Tag Archives: Shipbuilding

LAUNCH! Shipwrecks of the Kennebunks

shipwrecks Launch hi

A LAUNCH! Event presented by Kennebunkport Conservation Trust at the Clement Clark Boathouse adjacent to the site of the Old Perkins Grist Mill on Mill Lane in Kennebunkport. An Illustrated Lecture: Barbara Barwise and Sharon Cummins will share Kennebunk River Maritime History, photographs and details of local shipwrecks from 1770 to 1921. The Wandby near Walker’s Point, The Governor Robie at Timber Island, The Enpress near St. Ann’s, The Horace and The Industry at Kennebunk Beach, The limer, Carrie G. Crosby at Parson’s Beach, The Mildred V. Nunan at Turbat’s Creek – to name just a few. The Clement Clark’s Boathouse where Booth Tarkington’s 45 foot speedboat, ‘Zantre’, built by local boat builder Clement L. Clark was launched in June of 1930. The Boathouse is just a short walk from Dock Square and the Municipal Parking Lot.  Donations are requested to help save the Town House School. Please park at the Municipal Parking Lot on North Street, Kennebunkport.

Mutiny and murder on the Jefferson Borden

The ultimate act of malcontents

The first three-masted schooner ever built on the Kennebunk River was the 533-ton Jefferson Borden. She was launched from the Lower Village shipyard of David Clark on Oct. 19,1867. After a wreck near Miami, Fla. in 1870, the Jefferson Borden was rebuilt and sold to new owners.

Her master, Capt. William Manson Patterson of Edgecomb, owned a one-third share of the schooner and he protected his investment by sailing her hard and often. On almost every voyage, the captain was accompanied by his wife, Emma. In contrast to the seamen’s quarters, the captain’s quarters onboard was reportedly as elegant as any cabin on any merchant vessel afloat. Patterson’s brother Corydon and his cousin Charles served as first and second mate, respectively.

In the spring of 1875 they sailed from New Orleans for London with a cargo of cotton-seed oil cake. Besides the usual family members the crew consisted of the German steward/cook, Albert Aiken, a French cabin boy, Henry Mailluende, and four sailors who had just been hired in New Orleans. Seaman George Miller was described in contemporary newspaper articles as a “large Russian Finn.” Ephraim W. Clark of Rockland went by the alias, William Smith, on this trip. John Glew was from Nottingham, England and Jacob Lingar was a Swede.

It was recorded in the captain’s log that Miller, the Russian, had been insubordinate just a few days out and he was clapped in irons for 48 hours. No further disciplinary measures were recorded, but on the 47th night at sea, Miller’s discontentment again came to a head — the first mate’s head, to be precise.

While Patterson, Emma and the cook were fast asleep on the night of the April 20, 1875, the Russian sailor hit Corydon Patterson over the head with an iron strap, killing him instantly. Young Henry, the cabin boy, hid below when the trouble started. Jacob Lingar was occupied at the wheel from where, he later claimed, he did not see or hear the assault.

Clark and Glew helped Miller toss the mate’s body overboard. Then Glew cut the jib sheet while Clark went to inform the second mate that the jib sheet had parted. When Charles Patterson was trying to secure the jib Ephraim Clark pushed him overboard to his death.

The captain was unaware of what had happened on deck. When George Miller knocked on his cabin door and asked him to come on deck right away, as someone had broken a leg, Emma became suspicious. Normally, one of the mates would have delivered such news. She begged her husband not to go out into the night and he locked himself in the cabin with her until daybreak.

Patterson emerged from his cabin in the morning wielding a shotgun and a revolver and demanding to know where the officers were. With the help of the steward, he succeeded in seriously wounding all three mutineers and restraining them in the forecastle. Fearing for their lives, the mutineers finally admitted to murdering Patterson’s kin.

With the assistance of a sailor from a passing vessel the remaining crew managed to sail the Jefferson Borden to London. There the prisoners were given medical attention and passage back to Boston to stand trial. Clark and Miller were convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged. Glew was convicted of a lesser crime, the penalty for which was 10 years in prison.

After the trial, it was revealed that the Jefferson Borden had been overloaded with cargo and was one crewman short right from the beginning. She was leaking badly and in addition to their regular duties her overburdened crew was ordered to pump her continuously — each crew member, at times, working for 36 hours straight.

The drinking water onboard was made brackish soon after they left New Orleans when a storm  splashed salt water into the casks on deck. The crewmen were allowed one cup each of the brackish water a day and very little to eat — while the captain, his wife and the two mates lived luxuriously in comparison. The crewmen had also been severely beaten by the officers almost every day for even the slightest hint of defiance.

The steward, Albert Aiken, who had been with the Pattersons for nearly two years and had testified on the captain’s behalf at trial, finally admitted to the press that it was Patterson’s modus operandi to starve and abuse his crewmen to such an extent that as soon as they made port on the way out, they would run away to avoid the return passage. This way Patterson did not have to part with their wages. In all the voyages Aiken had been on with Patterson, he had never seen a single seaman stay for the return passage.

Before the Jefferson Borden left New Orleans on that fateful voyage, customs officials had come aboard to arrest the captain for abusing the previous crew. But Patterson managed to avoid capture and as soon as the officials had left, he set sail even though the schooner was barely seaworthy.

The last straw to swing public support behind the convicted mutineers was on the Jefferson Borden’s first voyage after the trial. The vessel had to be towed into port because her crew was too feeble to sail her in, with all suffering from starvation.

A petition was drawn up and submitted to President Grant to pardon the two sailors on death row. Their sentences were commuted to life in Thomaston Prison. Miller died in confinement in 1894. Ephraim Clark’s sentence was reduced again in 1903 to time served — by President Roosevelt after the Atlantic Seaman’s Union pressed for his release.

Patterson continued as master of the Jefferson Borden until 1883 and never faced any legal consequences for his inhumane treatment of the hundreds of sailors that crewed for him over the years.

History of the Saco River tugboat A. G. Prentiss

AG Prentiss – A Nautical Workhorse

Paul Larivierre, owner of Southern Maine Marine in Arundel, believes he has recovered the huge propeller of the tugboat A. G. Prentiss — from the Saco River where, according to local tradition, she grounded and burned.

In a recent conversation Larivierre said “The A.G. Prentiss towed derelict vessels back and forth in front of the Biddeford Pool Gun Battery for target practice.” Biddeford Pool was under the umbrella of the Portland Harbor Defense Command in World War II. A temporary battery of four 155mm guns was emplaced at East Point from 1942-1945.

Tugboats played an integral role in the history of the Saco River. Biddeford’s manufacturing industry was heavily dependant upon coal — the Pepperell Company alone using 22,000 tons a year during its heyday. Coal arrived on schooners and later on barges carrying up to 850 tons of coal per trip. All were towed up the Saco River to Factory Island by tugboats.

Some of the tugboats that berthed at Biddeford Pool over the years were The Ellen, The Joseph Baker, The Hersey, The Cumberland, The Bailey, The Castor, The Morrison, The Express, and The Willard & Clapp, to name just a few. At least two of the Saco River tugboats were built on the Kennebunk River. The Robert L. Darragh was launched in 1879 from the Crawford and Ward shipyard in Kennebunkport.

The 46-ton tugboat A. G. Prentiss was built by the next generation of the same family of shipbuilders. She was launched from the Charles Ward Shipyard in Kennebunk Lower Village on Feb. 6, 1912. Her first pilot was Captain Clarence Goldthwaite of Biddeford Pool and Captain Tristram N. Goldthwaite took over as her pilot during the ’20s.

The A. G. Prentiss, named for her original owner, was well known on the Saco River for many years. She towed coal barges from Biddeford Pool and from Portland to the factories up the Saco River along with an occasional lumber barge for the Deering Lumber company. She was also employed to break the ice in the river, keeping a shipping channel open as long into the winter as possible. In 1918, the Prentiss towed the newly built schooner Jere G. Shaw out of the river for her maiden voyage.

Before the United States got involved in World War I, The Pepperell Company’s shrewd treasurer foresaw the effect the war would have on coal supplies and used the A.G. Prentiss to help stockpile fuel. His preemptive efforts to prosper through the anticipated Coal Shortage was for naught, however. In February 1918, the National Fuel Administrator ordered a five-day shutdown and a shortened workweek for every manufacturing plant east of the Mississippi.

These measures caused financial strain on the Saco River Mills and on the population of Biddeford. A frustrated reporter for the Biddeford newspaper wrote “Nearly 3500 Pepperell workers are to lose some $30,000 in wages in order to save $3,600 worth of coal.”

The tug A. G. Prentiss was commissioned by the Navy on March 28, 1918 and renamed the U.S.S. A.G. Prentiss. According to U.S. Navy records she served in the 3rd Naval District and was decommissioned and returned to owners, The Crescent Towing Line Company, on Dec. 2, 1918.

When the Crescent Co. went bankrupt in 1921, a new company, The Saco River Towing Company was organized with capital stock of $25,000, to take over towing on the Saco River. The A. G. Prentiss, reportedly worth $52,000 in 1920, was sold to the new towing company on July 28, 1921 for $25,000.

Tugboats were often used by the Biddeford Pool Lifesaving Station to prevent shipwrecks. A severe snowstorm on April 15, 1923 blew the steamer Annahuac onto the ledges of Fortunes Rocks. The storm continued through the next morning. The tugboat A.G. Prentiss was the first vessel on the scene to help pull her off. The Annahuac was so seriously damaged that she listed 45 degrees to the starboard. It took The Prentiss, another Biddeford tug, the Cumberland, and the United States Coast Guard cutter Ossipee to tow her to Portland for repairs.

The 13-year-old tug A. G. Prentiss needed a complete overhaul in spring 1925. She was hauled out of the water in Portland and was shipshape before the 1925 summer season began.

An article in the Biddeford Journal on Oct. 14, 1954 reveals that the A.G. Prentiss was still afloat in 1954 and had found her way back to Kennebunk.

“The Kennebunk River breakwater at Kennebunkport is being repaired. The tugboat which is servicing it is the AG Prentiss which worked on the Saco River for many years.”

Wyoming Construction Company of East Boston had presented the lowest bid on the breakwater repairs and was awarded the contract in July of 1954 by Colonel R.W. Pearson of the New England Division, Army Corps of Engineers.

Details about the demise of the Kennebunk-built tugboat A.G. Prentiss have not yet been found in old news, but her contribution to shipping on the Saco River will long be remembered.

The “Jinxed” Career of the Ferryboat Kittery

Troubled launching, troubled career.

A vessel that “stuck on the ways” at launching was considered by superstitious sailors to be forever jinxed. The faulty launching of the ferryboat ‘Kittery’, built by David Clark of Kennebunkport, for the directors of the Portsmouth, Kittery & York Street Railway Company (PK&Y) in 1900, lent credence to the notion.

PK&Y started offering ferry service across the Piscataqua River in 1897. The line ran from the old Spring Market building in Portsmouth to the Badger’s Island ferry landing on the Kittery side.  An old steam ferryboat, ‘Mystic’, was purchased from Captain Horatio W. Trefethen of Kittery, who by then had already been piloting her back and forth across the river for some 15 years. A second ferryboat, the  ‘Newmarch’, was purchased from the Middleton Ferry Company of Connecticut. After the ‘Newmarch’ burned to the waterline on December 1, 1899, a committee was formed to procure a new ferryboat to replace her as soon as possible.

The ‘Newmarch’ could accommodate 200 passengers and six heavy teams at once. PK&Y sought to acquire a larger, more commodious vessel that could accommodate many more horse teams and the vehicles they pulled.  In January of 1900, the company announced that a suitable ferry had not be found. They intended to contract for a new vessel and had already requested bids from a number of shipbuilding firms. The winning bid came from David Clark of Kennebunkport. Though he had built several steamers by then Clark had never before built a ferry.

The new ferryboat would be christened the ‘Kittery’. According to a report in the Portsmouth Herald, she was to be launched on June 29, 1900 but there were delays in her construction. The promised launch date, highly anticipated in Portsmouth, came and went. Shipbuilder, David Clark announced that her new  launch date would be July 14th. Events of that day were covered in the Eastern Star. “A large crowd assembled to witness the launching but to the disappointment of all she did not go wholly off the ways.” Spectators murmured about bad omens as they wandered away from the riverfront shipyard behind South Congregational Church.

‘The Kittery’ was gotten off in the dark of that night without ceremony. She was towed to the Perkins Wharf where she awaited the arrival of steam engine inspectors. On July 20th it was announced in The Eastern Star that no further delays were anticipated. The inspectors had arrived and the ferryboat would likely be leaving Kennebunk within a few days under her own steam.

But the engine inspections, conducted across the Kennebunk River at the Emmons Littlefield wharf, did not go well. It was later reported in Portsmouth that “the steamboat inspectors had ordered some alterations in the piping of the new ferryboat ‘Kittery’.”  Other problems with her construction were identified in the meantime and it was determined that she would have to be towed to Portsmouth. On July 27th, the tugboat Piscataqua arrived at the Kennebunk River to pick up the troubled new ferryboat. The President, Treasurer and Superintendent of PK&Y were all on board to take possession.

After a brief stop in Portsmouth to satisfy the crowds that watched for her arrival from the Kittery Point bridge, the new ferry was towed to Boston. It was reported in the Boston Daily Globe that the ‘Kittery’ had to be hauled out on the marine railway there “to receive a new keel and other important repair work.”

It was the middle of August before she was put into service and within a month the she was hauled again to undergo a major design change to her steam reversing apparatus. This alteration reportedly cost PK&Y $800.

The ‘Kittery’ never performed satisfactorily. She used five times as much coal every day as did the other ferry on the line, steamer ‘Alice Howard’, which had replaced the ‘Mystic’ in 1901. The beleaguered ‘Kittery’ hit the bridge in 1910 when her engines died mid-stream. She broke down several times during 1911 and was taken out of the water again to be repaired. Another overhaul was required in 1913.

The Atlantic Shore Railway, which had absorbed the PK&Y in 1906, entered federal receivership on November 1, 1915. When the ferryboat ‘Kittery’ was finally sold to New York parties in 1918 for $6,000, it was reported in the Portsmouth Herald that proceeds of the sale would figure as assets of the troubled trolley company.

It was also reported in 1918 that the ferryboat ‘Kittery’ had “not been used much for the service for which it was built owing to the fact that it could not be operated with as much speed as other boats in the unusually strong tides of the Piscataqua River.”

Though the original design of the ferryboat was likely inadequate, old-timers often blamed her many misfortunes, with a knowing nod, on her interrupted first launching.

Interview with a 19th-century Kennebunk shipbuilder

A familiar event at Littlefield's Yard
A familiar event at Littlefield’s Yard

Most of the ships launched on the Kennebunk River before 1840 were built at the Landing. By the time the river locks were constructed in 1849, Clement Littlefield, in company with George Emmons, had already built some of the largest vessels launched on the river.

Mr. Littlefield was making hay in a grass plot on Chase Hill Road, adjoining his home in 1887 ,when correspondent Jules Righter of the Biddeford Journal made his acquaintance. The reporter was hoping to learn about the early days in Littlefield’s shipyard.

“I came here when I was 16-years-old and went to work, learning my trade, at the Landing up there,” the retired shipbuilder said, pointing upriver. “When I was 21 years old I had acquired sufficient proficiency in my trade so that I was made foreman of the yard, where I was at the time. Shortly after that I bought this field down here and had a shipyard of my own. This was a splendid place, you see. We could haul our lumber over to this high ground and then chuck it right down over the bank to the craft we happened to be working on. Out there down by the railroad track, and up here on the bank, where you see that stone, I had a steam mill where we used to cut all of our lumber.”

“How did you get your lumber?” asked the correspondent.

“Our big sticks came in from the country. Many a time have I seen the road blocked with teams loaded with lumber. There used to be a great deal of rivalry between the different teams. Our planking and light timber used to come in from the South — Southern Pine and the like. It came by ship. We would unload the timber right into the water and then duck it so that it wouldn’t be carried away by the tide. You can see some of the dock piles down there to the right of the coal shed now,” Littlefield responded.

The reporter then inquired about the workmen hired by the various yards, asking, “You used to employ more men down here than at the Landing, didn’t you?”

“Oh yes;” was his response. “Up there we only had about 20 men at work on a vessel at a time. Down here we used to employ over 100. Sometimes we built two or three vessels at a time.”

When asked about the consumption of rum by his employees, Littlefield replied, “Up to the time when I came down here rum was a common thing for the men to have in their chests. But after I had been here at this yard for a few years, the temperance movement started and from that time on we didn’t have it.”

The Emmons & Littlefield Yard began operations in the early 1840s. Shipbuilders David and Abner Clark and George Christenson all learned their trade under the tutelage of Clement Littlefield before opening shipyards of their own. The year 1856 was a tough one for area shipbuilders. D&S Ward in Kennebunkport folded on Oct. 21, 1856, and the Emmons & Littlefield Yard was assigned the following day. Landing shipbuilder Nathaniel Lord Thompson, who had contracted the yard to build ships for him since 1854, purchased what was left of the failed business in 1858 and sold part of the property to the Clark brothers.

As master carpenter, Clement Littlefield built ships for N.L. Thompson and for his son-in-law David Clark for many years after selling his business. He also took on construction work around the Kennebunks.

Andrew Walker wrote about one such project in his 1882 diary.

“During the past summer Charles Parsons has had a wharf 119 feet in length by 40 feet in width built at the head or mouth of the Mousam River, but a short distance from his sea-side cottage. The wharf was built by Clement Littlefield in 23 working days. In its erection he drove 75 piles and then planked it on the inside and filled in solid with about 4,000 loads of rock and earth. The beach in this vicinity was formerly called Hart’s Beach. Mr. Parsons has recently renamed it Parsons Beach and the new wharf, Parsons Wharf. Mr. Parsons thinks the wharf may be used as a landing for vessels laden with coal and as a shipping place, to which farmers may haul wood and lumber which they wish to send to other places.”

Clement Littlefield and his wife, Mary Thompson, raised an extended, multi-generational shipbuilding family at their home in Lower Village and occasionally housed employees of the Emmons & Littlefield Shipyard. According to a new sign at the corner of Chase Hill Road and Western Avenue, that home is soon to become “The Shops at the Grand.” No assurances can be offered by the developer that any of the original structure will survive the renovations as the building is in pretty rough shape. Its historical significance should be acknowledged before the circa 1808 house becomes a memory.

USS Constitution has Maine ties

Old Ironsides: A frigate with Maine links
Old Ironsides: A frigate with Maine links
     The historic USS Constitution has been tied to Maine history since 1796, when her original eastern white pine masts were hauled out of the woods of Kennebec County.
     According to an article published in the Bangor Historical Magazine in 1891, trees for the masts were cut in the town of Windsor, on the north side of Augusta Road between Cooper’s Mills and Bryant’s Corner. “Thomas Cooper, of New Castle, and a man named Gray, who afterward moved to Windsor or Whitefield, cut them and got them to salt water by swamping a road to Puddle Dock (Alna) during the winter of 1796/97.” The following spring, the trees were taken to Wiscasset, where they were yoked together with oak mortises and towed down the coast to the Boston shipyard of Edmund Hart.
     Young Edward Preble, of Portland, watched his hometown burn to the ground at the hands of British Navy Commander Henry Mowatt in 1776. On that day he vowed to join the United States Navy to defend his country. By the time the First Barbary War broke out, Commodore Edward Preble was already a seasoned veteran. He was sent to Tripoli in 1803 as commander of the 3rd U.S. squadron, with the frigate USS Constitution as his flagship. The Maine commodore ordered the strategic burning of the USS Philadelphia when it fell into enemy hands.
     The USS Constitution served her country nobly during the War of 1812. She earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” when fire from the HMS Guerriere literally bounced off her 21-inch-thick, live oak hull.
     On June 2, 1855, Old Ironsides sailed into Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery for repairs. Her arrival caused quite a commotion on both sides of the Piscataqua River. Her Navy sailors, on leave after long, loyal service, enthusiastically drank, gambled and caroused. Petty Officer Edward Welch became intoxicated and fell to his death through the hatchway of Old Ironsides. Other sailors were cheated out of their pay in a rigged card game onboard, and the swindlers were chased all over town. Local reporters wrote that the police would have their hands full until the seamen dispersed.
     On June 2, 1858, an article appeared in the Charleston Mercury indicating that the frigate Constitution was on the ways at Kittery, having been thoroughly repaired and coppered: “Planking inside and out has been taken off and between six and seven hundred timbers have been replaced. She is now as good as new when first launched in Boston sixty years ago.” Old Ironsides was already regarded as the oldest ship in the Navy when she served as a training vessel during the Civil War.
     The old girl returned to Kittery in 1882 after completing her final high seas training cruise and suffered the indignity of being reconfigured into Navy receiving barracks. A large, barn-like structure obscured her graceful lines. On one occasion in 1891, she was adorned with paper lanterns and transformed into a dance hall for the ladies of the G.A.R..
     Congressman John F. Fitzgerald of Massachusetts infuriated Portsmouth and Kittery natives in 1897 when he declared the Navy frigate to be on the verge of sinking at her Kittery pier. Her removal to Boston for her 100th birthday was begrudgingly announced in local papers with the caveat, “they had better return her to her rightful home after the celebration because her deteriorated condition has been exaggerated for political reasons.” Old Ironsides would not return to the Portsmouth Navy Yard for another 35 years.
     The public was outraged  to learn that the Secretary of the Navy recommended the tattered USS Constitution be towed out to sea and used for target practice. Fundraising efforts were undertaken to provide for her complete restoration. Schoolchildren sent in their hard-won pennies and the silent film “Old Ironsides” was produced to raise awareness about the historic ship. Over $600,000 in private funds was raised and Congress approved an additional expenditure of $300,000 to complete the project.
     John Abel Lord of Bath, ME was put in charge of rebuilding the USS Constitution in 1925. He researched 18th-century shipbuilding tools and techniques extensively before handpicking skilled shipwrights from Bath to do the work.
     The new Secretary of the Navy, Charles Francis Adams, recommended that the restored vessel be towed from port to port to show the people of the United States what their pennies had bought.
     Old Ironsides made the first stop of her national tour at the Portsmouth Navy Yard on July 3, 1931. Captain Louis J. Gulliver, of Portland, was at her helm. Some 32,000 people came to see her during the week she spent at Kittery. She was next towed to Bar Harbor and then to Bath, where a huge celebration honored the home boys who had rebuilt her. Old Ironsides spent another week tied up to the Maine State Pier in Portland before being towed away from Maine for the last time.
     Many penny donors were disappointed to see Old Ironsides towed on her national tour. Authorities had not thought it prudent to sail the 134-year-old vessel. On July 21, 1997, she finally did sail under her own power for the first time in 116 years, flying a suit of sails made by Nathaniel S. Wilson of East Boothbay.

Nowell Legacy at Kennebunkport

An unlucky course convergence
An unlucky course convergence

The Nowell brothers had a lot to prove to the people of Kennebunkport. When they were young, their father, Brigadier General Simon Nowell had operated an extensive business in town, mostly on borrowed capital. It failed in 1830 and many private citizens were compelled to accept less than $.50 on the dollar for their investments. Some even blamed the General for the failure of the Kennebunk Bank in 1831. The Nowell family moved to Bangor Maine but Thomas, Robert, George and Hiram all returned as adults to sail out of the District of Kennebunk.

Captain George W. Nowell and his wife Frances, the daughter of the wealthy Captain William Jefferds, built an elegant home in 1854 that still stands on Temple Street, next door to the Kennebunkport Post Office. Unlike his father, George rarely borrowed money. He did invest in several of the ships he sailed but had the fiscal foresight to insure his interests against loss. Diarist, Andrew Walker reports that Nowell also insured his own life for $3000. George had very good reasons to buy life insurance. The perils he faced on every voyage put his young family at risk.

He became master of the ship “Tropic” shortly after she was launched in 1855. On a return voyage from New Orleans in January 1857, the 882 ton vessel encountered a heavy gale off Bristol, RI. She lost her foresail and spent 36 hours on her beam ends. Though she eventually righted, her cargo had shifted and she listed to the starboard all the way home.

The odds of returning from a trip around Cape Horn were worst of all. In 1860, Nowell sailed the “Tropic” to San Francisco. Caught in a heavy fog on her return voyage, the Tropic was tacking to the starboard when suddenly she was run into on her port side by a large unknown bark. Captain Nowell later told a reporter for the New York Times, “Her jib boom went through our foresail and main topmast staysail; it broke short off and remained on board, with everything attached and the bark went clear. We shortened sail and hove to and laid by 12 hours. At noon the next day the weather was clear and nothing being in sight from aloft, filed away and proceeded.”

A few days later the Tropic came upon the disabled schooner “Potomac” of Franklin Maine. She was filling with water in a blowing gale. Nowell attempted to go alongside her but the seas were too rough. Captain Winslow Ray jumped overboard the schooner as did his mate and two crewmen. Nowell sent out a boat and successfully hauled to four men to safety.

January 6, 1862, the British brigantine, “Village Belle” was on her way from Clyde River, Nova Scotia to Trinidad with a cargo of lumber when she was dismasted in a heavy gale and began to take on water. By the time the “Tropic” came upon her she had 3 feet of water in her hold. Captain Nowell rescued the crew and landed them at Havre, France.

The odds finally caught up with Captain Nowell. His next voyage was to be his last. The ship “Tropic” cleared Philadelphia on December 11, 1862 with a cargo of coal for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company in San Francisco. She and her crew of twenty were never heard from again. Diarist, Andrew Walker reports that among the local sailors lost were very young men named Twambley, Larrabee, Wildes, Heckman, Tripp and Curtis.

George was not yet 40 when he perished. His youngest son Frank never met his father and was only 8 years old when his mother passed in 1872. Shipbuilder, David Clark bought their Temple Street home and George’s brother took his children to live in Bangor. The Nowell name was again extinct in Kennebunkport, but not forgotten.

The captain’s reputation as a prudent and charitable man was recognized by Victoria, Queen of England. She awarded Captain George W. Nowell, of the ship “Tropic”, an engraved spyglass in testimony of his humanity in rescuing her subjects, the crew of the Village Belle, of Nova Scotia. The Telescope and a certificate, signed by the Queen, have been proudly protected by the Kennebunkport Historical Society.

The last commercial schooner to sail out of Wells

Canvas and Rope Days
Canvas and Rope Days

The Alice S. Wentworth, previously known as the Lizzie A. Tolles, was the last commercial coasting schooner to regularly sail out of Wells. The two-masted, gaff-rigged vessel enjoyed some notable associations during her illustrious career.

Schooner Lizzie A Tolles was built in South Norwalk, Conn., in 1863. After carrying bricks, coal and oysters between Connecticut and Long Island, N.Y. for 28 years, she went ashore and her owners decided it was time to sell.

Arthur Stevens of Wells and his brother Charles, purchased the schooner in 1891 even though she was showing her age. The young Stevens brothers freighted bricks, coal, coke, lumber, salt, granite and ice along the eastern seaboard. Arthur bought out Charles’ share of the old schooner and, in 1904, painstakingly renovated her with the finest lumber from his own Wells saw mill. She was re-launched the following year as the remarkably beautiful Alice S. Wentworth, having been completely rebuilt from stem to eagle-adorned stern.

John Furnace Leavitt, one time curator at Mystic Seaport, crewed on the Alice S. Wentworth as a boy and always admired her. “A deep sheer was the vessel’s outstanding characteristic,” he wrote in his 1970 book ‘Wake of the Coasters’. “She was painted a dark moss green from waterline to planksheer and had a black bulwark above it.”

When Zebulon Tilton, a Martha’s Vineyard seaman of legendary skill and personality, first saw the 72-foot Alice S. Wentworth in 1906, he too fell in love with her graceful lines. He sold his own boat and signed on with Arthur Stevens as captain of the rebuilt schooner. She was considered the fastest and most agile vessel in her class, but entering Wells Harbor was a challenge, even for her. The inlet was nearly dry at low water and there was a sand bar across the channel. On each trip home the crew went ahead in a yawl boat and buoyed the changeable harbor with stakes before poling the motor less Wentworth into port. She waited in Kittery for a month in 1910 before conditions allowed her to enter Wells Harbor.

Tilton finally purchased his beloved Alice S. Wentworth in 1921 and successfully sailed her out of Martha’s Vineyard for a decade, but in the early 1930s his bills got ahead of him. He was in danger of losing her. Some Vineyard summer visitors formed a corporation to save the old schooner and Tilton’s livelihood. The corporation, which included Broadway actress Katherine Cornell, nationally syndicated cartoonist Denys Wortman and Hollywood actor, James Cagney, raised more than enough money to purchase the schooner for $701.

Cagney was having contract trouble with Warner Brothers over their unauthorized release of the movie “Ceiling Zero.” He filed suit against the studio and went into hiding for six months on Martha’s Vineyard. The movie star fell in love with the Vineyard and the Alice S. Wentworth, upon which he happily spent many exile hours. The schooner, with her charismatic captain and her star-studded associations, became world-famous.

Captain Tilton’s eyesight failed in 1943 and the corporation sold the Alice S. Wentworth to Captain Parker Hall. After World War II she returned to the Maine coast and was refitted for pleasure, sailing weekly windjammer cruises out of Boothbay and Portland Harbor until 1960.

The Alice S. Wentworth was almost 100 years old and leaking profusely in 1961 when the Lowell Sun reported that “Ann White, a sedate landlubber nearing 40 got so tired of waiting for her ship to come in that she just went out and bought it.” She didn’t know port from starboard, but had always dreamed of going to sea. As a maritime history buff, Ann knew that the Wentworth was reborn at the age of 40, so when the schooner was advertised for sale she took it as a sign. She quit her job and sank her life savings into the Alice S. Wentworth. After a few years she found herself in over her head; figuratively and literally.

Anthony Athanas, owner of Anthony’s Pier 4 Restaurant in Boston, purchased the schooner in 1965 for $13,500 at a U.S. Marshall’s sale and docked her at the restaurant for his patrons to admire. During the decade that followed she sank four times. Each time, at great expense. Anthony hauled her up and filled her hull with bales of Styrofoam to keep her afloat. The beautiful Alice S. Wentworth, the last commercial coasting schooner to sail the New England coast, finally broke apart in a 1974 storm at the impressive age of 111 years old.

Kennebunk Customs subject to partisan politics

Suitable Premises
Suitable Premises

Appointments to positions in the District of Kennebunk Customs House were unabashedly political throughout its 113 year existence.

The First Congress of the United States under President George Washington authorized the collection of duties on imported goods in 1789 in response to an urgent need for federal revenue. Customs districts were established during the same session. The ports of Arundel and Wells were annexed to the district of Biddeford and Pepperelborough. During the decade that followed, the volume of international trade on the Kennebunk River grew to such an extent as to justify a port of entry there.

The District of Kennebunk was approved by Federalist President John Adams in 1799, but the official appointment of Jonas Clark as Collector of Customs was delayed by the election of Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican administration. President Jefferson wrote to his Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatan, in August of 1801. “Is Jonas Clark, proposed as collector of Kennebunk, a Republican? His having been nominated by our predecessor excites a presumption against it;” wrote the third President of the United States, “and if he is not, we must be inflexible against appointing Federalists till there be a due portion of Republicans introduced into office.” Gallatan believed that Clark might well be a Federalist, but that his unmatched qualifications made him nonetheless worthy of the position. Jefferson eventually signed the appointment, but the partisan wrangling did not end there.

Federalists believed the shipping embargoes instituted during Jefferson’s second term were unconstitutional. Deputy Collector of Customs, Seth Burnham, seized the brig Stranger in 1808, when he suspected that her owner intended to disobey the embargo. Most vessels loaded cargo at the wharves in the port where their departure for southern U. S. harbors could be monitored. The brig Stranger was being loaded in Cape Porpoise Harbor from where she could easily put to sea. Owner Thomas Perkins II protested the seizure in a letter to the editor of the Newburyport Herald claiming that his rights had been violated only because he was known to be a Federalist. “If a man lived near the high road in the woods,” he wrote, “he ought to be cast into prison because he was in a convenient situation to murder the passing traveler.”

The Customs House was located in Kennebunk Village until 1815. After the War of 1812, the second floor of the Kennebunk Bank building in Arundel (Kennebunkport) was leased because it was nearer the wharves. The bank had been incorporated in 1813 and a beautiful brick building constructed in spite of the depressed local economy. The government lease helped to keep the bank afloat for a while, but its charter was revoked in 1831 and the federal government purchased the building for less than half what it had cost to build.

West Indies trade had already declined. From 1800-1810 duties collected on rum-laden vessels amounted to $500,000. During the year 1836, only $6,997 was collected but the Customs House appointments were as hotly contested as ever.

When John Cousens was appointed Collector of Customs in 1853 he nominated his brother Enoch as his deputy. Many Kennebunk businessmen signed a petition opposing his confirmation and sent it to the Secretary of the Navy. On July 8, 1853, Kennebunk diarist Andrew Walker wrote “Enoch Cousens was confirmed notwithstanding all the efforts that have been made by his opponents to prevent his confirmation.” There were only a handful of entries in the impost book during the Cousens collectorship. The officials occupied themselves by successfully lobbying for a lighthouse installation on the pier at the mouth of the Kennebunk River. Both brothers were recalled during the next political shift in the White House.

The prudence of maintaining a Kennebunk district was debated nationally in 1872 but politics influenced the district’s survival. Kennebunk Customs collected just 15 cents between the years 1890 and 1894. The Kennebunkport Library Association took over the second floor of the once impressive customs building in 1898. Collector George Cousens tried to resign in 1902 for lack of work but the government refused to accept his resignation and re-appointed him in 1906.

Kennebunk Customs District was finally discontinued in 1913. The library association expanded into its first floor quarters and requested that the government transfer ownership of the building to the town of Kennebunkport as a library. The federal government refused. Abbott Graves purchased and renovated the property in 1920. He deeded it to the association in 1921, on condition it be named for his deceased son, Louis T. Graves.