Howard Clifton Eley, 77, a contractor and builder in Queen Anne on the Eastern Shore of Maryland who was active in church and civic work, died of cancer Friday at Easton Memorial Hospital in Easton, Md.

Mr. Eley was born in Bern, Ind., and moved to the Eastern Shore with his family when he was a boy. He attended the University of Maryland and then taught industrial arts in public schools on the Eastern Shore for seven years.

In 1932, he founded the Eley Lumber Co. in Queen Anne in Talbot County. Among the buildings he constructed in the course of his career was the Tidewater Inn in Easton. He also carried out the restoration of several old homes in the area as well as building many new ones. He remained active in the business until his death.

Mr. Eley was an enthusiastic sportsman and wrote two books on hunting wildfowl, "The Wonderful World of Gunning" and "Ducks and Decoys."

His civic activities included an unsuccessful effort to win the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1962. He also was president of the board of directors of Easton Memorial Hospital, president of the Easton Rotary Club, chairman of the Talbot County Economic Development Committee, and membership in numerous other organizations.

He helped restore St. Johns Episcopal Church in Hillsboro, Md., and was a member of the Queen Anne-Hillsboro Methodist Church and superintendent of its Sunday School for 11 years. He was a student of the Civil War and of the life of Abraham Lincoln.

His wife, the former Elizabeth Barton Jump, whom he married in 1926, died in 1977.

Survivors include two daughters, Mrs. Lloyd Fleming and Mrs. Alfred B. Kagan Jr., both of Easton; two brothers, Clarence Paul Eley, of Cape Coral, Fla., and Walter Roger Eley, of Smyrna, Del.; three sisters, Gladys Ellen Cronshaw, of Chestertown, Md., Clara Pearl Sparr, of Smyrna, and Ortha Mae Huffington, of Easton, and five grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society or to the Heart Fund.