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Calvert Marine Museum
The J. C. Lore Oyster House is a rare, intact example of a vernacular seafood-packing plant of the early twentieth century. In this period Maryland was the country’s leading oyster producer. The Lore Oyster House was the second largest of approximately thirty-five oyster packing companies located along the Patuxent River, a Chesapeake Bay tributary. The Lore family operated their business from 1888–1978, making it the longest continuously operating house on the Patuxent River.
By the mid-nineteenth century, overharvesting in New York and New England had shifted oyster harvesting south, to the abundant Chesapeake Bay. By the 1880s, seventy-five percent of U.S. oysters came from the Chesapeake Bay, of which Maryland supplied fifty percent. Improvements in canning technology and the expansion of the railroad across the United States allowed the perishable oyster to be safely transported to tables across the country, thus increasing demand.
Joseph Lore Sr. of New Jersey founded the company in 1888 when he came to Solomons to purchase and ship oysters to buyers in Philadelphia. In 1922, he had a packing house erected on “The Narrows,” a tributary of the Patuxent River, but a 1933 hurricane caused so much damage to the original structure that it had to be demolished. Lore worked with an unknown contractor to design a new packing house with a functional and efficient layout of the work space, which was completed in 1934. Although it was built in the same location as the prior one to accommodate fresh seafood purchased directly from fishing boats, the new J. C. Lore Oyster House had a second floor, where the administrative offices were located above the potential reach of flood waters. The packing house consisted of the main, two-story frame structure with a one-story wing to the side; a one-story, concrete-block addition was built to the rear in 1965.
After Joseph Lore Sr.’s death in 1945, his sons took over the business until it closed in 1978. The Lore business made “Patuxent” oysters famous, selling their canned oysters to local buyers in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., either via delivery or parcel post. They also supplied grocery store chains like Kroger and ACME markets. The Lores also dealt in crabs, shad, and, briefly, sturgeon caviar, during the off season. With the packing house’s closure in 1978, Calvert County purchased the building for the Calvert Marine Museum, and it remains in use as a museum exhibit.
The Lores’ packing house, with its streamlined efficiency, was heralded in trade literature as “modern in every respect” and for its cleanliness. Boats delivered the oysters to the receiving room at the rear of the building. Workers would then load wheelbarrows with oysters and take them into one of two shucking rooms lined with shucking tables. The shuckers, who were generally immigrant or African American women or children, then went to work extracting the oyster meat by hand and sorting it by size. The shucker took the filled bucket to a pass-through window opening to the processing room, where the oysters were dumped onto the skimming table and rinsed. The weights of shucked oysters were tallied for each shucker to determine payment. Once the oyster meat had been rinsed, it was dumped into a blow tank to clean it of any residual sand, shell, or dirt. The oyster meat was then scooped out and placed on another skimming table to drain before being packed into cans. If the packed oysters were not immediately shipped out, they were loaded into one of the cold storage rooms in the shipping room. The J. C. Lore Oyster House still contains some of the equipment used in the canning process.
Dodds, Richard J., and Robert J. Hurry. “It Ain’t Like It Was Then”: The Seafood Packing Industry of Southern Maryland. Solomons, MD: Calvert Marine Museum, 2006.
Eshelman, Ralph, “J. C. Lore Oyster House,” Calvert County, Maryland. National Historic Landmark Nomination Form 1993. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.
Johnson, Paula J., ed. Working the Water: The Commercial Fisheries of Maryland’s Patuxent River. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1988.
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