Expanded Watermen’s Museum Set to Re-Open After Thanksgiving


Story and Photo by Connie Morrison
The Eastern Shore Watermen’s Museum and Research Center in Onancock is about ready to reopen after being closed for almost a year.
The museum opened in 2013, and even then museum director Paul Ewell knew he had more exhibits than space.
“Watermen are hoarders,” he said, adding he had 4-5 storage units plus houses in Justisville and Virginia Beach stuffed full of memorabilia.
When the Historic Onancock School offered the museum a much larger space for only slightly more cost, the museum jumped at the chance, even though the board members have had to carry out some renovations on the space.
He fears it’s not just the public that is losing touch with the Shore’s maritime heritage. “Watermen nowadays don’t know what some of this stuff is,” he said.
In addition to the exhibits, Ewell said the museum has almost 90,000 digital photos, and has digitized locations of old crab houses and railways (railroad ties that run to the water and onto which boats are pulled. They function like small dry docks.)
Ewell has documented more than 400 sailing vessels built on the Eastern Shore, including more than 100 schooners. “The Ida May skipjack, which continues to win races, was built in Deep Creek,” Ewell said.
The museum will eventually host a re-search area where people can look up locations and vessels.
Ewell traces his own love for boats back to his love for his grandmother who regaled him with stories about the Rew Brothers. To her, “It was just an old oyster boat,” but it was central to so many family stories, said Ewell.
He finally tracked down the skipjack with the help of local historian Miles Barnes. Connecting with that piece of family history was felt so profoundly, Ewell thought others might react similarly. That was his motivation behind founding the museum.
The museum is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and other times by appointment. Appointments can be made by calling 757-665-5771.
The museum also has a Facebook page (Eastern Shore Watermen’s Museum and Research Center).
“Facebook is a great research tool,” said Ewell. “We’ll post a photo and people start to comment” about who owned it and when.

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