Issue: January 2005
Cambridge Museums Unite

The Brannock and Richardson maritime museums join forces on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.


     Maybe two museums aren’t better than one-at least, not if they’re competing for dollars and attention in the same Eastern Shore town. Of course, there were other, perhaps more compelling, reasons for the Brannock Maritime Museum and the Richardson Maritime Museum to move in together on the latter’s waterfront property in Cambridge, Md.-not the least of which being the opportunity to create a single Maritime Heritage Center to preserve and showcase the town’s maritime traditions.

     “The Brannock collection, and especially the archives, are important resources that should not leave Dorchester County,” says Frank Newton, president of the Richardson Maritime Museum. “Our coming together on this project is a significant development, not just for two organizations, but for Cambridge and Dorchester County.” The new facility, he says, will not only preserve the boatbuilding heritage of the area, but also serve as a major resource for scholars, thanks to the Brannocks’ extensive archives of local maritime history.

     “This has not been a hasty decision,” says Earl Brannock, who began collecting maritime artifacts and memorabilia as a child and continued with his wife Shirley. When the collection threatened to overrun the Brannocks’ home, they built a building in their backyard and formally opened the museum in 1984. Since then busloads of school children and tourists have visited the Brannocks on Glenburn Avenue to see the trove of paintings, models and maritime minutia from the age of sail and steam, and researchers from around the world have pored through the reams of letters, journals and newspaper clippings that the Brannocks painstakingly preserved. Local and neighboring county organizations, as well as two universities, have offered the Brannock institution a home. But, according to Earl Brannock, “The Richardson joint venture looks to be the answer.”

     The Richardson Maritime Museum formed in 1992 to commemorate and preserve the wooden-boat building tradition exemplified by the late “Mr. Jim” Richardson, who built the Maryland Dove at his yard on the Little Choptank River. The museum moved into an empty bank building on High Street and set up exhibits showcasing the commercial waterfront of Cambridge and the tools and models of the boatwright’s trade. Meanwhile museum organizers bought a sizeable piece of property on Maryland Avenue, next to the Cambridge Creek bridge, where they will eventually establish the Richardson Maritime Heritage Center. The old brick building on the property currently houses several ongoing boat-restoration projects.

     The Richardson Maritime Heritage Center will eventually comprise three buildings, two to support the traditional wooden-boat building and restoration that is integral to the Richardson Museum’s mission, and one to serve as an exhibit facility that will house, in part, the Brannock Maritime Research and Education Center. Fundraising is under way now to raise $3.5 million for phase one construction on the new facility, expected to begin in 2006. For more information contact the Richardson Maritime Museum at 410-770-9410.