LARGO — The woods that surround and shade Heritage Village, the county's living history museum, are slightly less thick now that workers have cut down five pine trees.
But the thinning was for a good cause: to make room for construction of the McKay Creek Boat Shop, a building that will celebrate the nautical history of Pinellas County and feature wooden boats created by Tampa Bay boat builders.
"We never want to lose trees, so we took down as few as we could,'' said Ellen Babb, director of Heritage Village. "And now we can begin grubbing the land to lay the foundation.''
The impetus for building a boat shop was Honey, a wooden Snipe boat built by renowned boat builder Clark Mills. Mills had built the boat in Clearwater back in 1947 for his friend Francis Seavy, and Seavy, sailing Honey, went on to win dozens of regattas in the United States, Europe and the Caribbean.
In April 2011, Seavy's nephew, Gene Fleming of Dunedin, wanted to donate the vintage boat to Heritage Village. However, he learned the museum did not have a building to keep it in. So Fleming approached the Pinellas County Historical Society about starting a fundraising effort for a boathouse.
"We thought the boathouse was very valuable to Heritage Village,'' said Rosemarie Kafer, president of the Historical Society. "Boating, fishing, sponging, it is all such an important part of our history here.''
With help from friends at the Clearwater Yacht Club, Fleming succeeded. Within the last 21 months, $39,000 has been raised.
And although it was a paid Pinellas County tree crew that worked on the site last week, most of the rest of the work, including the design and build-out of the structure, is being donated, Babb said.
"This is an incredible private-public partnership with people like Michael Jones (a Clearwater boat builder) and Ed Hoffman of Hoffman Architects and Ed Proefke of Proefke Construction,'' Babb said.
On Saturday, members of the Pinellas County Historical Society and the St. Petersburg Woodcrafters Guild went through an orientation so they can begin the construction work.
Along with the Honey, the McKay Creek Boat Shop will display other wooden boats that figured into Pinellas history, including a Sun Cat, an Optimist Pram and a Windmill, all designed by Clark Mills.
There will also be a smaller, air-conditioned display room to house vintage racing trophies, photos and other memorabilia. An oral history project featuring early Pinellas boat builders and others in the industry will eventually become a component of the boat shop project as well.
Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.