Posts Tagged With: shipbuilding

The Territory of Perkins Maine

The Kennebec River at Swan Island ca 1900

1890 topographic map of Swan Island

Maine is unique in that we have more unorganized territories than most of the other states in the union, with the exception of Alaska. Most of these unorganized territories are uninhabited, and lie to the northern and western regions of the state. One territory in particular lies in the more heavily inhabited portions of Maine, that being what is known as Perkins Township, located on Swan’s Island in the Kennebec River.

Perkins was initially settled in the mid 1700’s and became an incorporated township in 1847 when Thomas Handasyd Perkins, a summer resident paid for the costs of incorporating as a community in the state of Maine. During the 1800’s, Perkins was a small but thriving community with a brisk trade in shipbuilding and ice harvesting. As the 19th century came to a close, industry and interest drew people away from the town and by 1918, Perkins had become an un-incorporated township. After the ravages of the depression and WWII, not to mention the increasing levels of pollution in the Kennebec, Perkins was left with few residents and the last family left by the mid 1940’s.

At the turn of the century (1900), the US census listed just 61 full time residents, and by 1920, the population had dwindled to just 20 full timers.

The1890 topographic map here shows that there was quite a bit of activity, so what happened to all of the residents? One may surmise that people tend to go where the money is, and with the world changing as rapidly as it was during the last few years of the 19th century, there just was not any money to be made on Swans Island.

Dresden and Gardiner, during the ice harvesting heyday contained some of the largest ice companies in the northeast. Much of the ice was harvested on both sides of the island, with houses lining the banks in both Dresden and Richmond. Very few were built on the island itself, but many of the residents were occupied in the labor end of the ice trade.

Shipbuilding was a larger part of the island commerce, and could be conducted year round to some extent. One of the main components missing from the community was a bridge linking the island to the mainland. A bridge is a connection to the rest of society, and a community can feel left out of the rest of society if that link does not exist.

When the area was first visited by the Europeans, mainly the English, the island was occupied by the Canibis Indians, of whom the great Chief Kennebis (Sebenoa?), who was said to have resided on the island opposite of where the town of Richmond now lies [1]. There were an estimated 1500 braves living on the island at the time [2].

Varney writes[3]:

Perkins in Sagadahoc County, lies in the Kennebec River between Richmond on the west bank and Dresden in Lincoln County, on the east. Its length is about 3 miles and 4 miles in width. It bore the name of Swan Island almost from the time when it was first known until its separation from Dresden and incorporation under its present name in 1847. It lies 14 miles north of Bath, on the line of the Kennebec, Portland and Boston steamers. The nearest railroad station is at East Bowdoinham for the southern part and Richmond village for the northern. The town is mostly level, and is well wooded and fertile. When first discovered by Europeans, the island was the residence of Sebenoa, the sachem of the lower Kennebec. Col. Church and his men in 1692 had a conflict wjth a large body of savages at this place, in which the Indians were routed, some escaping to the mainland, and some to their fort at Teconnet, near Waterville.

The post-office for the town is Richmond. Perkins has one public schoolhouse, valued at $600. The valuation of estates in 1870 was $36,792. In 1880 it was $37,594. The population in 1870 was 71. In 1880 it was 78.

Having been obviously settled to a great extent by the whites prior to the 1800s, the island was at the time a sort of river-way trading settlement, with agriculture being the main industry. There must have been a great deal of traffic in fact, as we find a historical reference as to a Dr. McKechnie having treated a patient for small pox in 1764, blood letting other patients and supplying large quantities of drugs to the residents of the island [4].

The presence of a regular physician indicates a community at least large enough to provide an income for the doctor in residence.

It is unfortunate that such a treasure trove of history has been left to return to the wilds without extracting and retaining as much of our heritage as we can. The 1922 State Assessors Report claims that Swan’s and the smaller Alexander Island (Little Swan) that had made up the township of Perkins consisted of 1344 acres of Wildlands valued at a combined total for estates and Wildlands at 16,119,608. Much of the estate land consisted of cottages and farms, with the American Ice Company and the Crosby Navigation companies being the largest commercial owners of land on the island.

The Demaresq house, Swan Island ca 1900

The Barker House, at the foot of Swan Island ca 1900

  1. Varney, George Jones, Gazetteer of the State of Maine, page 295, pub 1881
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid, page 440
  4. Kelly, Howard A., Burrage, Walter L., American Medical Biographies, Page 745, pub 1920
  5. Images ca 1900 from the New England Magazine, Ancient Pownalboro and Her Daughters, Charles E. Allen, pub 1901


Categories: historic buildings, historic preservation, history, Maine, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Shipbuilding in Waterville Maine

When it comes to shipbuilding in Maine, the first community that pops into most people’s noggins is the city of Bath, home to the world renowned Bath Iron Works. Many other communities follow along behind Bath, all of them along the coastline of this state. Therefore, it may well come as a surprise that the city of Waterville, Maine also has a history of shipbuilding, however brief as it was. Long gone are the days when a boat could ply the Kennebec from Skowhegan all the way to its mouth betwixt Phippsburg and Georgetown, thence to points elsewhere along the coast.

As early as 1794 ships were built in what was then a small village along the river, and they were launched with the spring freshets, with many orders coming from Boston. Also scores of smaller boats, such as the flat bottomed shallow draft steamboats were built which plied the Kennebec on a daily basis, transporting freight and passengers up and down the river. Construction of a lock and dam was completed in Augusta in 1837, thereby increasing the ability of larger vessels to come and go along the river during the warmer months. During the winter this same river, especially below Augusta enjoyed a thriving ice industry.

Most of the shipbuilding firms were located between where Sherwin Street and the Dam below Bridge Street. A careful archeological search may find some remnant of this once vital industry.

The following excerpt from the Centennial History of Waterville, edited by the Rev. Edwin Cary Whittemore in 1902 describes some of the shipbuilding history of Waterville:

What was once a thriving and profitable industry has long since disappeared and been almost forgotten. That Waterville was ever a ship building port will probably be news to many. Not only long boats, for home use, but schooners, brigs and even ships, were built, some as early as 1794. The abundance of ship timber close at hand made it possible to build cheaply and orders were received from Boston and elsewhere. The shipyard of John Clark was at the foot of Sherwin St., next above the yard of Nath’l Gilman, then that of Asa Redington and next north W. & D. Moor’s built many steamboats. It was necessary to launch them, the sea-going vessels, on the spring or fall freshets; they were then floated down river to Hallowell or Gardiner, where they received their rigging and outfit and took their place in the commerce of the country, but never to return to the port whence they started.

The following is probably a complete list with masters and owners.

1794. Schooner Sally, 92 tons, master, Rillae; owner, John Getchell.

1800. Ship Ticonic, 268 tons, master, Geo. Clarke; owner, John Clarke.

1810. Ship Hornet, 214 tons, master Wm. Fletcher; owner, N. B. Dingley.

1818. Brig Dingley, 106 tons, master, Thos. Jones; owner, Nath’l Dingley.

1826. Brig Elizabeth, 182 tons, master, John Sylvester; owner, Johnson Williams.

1805. Brig William Gray, 156 tons, master, Gideon Colcord; owner, Geo. Crosby.

1807. Schooner, Ticonic, 123 tons, master, Daniel Smith; owner, Nath’l Gilman.

1807. Schooner Thomas, 70 tons, master, Levi Palmer; owner, F. P. Stilson.

1810. Schooner James, 117 tons, master, Gideon Colcord; owner, Jas. Stackpole.

1809. Brig America, 136 tons, master, Wm. Pattee; owner, Peleg Tallman.

1809. Brig Madison, 160 tons, master, Caleb Heath; owner, Wm. Sylvester.

18n. Brig Hiram, 142 tons, master, Jos. Lemont.

1812. Sloop Aurora, 61 tons, master, Wm. Poole; owner, Asa Redington.

1814. Francis & Sarah, 290 tons, master, T. S. Winslow; owner, Rob’t G. Shaw.

1824. Brig Gov. King, 138 tons, master, N. Harding; owner, Nath’l Gilman.

1824. Schooner North Star, 107 tons, master, R. Crocker; owner, N. Gilman.

1825. Brig Waterville, 178 tons, master, N. Harding; owner, Johnson Williams.

1826. Brig Lydia, 178 tons, master, J. W. Lamont; owner, Johnson Williams.

1826. Brig Neutrality, 132 tons, master, R. Crooker; owner, Johnson Williams.

1827. Schooner Brilliant, 82 tons, master, R. Brown; owner, K. G. Robinson.

1829. Schooner Martha, 89 tons, master, R. Ellis; owner, Russell Ellis.

1835. Brig Wave, 47 tons, master, John Lewis; owner, J. M. Moor.

After the passing of shipbuilding came the era of steamboats. William and Daniel Moor under the firm name of W. & D. Moor were the leading captains of industry in this line. The first was the Ticonic, built at Gardiner. She made the first trip to Waterville, June 1, 1832, and was received with great demonstrations of rejoicing.

The Water Witch built by W. & D. Moor in 1842 was the first steamer launched in Waterville. It was quickly followed by others and soon a considerable fleet was plying between here and Augusta and Gardiner. In one season five steamers left the wharf daily. They were flat bottomed, of light draft, with stern wheels, and were of about 42 tons burden.

They prospered until the opening of the railroad to Augusta when the doctrine of the “survival of the fittest” relegated them to other scenes.

In 1890 an attempt was made by some of our enterprising citizens to restore steam navigation on the Kennebec. July 10th the steamer City of Waterville sailed from Bangor for this port. She has not yet arrived.

Near its close, the era of steamboats was marked by a terrible accident. May 23, 1848, the steamer Halifax, a new boat and the finest of the fleet, was making her record trip to Augusta; on leaving the lock the boiler exploded and six persons were killed and others severely wounded. Of the dead James Hasty, the pilot, and Vedo Micue, fireman, resided here.

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