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Henry H. Boyer, 78, real estate developer


Henry Hanson Boyer, a former insurance broker and developer who enjoyed collecting and sailing historic vessels, died of complications from a stroke Thursday at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center. The Bel Air resident was 78.

Mr. Boyer was born and raised on his family's Chilberry Farm, on the Bush River near Perryman. After graduating from Aberdeen High School in 1943, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces and was in flight training when the war ended.

He earned a bachelor's degree in 1948 from the University of Maryland, College Park and worked as boat builder for the Owens Yacht Co. in Middle River for several years.

During the 1950s, he was an insurance broker for the Harry Warren Agency in Towson and Aetna Insurance Co. before becoming a real estate developer in the 1960s.

Through his companies -- Romney Co., Agrarian Inc. and South Hampton Ltd. -- Mr. Boyer developed the Bynum Hills, Greenspring Hills, Harford Hills and Rock Run housing projects in Harford County. He also bought the old Fountain Green Hospital in Bel Air and converted the building into offices.

"He was a very soft-spoken and likable individual, and for a guy who did development, he certainly had an appreciation for the land," said John D. Worthington IV, publisher of The Aegis newspaper in Bel Air.

Semiretired, Mr. Boyer managed properties he owned in Bel Air and Havre de Grace.

"He wanted to keep his hand in," said his wife of 51 years, the former Patricia Givler.

Since 1966, the Boyers have lived at Southampton Horse Farm, an 18th-century property whose original name was Paca's Meadows. They carefully restored their home -- the 66-acre farm's original manor house.

Mr. Boyer's love of boats and sailing began in his youth on the Bush River and Chesapeake Bay.

"He was just passionate about the Chesapeake Bay and was 8 years old when he began his boat collection after rescuing a rowboat he found floating," Mrs. Boyer said.

Mr. Boyer's collection came to include a classic mahogany Chris-Craft speedboat, a cabin cruiser, a World War II-era Army Duck, an amphibious truck and the Charbert, a 75-foot former Coast Guard cutter.

"He first saw the Charbert in a West River boat yard. The cutter, which dated to World War II, had been used to patrol the bay during the war and was owned by an older couple. He told me he was going to make them an offer that they couldn't refuse, and he got it," Mrs. Boyer said.

"We had fun with it and took out friends -- it could sleep 12 -- and toured the bay. We sold it when we moved to the farm," she said.

Another of Mr. Boyer's waterborne adventures occurred because of the Susquehanna Players, a Havre de Grace community theater group, in which his wife was a member and actress. Mr. Boyer helped the fledgling theater troupe move from school auditorium venues -- into an old freight barge.

In 1962, he spotted the 350-ton dry barge languishing in the backwaters of Baltimore's harbor, purchased it for $1,200, and had a tug tow it to Havre de Grace, where it was docked at the foot of Green Street.

"Henry said it had sunk once with a cargo of sugar, and once [the sugar] melted, floated back to the surface," Mrs. Boyer said.

Theater members transformed the old barge into a 150-seat theater, with dressing rooms and storage areas below decks. Painted red and white with Showboat spelled along the side, it resembled the old floating theaters that once plied the nation's rivers and bays bringing culture to rural communities.

"We weren't able to afford the maintenance, and in 1967 donated it to Harford Country Recreation and Parks, and it was towed to Edgewood. Vandals got aboard and set her on fire, and that was the end of that," Mrs. Boyer said.

A rare shanty boat that had been used by shad fishermen had been in Mr. Boyer's family for more than 50 years. He recently donated the vessel -- a little floating cabin where shad fishermen slept --to the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum.

"For years, our children used it as a playhouse," Mrs. Boyer said.

Mr. Boyer was a former president of the Historical Society of Harford County.

He enjoyed collecting and wearing hats from his extensive collection and playing tennis, a game he learned when he was 45.

Services were private.

Also surviving are two daughters, Loretta B. Krach of Bel Air and Madeleine K. Boyer of Malvern, Pa.; a brother, Oliver P. Boyer Jr. of Bel Air; and four grandchildren.

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