Last updated: 2/7/2012
Rock Hall, Maryland
Street Address
5585 Main Street
Rock Hall, MD 21661
Mailing Address
P. O. Box 367
Rock Hall, MD 21661
phone: 410-639-7611
Sunday, Saturday11 AM - 3 PM
and also by appointment
Ms. Pamela Cowart Rickman, Curator

Working on the Water

In Rock Hall, all roads lead to water. And all water eventually flows to one of the world's greatest estuaries, the Chesapeake Bay. With the advantage of easy access to the Chester River, Gray's Inn Creek and Swan Creek as well as a direct link to the Bay from Rock Hall Harbor, water-related occupations shaped Rock Hall's economic and cultural development from the very beginning…and continue to do so today. In the early years, the Bay served as a commercial link with more populated areas.

Rock Hall served as a shipping point for seafood and agricultural products. Fishing and seafood processing were for years Rock Hall's largest industry, providing an economic base for Main Street commerce and community lifestyle. As commercial fishery interests declined in more recent years, recreational interests filled the void. Today, Rock Hall serves as one of the larger sailing and charter boat fishing centers on the Eastern Shore. The Rock Hall Museum collection includes representative examples of equipment used in the early years of harvesting the Bay, such as oyster bed charts, ice buoys, a drift net lantern, a hand-winder mast and boom oyster rig with patent tongs, a shucking box, a grass shrimp net and a number of other commonly used tools.

Carving for Sport and Profit

While guns and dogs played a critical role in Rock Hall's preoccupation with hunting waterfowl, nothing was quite so important as a good string of working decoys. Hand-carved at first, working decoys eventually evolved into plastic mass-produced lures in more recent years, adding significant worth to the surviving early crafted models. Rock Hall still has some decorative carvers. But serious collectors know well the names of the Rock Hall masters: John B. Glenn, August Heinefield, Captain Jesse Urie, Clifton Simns and Roger Urie. The Rock Hall Museum features a re-created carving shop, featuring original tools, furnishings, patterns and partially carved decoys donated by the Urie family. The Museum also maintains off-site a hand-built duplicating lathe from the shop of Roger Urie. Special loaned exhibits too are a periodic feature, announced in advance on this website's Homepage Bulletin Board.

From Workboats to Steamboats

If you grew up in Rock Hall 75 years ago, your boat was a tool…not a toy. As essential as a strong back, a sturdy skiff or bateau put food on the table and cash in the pocket. And if you had some cash for a trip to Baltimore, chances are you departed by steamboat from a wharf at 'Gratitude,' the neighborhood at the terminus of Route 20 believed named after the steamboat that called there. Most of the good old wooden workboats are gone. Some can be found beached in the marsh or woods. Yet, there are more boats than ever in Rock Hall today, but most of them are called "yachts." The Rock Hall Museum collection includes 33 locally handcrafted models of the wooden boats commonly built here and used here by watermen, along with a photo collection of Chesapeake Bay steamboat.


A picture may be worth a thousand words, but actually preserving and presenting artifacts from a changing bayside town on Maryland's Eastern Shore may offer a greater opportunity to understand it's history in the long run. This remains the mission of The Rock Hall Museum. Founded by local educator Robert J. Johnson as a private museum in 1976, and later donated to the Town of Rock Hall by his widow, this institution continues to rely on volunteers for its development in two rooms at the Municipal Building on South Main Street, a short walk from the town center.

The focus is on community lifestyle, economy and traditions, elements that measure the human wealth at the heart of a small town with a past that reaches back through Bay-related commerce and farming, and a future that assuredly will be linked to its relationship with the Chesapeake Bay.


The Town of Rock Hall accepted the original Rock Hall Museum in October of Year 2000 as a gift from Mrs. Audrey Johnson, widow of the late Robert J. Johnson who founded the museum as a private institution in 1976. The Museum had been closed to the public for more than a year due to water damage and the growing inability of Mrs. Johnson and volunteers to maintain the premises. The Town of Rock Hall formally created the Rock Hall Museum Board as a committee of local government on November 1, 2000 for the purpose of rehabilitating the facility, re-opening it to the public and proving management services thereafter. The original set of Board appointees took office on January 1, 2002. The group consisted of Chairman Bill Danneberg; Vice Chairman Larry McDaniel; Secretary Sally Lewis; Treasurer Mary Guseman; Councilman Bob Willis; Betty Tucker; Carol DeGennaro; Honey Wood; Mary Sue Willis; Bill Betts; Tom McHugh; John Toulson, and Roberta Steele.

This group developed a plan for artifact re-cataloging and storage prior to repairs and improvements to existing premises in two rooms of the Municipal Building at 5585 Main Street. Plans included new climate control infrastructure along with new electrical service, ceiling, walls, windows, doors and carpet and display cases throughout. Physical rehabilitation required more than a year, with a substantial amount of the work completed on a volunteer basis. The Town of Rock Hall underwrote the cost of structural rehabilitation to the premises. The Museum, through donations, grants and approximately $18,000 in existing museum funds, paid for custom enhancements required for security and appropriate exhibit display fixtures.

Artifact Collections
  • oral history tapes
  • personal artifacts
  • tools and equipment
  • Native American artifacts
  • local history books
  • photographs
  • rare books
  • paintings
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