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Rodgers is an artist, model maker and boatbuilder who about 20 years ago started pulling lines (measuring each aspect of the hull and decks) off Chesapeake buyboats to provide authentic scale drawings to make his model boats. With to-scale line drawings this allows other model makers to build more authentic boats too and it gives maritime historians and those interested in the boats a true image of what they are and how they were built.
Chesapeake Bay buyboats are large wooden deadrise (V-hull) vessels that were used to haul freight and to buy crabs, fish and oysters from area watermen out on the water. Thus the name buyboat originated.
“When I started building models of buyboats the first one I built was the boat the P.E. Pruitt,” said Rodgers. “Before I started I went out and looked for plans and I soon came to realize there were no professional drawings of buyboats. The boats were built from rack-of-eye with no plans and each builder built a little different.”
Rodgers has always been one about being precise. After building a model of the P.E. Pruitt without plans he was not happy with the lack of authentic detail in the model, so he decided he would go out and measure boats and document everything on them from door knobs to windowsills.
When he started it was to build a better model but as he got further involved he realized that the drawings were as significant as the models in that they were authentically preserving an aspect of the Chesapeake Bay’s maritime history that had not been done before.
Rodgers has taken the lines off a dozen boats. Some were in a state of decay while others were up on the hard for repair at a railway. “I can get some of the measurements on the boats when in the water but to get a finished drawing the boat needs to be out of the water,” he said.
He went to Coles Point to take the lines off the buyboat L.R. Smith built in 1925 by Lennie and Alton Smith of Mathews County. The boat was in a state of disrepair with one side caved in. “If I had waited too much longer, I would have missed that opportunity,” he said.
A short history of the boat is also part of Rodger’s drawing. “The L.R. Smith started life as an open deck fish pound boat,” he has written on the drawing. “Later she was decked over and fitted for crab dredging as shown above. The deck house was added in the 1950s.”
His travels have taken him from one end of the bay to the other. He took the measurements off the 1948 Mildred Belle in Baltimore Harbor when the boat was up on the rails and traveled to Georgetown on the Sassafras River to take lines off the 1926 Muriel Eileen and the 1925 Nellie Crockett.
Rodgers has also measured the 1949 Rebecca Ann built by Deltaville boatbuilders Moody, Alvin and Raymond Walden when she was on the grounds of the Deltaville Maritime Museum and the 1946 Mobjack built by Deltaville builder Linwood Price when the boat was at Smith Marine Railway in Dare.
Rodgers has lived in Urbanna since his family moved to town in 1965 when his father, who worked for IBM, was transferred into this area. After graduating from Middlesex High School, he attended Virginia Tech, and he decided he wanted to live, work and raise his family in Middlesex.
Over the years he has built several small boats and a 25-foot fantail launch he named after his daughter Rachel. He built and learned to fly an airplane and built the house he and his wife Kathy have lived in for 35 years.
“We picked Ray as our 2023 captain, not only because of what he has done to preserve the boats with his drawings but because of how much he has brought to our community,” said Pam Simon of the UOFF.
Rodgers will ride in the festival parades on Friday and Saturday and will be honored throughout the weekend at the festival.
The Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation (UOFF) has named Aubrey Hall of Urbanna the 2023 grand marshal of the Urbanna Oyster Festival set for Friday and Saturday, Nov. 3 and 4.
“I was completely overwhelmed when Bruce DeSimone (chairman of the UOFF) called me and asked me to be grand marshal of the festival,” said Hall. “It is truly an honor and I’m delighted that the foundation felt that I am worthy of the honor.”
DeSimone said, “I have known Aubrey since he helped me purchase our first house in 1983. I have watched as he has made major contributions to our community and I am very pleased that the UOFF chose to honor his work by selecting him as the 2023 Urbanna Oyster Festival grand marshal.”
Born and raised in Deltaville and a 1958 graduate of Middlesex High School, Hall eventually ended up in Urbanna when during his senior year at the University of Richmond he married Margie Bacon Folliard (Hall), an Urbanna girl.
After graduation, Hall taught music and physical education in Culpeper County Public Schools, but eventually found his way back to Middlesex when he landed a teaching job at Christchurch School.
From there he went on to a successful career in real estate and land development and eventually founded Jacob’s Ladder, a nonprofit group dedicated to giving gifted, at-risk children learning opportunities through summer camp enrichment settings.
That’s not all he has done. In 1976 when Saluda resident Tom Hardin was going about starting the Middlesex Youth Basketball League (MYBL), Hall was one of the first coaches in the league and served on the first MYBL board of directors. He coached Doc Jones Used Auto Parts for seven years and his team won the first league championship, said Hardin.
“I don’t know that I could have gotten the league off the ground without Aubrey,” said Hardin. “It took a great deal of coordination between the schools and board of supervisors for us to get permission to use the gymnasiums and Aubrey knew who to talk to and he knew what to say.”
Even before the MYBL was founded, Hall and his brother-in-law Archie Soucek had started a weekend basketball program for underprivileged children. “We used a Christchurch School bus to go pick them up and got permission to use the school gym on Saturdays,” he said.
Hall grew up singing in the youth music program at Zoar Baptist Church and started out majoring in music at the University of Richmond. When he graduated he had switched his major to education, with a minor in music and he had earned a certificate to teach physical education.
“I have always loved music and I have made it a point for music to always be a part of my life,” he said.
Since 1968 and for 55 years, Hall has been the choir director at Urbanna Baptist Church and has over the years directed numerous special community music programs at Christmas time and at other times of the year.
In 1986, Hall and his wife Margie, along with pastor Don Reid and his wife Sarah, took a group of young people from Urbanna Baptist Church on a mission trip to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. They provided Bible study and other activities for children of migrant workers.
It was on that trip that Aubrey came back home with the notion there was a real need for a program like Jacob’s Ladder. “Jacob’s Ladder is an enrichment program for children who are deemed to be at risk and who are also identified as gifted by their school systems,” said Hall.
“When I got home from the Eastern Shore it struck me having taught for 12 years that there were some real bright kids there stuck in that environment with zero opportunity to get out of it,” he said. “I saw a need but at first I had no idea how to approach the problem.”
One day while taking a walk on Virginia Street and thinking about the problem “a light bulb came on and I got the idea of having a summer enrichment camp for at risk and gifted children,” he said.
Since the start of Jacob’s Ladder in 1990, the program has served nearly 400 elementary and middle school children resulting in participants receiving $20 million in scholarships for their secondary and college educations.
“The enrichment camp provides a great deal of opportunity for these kids,” he said. “Ninety-four percent of our students have gone to college and the rest have mostly gone into the military. How successful they have been is amazing!”
Friends of Urbanna
Hall is also president of Friends of Urbanna, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the Town of Urbanna’s circa 1763 Scottish Factor Store. It is the only English Scottish Factors Store building of its kind still standing in the United States.
“There is a need for a $250,000 structural restoration of the building,” said Hall. “We are working with a number of organizations to find funds to restore the building.”
Hall has already spearheaded successful grant proposals through River Counties Community Foundation to fund an engineering study of the building and has also obtained grant funds to reconstruct the interior of the building to what it was in colonial days.
“We have several grant proposals out there for the $250,000 renovation project,” he said. “This is perhaps the only colonial Scottish Factors mercantile store left in America. I think we will be able to find the funding to preserve this treasure.”
As grand marshal, Hall will ride in the Fireman’s Parade on Frid
ay night of the festival and in Saturday’s Oyster Festival Parade and he will attend other events associated with the 2023 festival.
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