History of the Wm. B. Tennison
This summary is taken from National Historic Landmark Theme Study by Ralph Eshelman, 1993.
Wm. B. Tennison is a nine-log sailing bugeye hull converted to powered buy-boat, official number 081674. She is homeported at Back Creek, Solomons Harbor, Solomons, Calvert County, Maryland. Tennison was built in 1899 by Frank Laird at Crabb Island (near Oriole), Maryland. She is 60 feet, 6 inches long on deck, has a beam of 17 feet, 6 inches and a draft of 4 feet, 6 inches. Her wide beam and shoal draft, typical of the bugeye type, is ideally suited for oyster dredging on the shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
Tennison maintains essentially the appearance of her conversion to a powered buy-boat in 1908-9. She is the only bugeye buy-boat conversion extant and is the oldest licensed passenger vessel in the fifth Coast Guard district and reputed to be the second oldest in the United States.
Tennison was built in 1899 by master carpenter Frank Laird of Monie, Maryland, at Crabb Island (now abandoned) near Oriole, Somerset County, Maryland, on a tributary of the Manokin River off Tangier Sound. Tennison was built for Benjamin P. and Rufus L. Miles of Monie, Maryland, who used her as a bugeye oyster dredge boat until 1908-9 when she was converted to power. The date of 1899 was a late one for the construction of a "chunk" or log hull bugeye. By this time logs were becoming scarce and the bugeye was beginning to be replaced by the smaller, easier to operate, and cheaper to build skipjack. This late construction date in part explains Tennison's survival.
Tennison's conversion was an early example. Of the hundreds of sailing bugeyes dredging in the 1880s, less than 50 survived to 1938. Records from the List of Merchant Vessels of the United States indicate Tennison's registered homeport varied from Crisfield, Maryland, to Norfolk and Newport News, Virginia, during the Miles ownership.
In 1910, Miles sold Tennison to Alphonse Lafayette Hazelwood of Eclipse, Virginia, who used her until 1930 for hauling produce in Virginia, making frequent trips to Norfolk and across the Albermarle Sound into the Carolinas. It was during one of these trips while loaded with 500 barrels of Carolina sweet potatoes, that Tennison collided with a tugboat, damaging her port side and losing some of her cargo. The captain of the tug was reputedly drunk.
Tennison was also used as a buy-boat during the oyster season. During the Hazelwood ownership she was painted white with green trim and green or gray decks. The foc'sle at this time had three bunks, a table for eating and a cooking stove. Hazelwood rented Tennison to Barney B. Winnal of Carrollton, Virginia, for a few years to haul oysters and finally sold her to Winnal in 1933 for $2,050. Winnal registered Tennison as a freight boat and sold her to O. A. Bloxom of the Battery Park Fish and Oyster Company located on the Pagan River near Smithfield, Virginia. At this time Tennison's homeport was registered as Norfolk, and by 1944, her use was recorded as fishing. Bloxom sold her to the J.C. Lore & Sons Company of Solomons, Maryland, in 1945.
The Lores used Tennison as a buy-boat and for dredging oysters on their private beds where power dredging was allowed. They installed a 36 horsepower Palmer gas turbine engine (purchased from G. T. Elliott of Hampton, Virginia) to drive her dredge winders as well as a new Delco lighting system. The Lore Company had Tennison overhauled at the H. Krentz Marine Railway in Harryhogan, Virginia in 1952. The Krentz yard, established in 1905, had a good reputation for wooden work boat repair. Scores of skipjacks, and other Chesapeake workboats had their repair work done here.
Tennison was used by the Lore Company until 1978 when the company closed. Under Lore ownership she was registered as homeported in Baltimore 1946-1954, Annapolis 1955-1973, and Washington, D.C. 1974-1980. The Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons, Maryland was able to purchase Tennison and the J.C. Lore & Sons oyster house in 1979 through a Heritage, Conservation, and Recreation Service grant of the U.S. Department of Interior. Under the museum's ownership, Tennison is still associated with the very processing house for which she bought oysters for 37 years.
Alton Kersey, owner and operator of the vessel at the time of the purchase, knew the end of Tennison's career as a buy-boat was near. To help maintain the vessel he began taking onboard passengers for hire. The museum has continued this use to the present allowing Tennison to help maintain her keep as a working vessel.
As the only Coast Guard licensed, log hulled vessel in the United States, Tennison receives annual inspection and survey by the U.S. Coast Guard. This has required regular mandatory maintenance and repair work which has resulted in a vessel in good to excellent condition.
Wm. B. Tennison exhibits the classic physical characteristics of a buy-boat converted from a log-hull-constructed bugeye and as such represents the last of her type. Despite considerable research, the identity of Wm. B. Tennison, for whom the vessel was named, is unknown.
Drawings at the top of this page by Alan B. Chesley, 1980