Maritime Museum Moving Fast

by Becky Billingsley

Just three months from the time when the South Carolina Maritime Museum committee learned of the availability of space at 729 Front St., the building’s lower level has been purchased and a crew of construction workers are working at a furious pace to have it ready for visitors at the 22nd Annual Wooden Boat Show on Oct. 15.

The museum won’t be finished by then, but its new director, Susan Sanders, says the layout will be completed enough so visitors can come in and see how it’s taking shape.

If Sanders’ name sounds familiar, it’s because she used to live in Georgetown and was a business owner here. Originally from Elizabeth City, N.C., Sanders grew up in Alexandria, Va., and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a degree in math. She worked for 18 years in Greensboro as a draftsman, then as a computer programmer, at a steel fabrication company before taking a 2-year leave of absence to earn a master’s degree in business at Wake Forest University.

In 1988 she and her partner, Len Anderson, decided to launch their own business and started a custom embroidery service in Oriental, N.C., called Harbor Specialties.

“Six years later we were passing through Georgetown on our way to a trade show,” Sanders said. “Georgetown had built the Harborwalk and was completing the streetscape, and we were so taken with what Georgetown was doing, we packed up and moved here for what we saw as the grand opening of the waterfront. We opened Harbor Specialties at 732 Front St., where the Rice Paddy is now, on May 1, 1993.”

During that first year Sanders and Anderson lived in Georgetown, they became friends with Sid Hood and Sally Swineford of The River Room. Hood and Anderson worked together on the Wooden Boat Show, which at the time was part of Bayfest, and by 1995 the men had created a separate event for the Wooden Boat Show.

“That was the beginning of the Harbor Historical Association,” Sanders said. “We formed a 501c3 organization, and that became the non-profit that put on the Wooden Boat Show.”

By 1996 a boat building challenge was added to the Wooden Boat Show, and that is when Sanders became involved in the festival.

“That’s when the boat show really grew, and we had to get serious about sponsors and raising some money. We had such strong community support we started making money and putting it away toward our maritime museum. We have been putting money away every year, and we really saved a substantial amount toward an opportunity to buy or invest in real estate and have a real maritime museum.”

In 1999 Sanders and Anderson moved to Charleston to open another Harbor Specialties store, and then in 2005 they relocated to Beaufort, N.C. to launch another shop. But while they were away, the couple maintained their ties and friendships in Georgetown, and remained involved in the Wooden Boat Show. When the opportunity arose for Sanders to come back to Georgetown to be the museum director, neither she nor Anderson hesitated.

They still have Harbor Specialties in Beaufort, but employees are running it. The couple, who have been together 41 years and own a Cape Dory 19 sailboat, now are living in the Fogle Building on Front Street just steps away from her new project.

Right now Sanders’ duties include overseeing building renovations. The 5,000 square- foot space, which has been unused for some 20 years, has its restrooms walled in, where vintage-looking black and white tiles are being installed. A kitchen also has its walls up, where food can be prepared for museum special events.

The new museum director is also eager to determine a fiscal budget, make a timeline for construction completion and the museum’s opening, and establish a fund-raising campaign to pay for the building’s mortgage. Sanders is also thinking about exhibits, and toward that end will be working closely with area resident, historian and boater Robert “Mac” McAlister who recently had a book published titled “Wooden Ships on Winyah Bay.”

“We’ve got so much history around the beginning of the 20th century with the logging industry and logging schooners, the birth of Georgetown and Port Royal, and the beginning of the shipping industry in South Carolina. It’s going to be the South Carolina Maritime Museum, so it will reach beyond Georgetown. There are a number of significant stories of how this whole coast became busy with indigo, rice and ship- building. In conjunction with artifacts, we’ll have stories to tell with photography and interactive exhibits. We’ll make it dynamic.”

In recent years Sanders has visited many East Coast maritime museums to gather ideas and information. Already the museum committee – basically the same dozen or so hard- working citizens who plan the Wooden Boat Show – has boat models and photographs that will become part of the exhibits. When the museum Web site is completed – – there will be a page where people who have possible exhibit additions can fill out a form and send in photos so the items can be considered for inclusion by a screening committee.

The Web site also will have a place for donations. The goal is to have the museum open in 2012, and annual memberships start at $40 for individuals, and business memberships will range from $250 to $300. Sanders can be reached at (877) 285-3888, and anyone wishing to make a donation before the Web site is finished can mail a check made out to the SC Maritime Museum to P.O. Box 2228, Georgetown, S.C., 29442.