The old waterman stood in his work boat recalling the days when his side of now-prosperous downtown Annapolis was a dingy neighborhood known as Hell Point.
Where the modern offices of the city's harbormaster now stand, there was a 40-foot-tall mountain of discarded oyster shells. Where out-of-towners now sip and puff in one restaurant's Dock Side Cigar Lounge, there was a stove-heated row house in which a midwife delivered him and his five siblings into the world.
"There wasn't no tourists around here then, that's for sure," said 69-year-old Charles Meiklejohn. "If there was, they was lost."
Now, six decades after Meiklejohn's father first taught him the arts of tonging oysters and catching crabs, he finds himself getting pushed out by progress. Time and technology have dispersed all of the other watermen who once plied their trade from the City Dock. He and his adopted son, Skippy Parkinson, are the last watermen left there. And the city now wants to move them from the spots they rent for $50 a month, saying they must move their two boats to make room for an excursion boat company that can pay "full market rate" -- $500 a month -- for the waterfront space.
Controversy and soul-searching have resulted.
More than 1,800 people have rallied to Meiklejohn's side, signing petitions beseeching the city to let Meiklejohn and his son stay. His supporters note that Meiklejohn, a Korean War combat veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart, is suffering from cancer of the larynx and shouldn't be hassled at this point in his life. They suggest he is being sacrificed on the altar of the almighty dollar.
"It's about money, money, money," said Skippy Parkinson, as he flipped blue crabs into a wooden box alongside his boat one morning this week.
Harbormaster Ric Ingraham rejected that view; he said the issue is one of fairness.
"Mr. Meiklejohn isn't being put out of the harbor. He's being asked to move about 90 feet down the dock. I don't blame him for fighting it, but I also don't think its really good for the city that one family feels that 60 feet of public dock space should be reserved for them."
Meiklejohn replies that the space that he is being told to move to is only 26 feet long, while his boat is 36 feet long. His boat, he says, will be sticking into the dock space of the Fleet Reserve Club, a private facility. And there would be no room for his son's boat.
At the heart of the problem is the revival of Annapolis's economy over the last half century. With good intentions, Hell Point has been paved over in the name of historic preservation.
Starting in 1952, a group of farsighted citizens and businessmen systematically saved Annapolis's historic buildings and refurbished its waterfront. In the process, they transformed Annapolis from a declining port into an international attraction. An estimated 3 million visitors a year now come to the city, most of them drawn by its historic ambiance.
But as in other cities such as Charleston, S.C., San Antonio and Santa Fe, N.M., what preservationists call a "mature heritage tourism industry" has a peculiar way of undermining itself.
"Is our popularity driving out the very things that make people come here in the first place?" asked Ann Fligsten, the president of Historic Annapolis. "Is the public willing to subsidize watermen now that the market has gone in another direction?"
Peggy Wall, president of the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Vistors Bureau, said, "I think it would be unfortunate to see [Meiklejohn's] boat move, but I don't have an answer for the city on the revenue question. This is an important discussion that the city needs to have."
Bill O'Gara, the tour boat operator who wants to put his charter boat, Half Shell, in City Dock, thinks a compromise is possible. He says he is perfectly willing to pay full market rate of $500 a month but has no desire to see the Meiklejohns displaced.
"The last thing in the world we want to do is drive out the last waterman in Annapolis," he said. "We want to promote the maritime heritage of the Chesapeake Bay."
The Half Shell, he said, is a refurbished "buyboat," a type of vessel that was used to purchase bushels of oysters and crabs from watermen while they were still out on the water.
O'Gara said that he has proposed to the city that the Half Shell dock in the space adjacent to Meiklejohn's boat that is now occupied by the Stanley Norman, a skipjack owned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
"If we could sublease from the foundation while their boat is out on the bay, we would get to do some business, the foundation would get a lower rate, and the Meiklejohns would not have to move," he said.
Foundation officials could not be reached for comment.
Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson (R) said that he is sympathetic to the watermen's plight but that city law requires the dock to accommodate boats willing to pay market rates. "I would dearly love to find ways to get all these vessels in," Johnson said.
CAPTION: Charles Meiklejohn, left, talks fishing with Earl White. Meiklejohn and his son, Skippy Parkinson, are the last watermen left at the City Dock.
CAPTION: Meiklejohn works in his 1953 vintage boat. The city wants him to move the craft so the space can be rented to an excursion boat company.
CAPTION: Charles Meiklejohn's battle to stay at City Dock in Annapolis has drawn hundreds of supporters who have signed petitions to the city.