William & Catharine Owens were Mathews citizens and philanthropists whose significant donations made the Williams Wharf project possible; the mountains of oyster shells from the Billups oyster cannery were a landmark at Williams Wharf for decades; the framework for the Owens Maritime Education and Rowing Center is completed;  and this artist rendering shows the finished building.

OUR MISSION

Our mission honors the history of Williams Wharf and Mathews County by providing public access to the waterfront and waterways of the Chesapeake Bay. With an emphasis on non-motorized watercraft activities for rowing, sailing, and kayaking, we promote conservation, maritime education, cultural experiences, environmental stewardship, tourism and economic impacts to benefit the citizens of Mathew County. 

WHO WE ARE: 400 YEARS IN THE MAKING

We are a non-profit 501(c)3 organization that relies on donations, grants and use fees for general operations expenses. No local tax dollars are received from Mathews County.

And we came into being as a result of a foreclosure!

The history of the Wharf includes centuries of use as a trading center and port of call for sailing ships and steamboats. In the 1930s, seafood businesses thrived, especially with oysters, and mountains of oyster shells formed a waterfront skyline. In the 1950s, with the seafood industry in decline, oil companies moved in with a dock and trucking activities.

But by the 1990s, these businesses, too, closed their doors. Following the closing of the oil business, and a bankruptcy hearing, the property went to foreclosure with a judge at the federal courthouse in Norfolk in 1994.

The top bid was from a company that wanted to turn Williams Wharf into a gravel storage and distribution center.
As you can imagine, this kind of use may have had a significant negative impact on the waterfront and the surrounding areas, as well as the road, since heavy traffic and trucking would be involved.

Fortunately for the neighborhood and future generations of rowers, tourists and families, two representatives from a small, newly created non-profit in Mathews County showed up with a different idea.
After it seemed there was no chance for them to prevail, their offer was accepted, and Williams Wharf became the home of the non-profit 501(c)3 Mathews Land Conservancy and the Mathews High School crew team. Marine contractor and Mathews resident Jim Smith and Mathews High School crew coach Tim Ulsaker, the founders of the Mathews Land Conservancy, had created a new chapter in the history of Williams Wharf.

Their vision was to preserve and protect the land and to build facilities for public access to the waterfront and educational and recreational activities related to Mathews’ maritime history and culture.
Working with this vision, a board of directors began to seek donations and grants. Progress began and continued after receiving more than $2 million in state and federal grants, $2 million from individual donors and foundations and a total of more than $4 million from the William F. and Catharine K. Owens Foundation over nearly 20 years.

Today, the shoreline and environmental damage has been repaired, a community building, fishing pier, floating dock, pavilion and walkways provide a place for residents and tourists alike to enjoy rowing, kayaking, sailing, fishing and special programs.

Following a lengthy permitting process with public hearings, legal requirements and extensive planning, design and engineering stages, the Owens Maritime Education and Rowing Center is under construction. When complete, it will serve as a regional educational and recreational center for waterfront and maritime education activities that will benefit Mathews residents and visitors for generations to come. 

A 501(c)3 non-profit Organization

The Mathews Land Conservancy is headquartered at Williams Wharf Landing in Mathews County and is governed by a Board of Directors:

Tim Hudgins, President
Chuck Dawson, Vice President
Christine Dehnert, Treasurer
Christine Ober Bridge, Director
Tom Lakin, Director
Danette Machen, Director


Lynda Smith Greve, General Operations Manager