Dorothy Lee Preserved

The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM) recently added the Hoopers Island dovetail Dorothy Lee to its floating fleet in St. Michaels, Md. Susan Friedel of Trappe, Md., generously donated the Dorothy Lee in memory of her late husband, Jerry Friedel.

Dorothy Lee measures 41.2 feet long and 8.2 feet in breadth, and was originally equipped with a 1933 6-cylinder Chevy engine—much larger than typical for Chesapeake workboats of the era. With the boat’s long, narrow, light displacement hull, this powerful engine would have made her a particularly fast workboat. Speed was the allure for watermen who bought Hooper’s Island dovetails, with their distinctive racy round sterns that imitated racing motorboats and the Navy’s torpedo boats from the turn of the century.

To accept an old wooden boat of this size, the museum has to assess its condition, potential use, and the organization’s ability to care for the vessel—a process collaborated upon with input from museum boatyard and curatorial staff with oversight by a committee of the board. But of paramount importance is the richness of its history—the stories the boat can be used to tell. And the dovetail Dorothy Lee has great stories.

Dovetails, also called draketails, are named for their distinctive round sterns that taper down to the water. In Dorchester County, where many of these boats were built in the early twentieth century, the preferred term was dovetail, so the museum follows local usage. Dorothy Lee was built for oyster tonging and trotlining for crabs.

CBMM DorothyLee1.jpg

Dorothy Lee was built by famed boat builder Bronza Parks (1900–1958) in Maryland’s Dorchester County. Parks was a larger-than-life personality who worked with or trained nearly every other Dorchester County boatbuilder in the mid twentieth century and produced over 400 boats. He built Dorothy Lee next to the Bishops Head home of the boat’s first owner, Theodore Woodland, as Parks was just beginning his career as an independent boatbuilder. The dovetail now joins the ranks of other Bronza-Parks–built boats in CBMM’s floating fleet, including the recently restored 1955 skipjack, Rosie Parks, and the 1934 dovetail, Martha.

Dorothy Lee was owned and worked by several prominent watermen. Waterman Theodore Woodland named the dovetail for Dorothy Lee Pritchett, his cousin’s daughter. Woodland drowned tragically five years later in a sudden storm that appeared out of the fog on the Choptank River, sinking the skipjack Annie Lee, where Woodland and other members of the skipjack’s crew perished. The Dorothy Lee remained in the family, worked next by Theodore’s son, Lois K. “Spike” Woodland, who was only 14 years old when his father died. In 1969 Woodland sold Dorothy Lee to Calvert O. Parks (1929–2007), a waterman and boatbuilder who had worked in his uncle Bronza Parks’s yard. Parks sold the boat to Jerry Friedel, who restored the boat with a new bottom, decks, cabin and engine, relaunching her in 2004.

CBMM plans to use Dorothy Lee for outreach and travel, enabling the museum to have a presence in locations beyond St. Michaels, while the similar dovetail, Martha remains on dockside exhibition in St. Michaels. Dorothy Lee is equipped with a modern diesel and has a hard canopy, making her the better boat to expand the museum’s on-the-water educational programs, as well as private rentals and other uses.

Dorothy Lee and other boats can be seen during the winter along CBMM’s waterfront and the harbor in St. Michaels, Md., and in spring, summer and fall throughout the region during onboard educational tours and private charters. 

—Pete Lesher, Chief Curator,
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

Talk of the BayMike Ogar