From Brick to Boat

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St. Clement's Island with the sun setting behind the Blackiston Lighthouse. Copyright 2010 THE CHESAPEAKE
The original Blackiston Lighthouse on St. Clements Island was destroyed by shelling practice by the Navy after being vandalized by local heathens of the Seventh District. A new lighthouse has been built by a large group of dedicated volunteers.

By Cap’n Larry Jarboe

   Did you know that one of the most popular excursion boats in St. Mary’s County started as a brick?

   From 1994 to 1998, I served upon an all Republican Board of County Commissioners.  We lowered property and income tax rates, cut the assessment cap in half, fully funded education, and gave the people two miles of waterfront access on the Patuxent River. 

 However good our public policy, we argued like cats and dogs.  At the end of 1998, all of us were back in the private sector.  The Democrats took over and hiked property taxes to new heights..

  This is not an article about how the tide shifts between the two party system.  Instead, both parties can work together to bring positive accountable governance and infrastructure to the public.

  Soon after taking office in 1994, I met with Leonardtown Mayor Chip Norris to discuss the upcoming plan to move the historic circuit courthouse function from its downtown location. 

Mayor Norris is a Democrat who is elected in a non-partisan election.  Party lines are not anywhere as important as putting taxpayers first.

   Mayor Norris wanted the courthouse to stay in Leonardtown.  It was the anchor for the town’s prosperity.  I agreed with him but I had four Republican County Commissioners opposed.  Also, we needed some help from our State officials.

   State Senator Roy Dyson killed the bond bill to move the courthouse to the Governmental Center.  With this impetus from Annapolis, the topic was brought back to the commissioners’ table. 

The back wall of the 1901 St. Mary's Circuit Courthouse was exposed when the old jail and elevator were removed for the new construction that now houses the expanded circuit courthouse.

The public was resoundingly in favor of preserving our historic courthouse location for an expansion in the rear overlooking Breton Bay.  Commissioners Frances Eagan and Chris Brugman joined our side giving a majority of commissioners to save the courthouse and Leonardtown’s economy

   Two Democrats and three Republicans worked together to benefit St. Mary’s County.

   The jail behind the courthouse had to be demolished to make room for the new addition.  In 1997, instead of a groundbreaking, our County Administrator hosted a brick breaking with five small hammers.  From the pile of rubble, I broke off a single brick for a souvenir.

   While walking into the celebration luncheon hosted by the Town Council in Tudor Hall, I realized that I do not need to keep mementoes, memories are sufficient.

   I must have looked like an anarchist carrying that brick into the Leonardtown government offices.  I decided to leave the brick as a paperweight on one of the secretary’s desks.

   As I reached to place the brick on the first most accessible desk, I sensed that I should put it on the other desk further over.

   I was placing the old brick on that distant desk when Millie Huseman walked up.

    “Oh, you must have read the Enterprise article about me collecting bricks.” she said.

   Somewhat confused, I replied, “No, I was just leaving it on that desk for a paperweight because something inside me said to do so.”

   “Well, I’ve been collecting bricks from all over the world to build a shrine for the Blessed Mother that overlooks St. Clements Island.” said Millie.

   Let’s see: Over eighty thousand people lived in St. Mary’s County at the time and I unknowingly deliver a brick to the one lady who collects bricks for a shrine.

   Millie said, “I have been wanting to talk with you as well.”

   She relayed her enthusiasm for the history of the founding of Maryland and the events that occurred when the first colonists landed on St. Clements Island.

   A shuttle boat was needed to help tourists and locals visit the island.  I agreed that we could do this.  I brought the idea to the County Commissioners.  We established a boat committee with Karl Kopel as chairman.  They were tasked with finding an affordable, fuel efficient, low maintenance, U.S. Coast Guard approved boat that would pay for itself through a nominal passage fee.

    Today, the Water Taxi II carries up to a couple dozen passengers to and from St. Clements Island on the weekend for only seven dollars each.  The boat is available by charter during the week for tour groups.

   For more information, please call the St. Clements Island Museum at 301-769-2222.

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