Location: Second Street at Back Creek
At Site 10, on the banks of Back Creek, you’ll see the last of many oyster-packing houses that once lined the shores of Annapolis and Eastport. Watermen brought boatloads of oysters here to be shucked, sorted, cleaned, packed into cans and marketed all over the East Coast and as far away at Canada as “McNasby’s Famous Pearl Brand Oysters.”
After William "Mac" McNasby died in the early 1970s, otherse tried unsuccessfully to revive the oyster business. Later, the oyster and crab populations declined and business efforts ceased. The building is now the home of the Annaolis Martime Museum.
Tour the little house that once floated on the Bay and now serves as the Annapolis Maritime Museum's Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse Interpretive Center. There you can find out more about the iconic lighthouse, built in 1875. A National Historic Landmark, the Thomas Point Light (pictured below) is the last of its kind left in its original location, about five miles from Site 10.
A century ago, the streets of Eastport were paved with oyster shells. No fewer than 18 shucking houses lined the shores of Annapolis.
The McNasby Oyster Company, the last remaining shucking house, opened in this location in 1918. “Mac” McNasby was well known for the care he showed the workers who stood day after day at the long tables during the oyster harvest, from September to April.
Many were African-Americans who lived in Eastport and surrounding areas. Others traveled from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and lived in small houses nearby. The tiny Barge House on the Museum campus housed workers from McNasby’s.
Lyle Smith, an oyster company worker (left) and Mac McNasby (right) skimmed and cleaned shucked oysters before packing them into cans.
When the oyster boats began arriving in September, the workers met them at the dock on Back Creek and unloaded the precious cargo. They got as much as 25 cents for each wheelbarrow load of oysters they brought to the shucking shed inside the main building. In later years, conveyors sped up the process.
In the shed, men and women lined the long wooden stalls and quickly shucked oysters into steel pots as fast as they arrived.
Other workers carried the pots of oysters to the back room where they were washed in large steel tubs. The oysters were drained and packed in light-blue cans with the label “Pearl Oysters,” named for McNasby’s wife, Pearl. The tins awaited shipping in the “cold room.” Local oysters pleased the palates of many patrons all over the East Coast.
McNasby left his business to his good friend, John Turner, in the early 1970s. Turner continued operating the business and began picking crabs at site. He opened a retail store to sell oysters and crabs to the locals. In 1985, a local developer bought McNasby’s and the Barge House property next door. The site lay dormant until 1987. But that did not mark the end of McNasby’s.
With a combination of funding, the City of Annapolis launched a project to resurrect the seafood processing business and the “Watermen’s Cooperative” was formed. For the next several years, 54 watermen from Anne Arundel County worked together to operate the cooperative. Watermen once again arrived at McNasby’s dock with their harvests from the Bay. But, modern health regulations requiring extensive changes and a sharp decline of the oyster and crab population conspired to end oyster shucking packing at McNasby’s in 1994.
McNasby’s operated as a source of seafood off and on throughout the late 1990s under various tenants. The Annapolis Maritime Museum first occupied the site in 2001. Museum exhibits and programs flourished and crab cakes were served on the deck overlooking Back Creek.
In September, 2003, Tropical Storm Isabel roared up the Bay with an eight-foot surge that all but washed the structures away.
Through generous donations and grants, the Barge House is operational and McNasby’s will once again house museum exhibits and activities and serve as a focal point on the Bay.
The lovely brick building with the slate roof in front of the Site 10 information panel is actually the City sewage pumping station. Walk around to the other side of the building and you’ll see the little Barge House, which has its own unique story.
The Barge House is on a parcel of land that may have been a part of the Fort at Horn Point. This site along Back Creek is shared by residential and maritime properties which contribute to Eastport’s special maritime character. This part of the peninsula was once largely blue-collar and racially mixed. Family roots established the community’s cultural and social foundation.
The narrow, 12-foot by 49-foot Barge House was built by Wilson Gott between 1916 and 1919. He also built two similar buildings along Bay Shore drive. Unique by any architectural standards, the house was designed to be floated on a barge during the summer months. In the winter, during the oyster season, the building was hauled onto the land and used as a dwelling for the oyster shuckers and other workers at the adjacent McNasby Oyster Company.
A crew of volunteers helped restore the Barge House and repair the damage done by Hurricane Isabel. Mayor Ellen O. Moyer (center) officially reopened the Barge House in October 2005.
After the hurricane of 1933, the house was moved ashore and secured on its permanent foundation. The Snowden family was the first to live here, and the Rawlings family was the last. As many as six family members once lived in the tiny structure. No trace of the original barge remains. The Barge House is listed as a State Historic Building.
The City of Annapolis bought this property in 1989 through an Open Space Grant from the state of Maryland, the first urban open space grant ever issued in the state. In 1992, the Barge House was designated as a State Historic Building.
The museum’s waterfront park provides a kayak and canoe launch for small boat owners to enjoy the Bay and nearby creeks. The Annapolis Maritime Museum is part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, a National Park Service program designed to guide visitors to museums, parks and other attractions throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
The Barge House is open on weekends or by appointment.