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Waterfront events leader John England named Oyster Festival Grand Marshal

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John England of Kilmer’s Point has been named the 2016 Urbanna Oyster Festival Grand Marshal. Above, England is pictured in the cabin of the restored buyboat “F.D. Crockett.” (Photo by Larry Chowning)

by Larry Chowning

The Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation has named John England of Kilmer’s Point near Urbanna as the grand marshal of the 2016 festival, which is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, November 4-5.

A longtime building contractor, England has been co-chair and chair of the Oyster Festival’s waterfront activities since 1992, and was co-founder of “Education Day” that started in 1993.

Education Day is the predecessor to the festival’s Marine Science Legacy Program. Part of that program includes educating area school children on the Chesapeake Bay’s environment and culture. Education Day is held annually on the Thursday before the festival begins on Friday. Elementary students from area schools come to the waterfront where educational and cultural exhibits are on display at the town marina.

England was the main boatwright on the restoration of “F.D. Crockett,” a log-hulled Chesapeake Bay buyboat built in 1924 and currently owned by the Deltaville Maritime Museum. England is on the board of directors of the museum and is captain of the Crockett, which often travels the bay region as an ambassador for promoting the museum and Middlesex County. The Crockett is an annual visitor to the Oyster Festival and is always open for public tours.

“I know Education Day has made an impact when I have an adult visit the Crockett at the museum, and he or she says to me, ‘You know, I went on that boat when I was in the fourth grade during Oyster Festival’s Education Day,’ ” said England. “They often keep talking about other things, but they always remember Education Day. It happens real often.”

England was born and raised in Hingham, Massachusetts. He moved to the region in the 1960s to work at Newport News Shipyard. He was first introduced to Urbanna in 1966 when he visited Urbanna boat builder Joe Conboy, who was building the yacht “Norwal” in the back portion of old Taylor Motor Company, which is today Urbanna Harbor Gallery on Virginia Street.

In 1971 England moved to Urbanna to work for Conboy. His first weeks in town were spent in Ada Burton’s Boarding House on Watling Street, which is today the Urbanna Baptist Church parsonage.

He later left Conboy and went to work at Urbanna Lumber Company where he worked for four and a half years with longtime house builders Joe Major, Jesse Thrift and George Williams. 

In 1978 he founded John England Builder Inc. and became one of the main home builders in Middlesex County.

England was appointed as the Saluda District representative on the county planning commission in 1992 and still serves on the commission. Throughout the years he also has served as commission chair.

Although England did not make his living as a boat builder, he has built numerous historical, wooden, small-craft vessels and annually attends the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Meet at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Md. He and his wife Vera coordinate the annual Urbanna Small Boat Meet that started on Urbanna Creek in the 1980s, but is now held on the Piankatank River at Freeport in Gloucester County.

John and Vera have been married since 1973 and have two children, Lacey and Hannah, and three grandchildren.

“We are very excited to have John as our grand marshal,” said Oyster Festival chair Joe Heyman. “He has meant a great deal to the foundation through his dedicated work at the waterfront.

“The waterfront has become a popular and important aspect of the festival and much of that can be credited to John,” said Heyman. “He has been responsible for securing one big boat a year for the festival, and he has brought some amazing boats to our festival.”

posted 09.21.2016

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