheries and the lives of the watermen, and to further educational programs to interpret the Northern Neck’s maritime heritage. The museum generally mounts three “changing exhibits” per year in the Frayne Gallery, highlighting varied areas of interest pertinent to the Chesapeake Bay and the Northern Neck. Past exhibits have included displays on lighthouses and lightships, local agriculture, and the menhaden fleet in wartime.

The current exhibit provides a look at the life of oyster fishermen, a trade threatened by the declining number of bi-valves found in the bay. The exhibit includes a skiff, massive oyster tongs used to gather oysters, as well as antique oyster plates, used to serve the delicacies.

A “permanent collection’ of artifacts and information is on display in the Reed Gallery year-round, supplemented by a variety of outdoor displays, including the museum’s "fleet.” The Elva C is a 55' pound netting boat built in 1922 by Gilbert White near Windmill Point. She has been restored by the Reedville Marine Railway and local volunteers, and is currently moored at the Museum dock. The Claud W. Somers is a 42' skipjack, built in 1911 and used to work Virginia waters until 1925 when she went to Maryland owners.

She was in need of major restoration, which was completed in 2001 Reedville by a team of determined museum volunteers working with experts at the Cockrell's Marine Railway. After capsizing and sinking during a race in the fall of 2004, the Somers was saved again, and final repairs are taking place this summer. This spring the Somers was selected for placement in the Virginia Historic Landmark Register.

Not only are there things to see at the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum, there are always things to do. The museum sponsors a number of workshops throughout the year, including a Women’s Boatbuilding Workshop each March. The students build a 15-foot double paddle canoe made of plywood, cedar and oak. The boat is built from scratch, not from a kit. Guided by museum instructors, the students measure, cut and fit all of the parts, and along the way learn to use most of the power and hand tools in the museum’s boat shop.

Each July the Museum sponsors a Family Boat-building Workshop, which usually sells out in May or June. This popular class starts on a Friday with a pile of wood and various hardware and hand tools and concludes on Sunday with each participating group leaving with their own “Mabel Skiff.”

The Oyster Float Workshop is another popular class. These workshops concentrate on the construction and operation of floats used for oyster growth in local waters. The workshop encourages the raising of a relatively small number of oysters, usually 1,000, at one's dock as a simple and easy way to have oysters for consumption and to add to the water-filtering function of the oyster population; a critical factor in restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

In addition to workshops and lectures, the museum also sponsors a number of special events throughout the year. For Independence Day the museum co-sponsors a “Good Old-fashioned Fourth, with a parade, craft fair, barbershop quartets, a 5K run/walk and capped off with fireworks.

The museum’s Oyster Roast each November is not only a popular event in the community, it’s one of the museum's major fund-raisers, providing support for our educational programs. Each December the museum presents Christmas On Cockrell’s Creek, with a tour of many of the brightly decorated homes along the water.

You might ask how a small museum manages to do so much? Museum President Susan Tipton credits the volunteers, who are “members” of the museum. An individual membership is just $15 a year, a family membership just $25. Members serve as docents in the gallery, assist with classes and workshops and generally do the work of the museum.

Yet membership has its privileges. Members are admitted free to all gallery exhibits and take part in special events, such as cruises aboard the Elva C and Claud W Somers. For information about becoming a member, call 453-6529 or go to their Web site.