Operating Vessels - Steamship KatahdinRichard L. McKeil, Executive Director
Moosehead Marine Museum
PO Box 1151
Greenville, Maine 04441
Moosehead Lake is located in the northwestern mountain region of Maine, 1,000 feet above sea level surrounded by mountains which rise from 1,000 to 5,000 feet above the lake. The lake is 40 miles long, 18 miles wide, 260 feet deep and has many islands. The shore line is about 500 miles including the islands. Flowing into the lake are many rivers and streams which drain a large portion of northwestern Maine. It is the source of the Kennebec River which flows into the Gulf of Maine at Bath. The region is sparsely populated with the primary economic activity coming from vast timber resources and recreation activities. Land ownership has been historically concentrated in the hands of large pulp and paper companies together with a few families who hold large tracts. It has been a world renowned fishing Mecca in the United States for one hundred fifty years. Prior to that it was a fishing, hunting, flint, and trapping resource for the indians of the Atlantic seaboard, Quebec and the Maritime provinces.
Because of the region's remoteness, it's transportation system developed with few highways and to this day has mostly private logging roads in the vicinity. From 1835 to the 1930s lake travel and rail transportation provided the primary transportation links for the economic activities of the region. The logging industry utilized the river and stream resources to drive the logs to the mills located along the Kennebec River. As many as 55 steam vessels plied the lake in the last half of the nineteenth century tending to the commercial needs of the logging companies, the forty or so American plan resorts along the lake and the farms which met the agricultural needs of the greater community.
The Coburn Steamboat Company owned five steam vessels which ranged in size from 40 to 110 feet. The Katahdin was built by the Bath Iron Works in 1914 as a steam vessel to replace a predecessor vessel of the same name which had burned in 1912. Katahdin was prefabricated in Bath on the Maine coast and brought to Moosehead Lake by railroad. It remains today the oldest floating vessel of BIW, a company famous for, among other vessels, the Navy's Aegis class cruiser. Her hull is steel with a two deck wooden superstructure and a raised pilot house. Early in the 1920s she had been converted to diesel power and today is powered by two diesel engines in tandem.
The first deck of Katahdin reflects its design use for the logging industry. She hauled horses, tractors, lumbercamp supplies and other equipment needed for the woods together with supplies for the other needs of the lake including the resort hotels and farms. From May to November, these vessels plied the lake on regular schedules. From December to May she was frozen in the lake. Fresh water preserved the hull for nearly 80 years.
The second deck was a wood panelled salon replete with black leather and green velvet elegant enough for the fine ladies whose destination would be the Mount Kineo House, a magnificent 450 room hotel which served the wealthy families of Boston, New York, Phildelphia, Baltimore and Washington. In summer entire families fled the cities for the healthy environment of Northern Maine. The attractions were yachting, fishing, golf, horseback riding and an active social scene. Scions of industrial America returned year after year. Katahdin skillfully met the transportation needs of these diverse activities.
The depression took its toll on all of the above and with the changing needs of tourism and of the logging industry, lake transportation went into decline. Demands on the logging industry during World War II were enormous and Katahdin ended up in the hands of the Scott Paper Co. which used the vessel to haul log booms from inlets to the Kennebec River outlet. In 1972 as a result of the environmental movement, river driving became prohibited thus ending the need for "Kate" by Scott. Logging had become highly mechanized. Private highways were built for oversized trucks. The river drive went into history. Concurrently the tourism need for rail and lake transportation declined with the post war number of automobiles. Family visits to the area became shorter.
The owners of Katahdin, knowing that they were to be taken Out of the log driving business, allowed the vessel to fall into extreme disrepair. The running gear had been reasonably well maintained, but the wooden superstructure was allowed to rot along with roofs and decks. In 1977 she was given to a local board of directors who organized the vessel as a non-profit 501 (c) (3) corporation. While recognizing the preservation potential and its significance to the community, the cost of restoration was thought to be prohibitive and that she should be pulled and serve as a static exhibit. Fortunately, following a survey by a marine consultant, the board was persuaded that the only possibility must be to keep the vessel in operation since the running gear was usable. The board received small grants from the State of Maine, the Federal Government and several foundations; enough to make the vessel seaworthy, but in no way could be considered a restoration. It instituted a summer sailing schedule from May through September and became the symbol of tourism in the region. Having done that, there was no turning back from the role as a tourboat. Without proper restoration and without adequate funding the boat continued for about seven years in the tour business, losing money and staving off the day when the inevitable restoration must occur. Small donations, small grants, donors groups and cake sales only perpetuated a seat-of-the-pants operation of the museum collection with restoration being driven farther and farther beyond the horizon. The dilemma was that Greenville is a resort community dependent upon the recreational use of the vessel; and the museum board was intent upon the creation of a restored museum. Funds for restoration were dissipated by the cost of running a boatride.
The corporation was fortunate to have a board member with a long standing family history of interest in the region and the means to see the operation through the inevitable losses of the early days. But what was clearly needed was a major fund drive to once and for all restore the vessel to its former self. The Moosehead Marine Museum in 1995 began a five year plan to raise $500,000 for the restoration. At that point in 1993 one could poke a broom handle through the steel hull in some places. The gracefully turned stanchions supporting the roof over the second deck had been replaced with white three inch plastic drain pipe. Three eighths inch plywood belied a main deck ready to collapse.
The board had been drawn from the local community for the most part. Individual members contributed talents useful to the operation of the cruise, but it needed outside persons knowledgeable in fund raising who could open doors. This was done.
Elizabeth B. Noyce, recently deceased, through divorce brought a large fortune (Intel) to Maine where she became a serious philanthropist. Her wide range of interests included marine preservation. She contributed heavily to the museum in Bath; endowed the Maine Maritime Academy and came on the board of Moosehead Marine Museum. She donated, together with another board member halt of the $500,000 goal. Raising the other half has been difficult, but easier than if they had not seeded the effort. At present the five year plan is 92% completed, and the physical restoration is about 70%. Appropriate fund raising systems were developed by a professional fund raiser at the insistence of Mrs. Noyce and its deadlines have been largely met. The Bath Iron Works contracted to replate the hull at a loss; other contractors participated on a slim or losing margin to complete the hull; and no cruising time was lost. One major problem in northern Maine is the weather. It was necessary to raise the vessel vertically in winter over the icebound lake and take the measurements for forming the plates at the shipyard in Bath. This was no simple task for a 110 foot vessel. It was accomplished as was the installation of the new steel skin in Greenville in winter over three feet of ice.. The occasion was remarkable in that the BIW union and management together rolled up their sleeves and accomplished the job, a job which at the shipyard would have invoked contract violations, picketing, and probable work stoppages. The various agencies involved with the project were propelled by a sense of proprietary ownership. Even the Department of Environmental Protection did some winking. The town came together with its money, its commitment and a lot of hard work, all of which had the effect of bonding the community to the boat.
Other than the two original large donations, the pledges were to be received over a five year period. This enabled the board to complete the hull replating, the drive shaft and propeller all at once. That was done during the winter of 1994-95. Other projects are being completed as money is available. To date the second deck (the source of much rainwater and rot) has been fibreglased. The roof over the first deck which had been removed by Scott Paper Co. has been restored; a fire extinguishing system has been installed; and ice eaters have been put in place to keep the immediate area from freezing to the hull and wharf in winter.
The cruise operation over a ten year period has averaged 7,000 persons per year. Three hour cruises are offered four days a week and a six hour cruise goes once a week. No cruises are scheduled for Mondays and Fridays. Charter cruises are available anytime. The vessel is available for private parties, weddings, bus company groups, senior citizens and corporate outings. The crew costs are held down by volunteers in the gift shop; minimum wage deck hands and a captain who is retired and who had captained the vessel for Scott. Alternates are available in the community. A good working spirit is achieved because of the nature of the service and because of the commitment from the community. Ticket prices are $16 for the three hour trip with reduced rates for children and seniors. A three hour charter is offered for $1,000. Weather plays an important role in the level of overall business. Excluding depreciation charges, the vessel has turned a positive cash flow for the last two years. This has been accomplished by making tough decisions regarding income and cost containment.
ACTUAL MOOSEHEAD MARINE GIFTS AND PLEDGES
Notes: January 1, 1997
Net positive cash flow: $25,358
Paid out from operating checking:
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