Galesville History

Galesville Welcome Sign

(the following is from a pamphlet printed by the Galesville Heritage Society, Inc., "formed in 1991 to preserve and maintain the historic, aesthetic, and cultural aspects of historical significance in Galesville. The group promotes interest in and the study of the local heritage." For further info contact Roberta Cassard, President, 867-2648.)

On 28 October 1652 a land grant or "Certificate of Survey" was issued for 660 acres of land to John, Patience, and Mary Brown, and John Clark, his wife Elizabeth and their children, John and Ann Clark.

They called this area Brownton, and later the name was changed to West River Landing and then to Galloways. These Puritans, who became Quakers, came into the Province following the enactment of the famous "Act of Toleration" of 1649. Almost from the beginning West River Landing became the focal point of shipping and travel in this area.

In 1684 it was officially designated a "Port of Entry" for checking imports and exports, along with Town Point at Herring Bay, Londontown on the South River and "Newtown," now Annapolis on the Severn.

It continued to be the main port of West River for both shipping and travel up to and throughout the steamboat era. Throughout colonial times the landing probably consisted of a wharf together with a warehouse or two and possibly a store or blacksmith shop.

The great numbers of Quakers who came to the large Yearly or General Meetings of the West River Friends lived in tents or hurriedly built shelters so that the adjoining creek originally "Brown's" became known as "Tenthouse Creek" by which name it is called today.

The West River Quaker Meeting in the spring of 1672 represented the birth of Quakerism in Maryland, the second such meeting in Maryland, and the third meeting established in the world. In 1924 the name was changed to Galesville in honor of Richard Gale, a prominent Quaker planter in the area. The Quaker Burying Ground at the intersection of Route 468 and Main Street was begun by these early Quakers.

Nestled between Tenthouse and Lerch Creeks on the North and South, and Route 468 and the West River on the West and East, Galesville has always held a special place for all who have visited here. Galesville is a Village which encompasses not only the residential but commercial, recreational, and industrial areas. Some of the businesses are still run by descendants of the founders -- Hartge Yacht Yard, Woodfield Fish & Oyster Co., Hardesty Funeral Home, Smith Brothers Pile Driving,

Smith Bothers Pile Driving

Pruner Well Drilling, and Dixon's Auto Repair, Inc.

Galesville is one of Maryland's last remaining villages -- it is a special place.

Here's another version of Galesville history -- part of an article written by Pat Vojtech and published in Chesapeake Bay Magazine in October 1994...

Founded in 1652 by two families seeking freedom from religious persecution, Galesville was originally called Browntown or Brownton. In its first three decades Brownton became an important wharf and landing as local farmers in the region carted their goods to the river for shipment. It also became a stronghold for Quakerism and in 1672 George Fox, the founder of the Quaker faith, visited the community. A four-day meeting was held to celebrate his visit and the many tents set up along the creek north of the landing are believed to have inspired the name of that body of water -- Tenthouse Creek.

Because of the importance of the wharf as a shipping center, the name of Brownton had been changed to West River Landing by 1682 when it was designated an official port of entry with the authority to import and export goods, and to collect duties.  Almost a century later, during the War for Independence, West River Landing was the site of Anne Arundel County's only shore engagement of the war.  In March of 1781, the British knocked out a cannon emplacement on Chalk Point.  The redcoats also destroyed Stuart Shipyard (owned by Samuel Galloway whose mansion Tulip Hill still stands).  Galloway's yard was just putting the finishing touches on a 20-ton ship and the shipbuilderwas a friend of George Washington, an occasional visitor to Tulip Hill and fellow horse race fan.

In the early 1800s, when George Gale acquired the Brownton plantation, West River Landing acquired its present name of Galesville.  The first steamboat to make the run up the West River was the Maryland, which began weekly visits in 1832.  Galesville residents enjoyed regular steamboat service to Baltimore and other Chesapeake towns for the next 100 years.  The most famous steamer to ply the river (probably because she was the last) was the Emma Giles.  Built in 1887 and purchased a few years later by theTolchester Steamship Co., the Emma Giles made runs to Galesville three to five times a week.  She could carry 1,500 passengers and her two paddlewheels could propell her at a top speed of 13 knots.  Just as important as the passengers was the steamboat's role in shipping local produce and seafood to markets around the Bay.  Depending on the season, she hauled hogsheads of tobacco, bags of wheat, baskets of peaches and tomatoes, as well as, seafood from local fish and oyster packing houses.

Many of the men and boys of Galesville made their living fishing, crabbing , and oystering.  J. Edward Smith, along with his brothers, operated an oyster packing house.  In 1923 they purchased a scow and founded Smith Brothers, Inc., a pile-driving company which still works around the Bay.

Like most Chesapeake waterfront communities, Galesville saw a severe decline in its commercial use of the river after World War II.  But unlike in some other communities, the end of commercial shipping didn't mark the end of the river's usefulness or importance to Galesville.  The village is in the unique position of being on deep, protected water, within sight of the Chesapeake.  For pleasure boaters this means quick access to the Bay.  In addition, the West is part of a three-fingered web of rivers just below Thomas Point, which creates a large area of protected waters for boaters to enjoy if they do not care to venture out on the open waters of the Bay.

Galesville residents took advantage of the river for pleasure boating long before the town's shipping industry died.   In fact, if pleasure boating could be given a birthplace on the Chesapeake, Galesville would be a contender for the honor.  Back a few decades ago, while its neighbors to the east in the communities of the Eastern Shore were still working hard at harvesting fish, crabs, and oysters from the Chesapeake Bay, some people in Galesville were building sailboats for pleasure boaters.  The town had long been a boatbuilding center.  Members of the Hartge family, who still operate Galesville's largest yard, began producing like bugeyes and log canoes just after the Civil War.

Sailing regattas became a favorite weekend pastime on the river as early as 1929 when the West River Sailing Club (originally known as Our Own Damned Yacht Club) hosted the first of its many regattas.  Hartge's yard expanded into the pleasure boat market, making a series of affordable vessels like the Chesapeake 20s and the Quadrants.

Dick Hartge designed the 20s specifically to take advantage of the light summer winds prevalent on the Bay.  The Chesapeake 20s became such a popular racing class that Hartge and his boatyard built over 40 between the 1930s and the mid-1940s.  About 12 of his original wooden boats, and several more built by other people, still survive and regularly gather for regattas on the West River today.

Dee Dixon, a city girl who moved to the village in 1954 when she married a Galesville man, quickly learned to love a waterfront community.  "My father-in-law, Frank Dixon, had a boat called the Maureen.  We used to go over to the Rhode River, pull the boat up on the beach, and swim.  The men would crab, then we would have a crab feast later in the afternoon."

When the Dixons weren't boating with their large extended family, which included most of Galesville, they were crabbing together on summer weekends. In the '50s, this meant rowing a skiff out the river; later, of course, they added a motor.

While major boatbuilding at the Hartge yard ended when Dick Hartge retired, it is obvious from a glance around the waterfront today that the legacy of wooden boats lives on here.  Galesville harbors more than its share of wooden boats, including several draketail workboats, whose sterns fan out like duck tails.  A design developed and used almost exclusively on the lower Eastern Shore, two draketails have, nevertheless, found a home in Galesville, thanks to Dr. Bob Bessie.  A few years ago Bessie founded the Draketail Project, a non-profit program designed to give teenagers something positive to do with their free time, while preserving a dying heritage.  The project participants have restored one draketail and built another from scratch.

Nick Schlegel, a Hartge descendant and an employee at Hartge Yacht Yard, says that the boatyard still does repairs on wooden vessels but he insists it is as much the quiet atmosphere of the river as the skill of the Galesville yacht yards that encourages boaters to drop their anchor here.

While the Hartge Yacht Yard no longer builds boats, the tradition of boatbuilding in Galesville is caried on at another yard, Mast & Mallet.  Owner Joe Reid turns out classic wooden Chesapeake Bay workboats, some with a fiberglass overlay, othersof solid cedar.

Reid says that Mast & Mallet has built 12 to 15 boats in the last 12 years, including a 30-foot, custom cabin cruiser.  Its expertise in refinishing and repairing woodwork also undoubtedly to attract some of the unusual wooden boats to the West River.

Here's a couple of their current "project boats."

A couple of Mast & Mallets Projects

The Galesville Heritage Society has a museum next to the West River Market -- open Sunday afternoons when it's warm.

The historical sign across the road from the West River Market reads as follows.

"William Penn attended a meeting of the Friends (Quakers) at Thomas Hooker's, December 1682 on this tract called Brownton (patented in 1652 for 660 acres). Penn sailed from here across the Bay to the Choptank River to a General Meeting of the Friends."

The sign by the cemetery on the northeast corner at the main road (Route 468) and traffic light reads as follows:

"Overlooking West River. Quaker burying ground 1672. Cedar Park, patented to Richard Ewen in 1666 as "Ewen upon Ewenton." Brick house built circa 1697 by Richard Galloway II around earlier frame structure possibly dating back to 1656 known as "West River Farm" in the 18th century. Home and burial place of John Francis Mercer, 10th Governor of Maryland, (1801-1803). Tulip Hill, patented 1659 to Richard Talbot as "Poplar Knoll." Brick house built in 1756 by Samuel Galloway, Quaker merchant. George Washington recorded visits there September 22 and 30, 1771, traveling to and from the races at Annapolis."

Finally, a sign at Hartge Yacht Yard:

Sign at Hartge's

When you visit Hartge's be SURE to pick up a copy of "A History of Hartge Yacht Yard" written by Laurance Hartge and published in 1997. It not only chronicles the 130-year history of the yard including the Chesapeake 20 sailboats that were built there and are still campaigned around the Bay, but it also contains rich humor surrounding the current staff.

Also, Hartge's has a museum that's well worth the visit. Just ask them where to find it. Click here to read a brief summary of the yard history and some of the things you'll find in the museum

On a personal note, we were lucky enough to meet Oscar "Uncle Emile" Hartge on a terribly wintry day in early 1994, two years before he passed away at age 84. We were looking for a slip for our "new" Krogen 42, and Uncle Emile was hanging out in the Ships' Store (he retired 16 years earlier but was always around, they said), the only warm place in the yard that day. When he spotted us and overheard our conversation about trawlers. he said he wanted to tell us something about trawler people. He said, "Trawler people are too lazy to hoist sails and too cheap to buy fuel!" Truer words were never spoken...

And now for some more about the village today and a bit on where to anchor when you visit by boat, what to do and see, and where to eat and stay, click here.