Millard Hart

Millard Hart (Jim Burger Photo, Baltimore Sun)

Millard R. Hart Sr., a retired master woodworker and lifelong tugboat enthusiast, died May 11 of congestive heart failure at the Maples, a Towson assisted-living facility.

The longtime Hamilton resident was 85.

Millard Raymond Hart born at his family's Belt Street home in Locust Point. His father, James F. Hart, was captain of the tug A.G. Laun, and his mother was a homemaker.

Mr. Hart demonstrated an aptitude for woodworking and he studied at the old Thomas A. Edison Vocational High School at Howard and Centre streets

"I didn't have to draw anything," he told Jim Burger, a Baltimore photographer and writer in a recent interview. "I'd visualize it in my head and then build it."

Despite his talent, he hoped to follow in his father's footsteps and become a tugboat captain.

"When I was a teenager, my father would take me on the Laun and I'd work with the crew. There were nine of us and a cook. I had to shine the brass and keep the bunks made. If I did that, he'd let me steer for a while," he told Mr. Burger.

"Sometimes we'd stay out for two weeks at a time, working the Patuxent down to Norfolk and then up the James River," he said.

His mother objected to him pursuing that career, so he became a carpenter.

"I knew his dad real well," said Herbert Groh, 92, one of the port's tugboat captains, who retired from Curtis Bay Towing Co.

"Millard wanted to be a tug captain in the worst way, but his mother said no. She'd say, 'I'm scared when he goes out with his father for only a day,'" Mr. Groh said. "I thought he was a lot like his dad and a great guy to be around."

Mr. Hart worked for League Lumber Co. and eventually Walbrook Lumber Co., where he was a layout man and foreman for seven years.

When a recession came along in 1975, he left Walbrook and opened the Walz & Hart Manufacturing Co. at 1623 Aliceanna St. in Fells Point with partner Hans Walz.

Eventually, they dissolved their partnership, and Mr. Hart operated the business on his own.

Mr. Hart's shop became home to a number of waterfront characters who were drawn there, no doubt, by a refrigerator that was always stocked with beer. He also had a jukebox and pinball machine for entertainment.

His Christmas parties were legend, as was his general offbeat nature, right down to the shop having no number on the door, said Mr. Burger.

"I would tell customers to come up Broadway, turn on Aliceanna, and when you get to the door with no number, you're there," he told Mr. Burger.

Mr. Hart's business thrived as he fashioned cornices and other replacement woodwork for those restoring Fells Point houses and storefronts. Numerous area bars have back-bars that show his careful and detailed craftsmanship.

He also did renovation work for Baltimore tugboat companies.

"He'd come down to Curtis Bay Towing when we needed replacement doors and windows for tugs, and Millard would make them," said Mr. Groh, who lives in Catonsville.