Pier adds luster to a gem

The Baltimore Sun

Across the West River, from the Captain Salem Avery House Museum, amid the quiet splash of water against rocks, one can faintly see the Bay Bridge.

At one time, visitors could enjoy this view from only the benches on a grassy area behind the 19th-century house.

Now visitors to the museum can sit on a bench of its new pier and read nine new information panels, which are part of the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society's plan to provide another link between the community, the environment and history. The grand opening is scheduled for Friday.

"A family can go to the pier even when the museum isn't open," said museum director Janet Surrett. "We thought it would be a gift to the community."

Salem Avery built his house about 1860 after he migrated from Long Island, N.Y., to capitalize on the bay's oyster population.

Museum administrator Vicki Petersen said it is the only house from that era still standing in the community.

A group of Jewish Masons bought the home from the Avery family in the 1920s and turned it into a fishing lodge, with a large addition.

The heritage society formed as a nonprofit organization in 1985 and bought the home four years later. The group renovated the house as a museum to celebrate South County's maritime past.

The latest renovations began in August 2005 after the society received a $23,110 matching grant from the National Park Service's Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, a partnership of more than 150 museums, parks and historic communities along the bay and its rivers.

The focus was to replace the aging pier and add signs explaining local landmarks, oysters and their role in the bay and a cannon on the museum's grounds that is believed to have been used in the War of 1812.

In 2003, the society opened the pier to visitors by water when it put a mooring buoy there. But use of the rickety pier was not encouraged, society members said.

The new 75-foot-long pier offers railings, a gate, a place to sit and an outdoor exhibit that allows visitors to view creatures of the sea.

The pier cost nearly $18,000, and the panels cost about $10,000, Surrett said. Total cost of constructing the outdoor exhibit, including labor time, was $61,000. Most of the work on the pier was completed in December, but the society wanted to wait until this month to open it for the season.

"We're very proud that we're able to offer this to the community," said society chairwoman June Hall.

Everyone can look at the pulley-controlled oyster garden attached to the side of the pier.

Visitors can pull up an underwater oyster cage, drop it on the dock and shake it to see what's inside, as well as read the panels to help visitors learn more about the museum and its waterfront.

Two of the nine informational panels provide insight about the bay's oyster population, a serious concern among watermen and environmentalists.

Bay pollution has sharply reduced their numbers, which hurts the bay because oysters are filter feeders: One oyster can clean up to 50 gallons of water a day.

The society believes it is doing a small part to aid in oyster population growth by having gardens, large baskets of older oysters containing spat, or baby oysters.

The shells provide spat with a place to eat and grow without danger from predators. Mature oysters will be released into the West River.

"We're encouraging people to grow oysters to increase the population," Surrett said. "They play an important role in keeping the Chesapeake clean."

The society hopes this oyster exhibit will link the past to the present.

Now with the new pier, the society expects to have more community involvement, though the museum is open only from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.

"This is a great place for a family to bring a picnic lunch, sit out on the pier and enjoy the beautiful view," Surrett said.

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