Fundraising under way to save the steamship Katahdin, which nears 100 years old

The steamboat Katahdin was built in 1914 at Bath Iron Works as a logging boat. It is now a part of the Moosehead Marine Museum.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
The steamboat Katahdin was built in 1914 at Bath Iron Works as a logging boat. It is now a part of the Moosehead Marine Museum. Buy Photo
Posted March 23, 2012, at 8:44 p.m.

GREENVILLE, Maine — The steamship Katahdin turns 98 years old this year. Curators would like to see the ship last well beyond 100.

But Kate, as it’s referred to by locals, is in need of repairs — approximately $500,000 worth.

“Where we are right now, we’ve raised about $235,000, somewhere around there. We have close to $300,000 left to raise,” said Moosehead Marine Museum Executive Director Jim Castonguay.

The ship, which plies the waters of Moosehead Lake, started taking on 700 gallons of water a day in the fall of 2010. The problem was fixed well enough to keep it going for a while, but not good enough by Castonguay’s standards.

“Two divers spent 2½ hours under the boat and plugged the hole, but we need to do the right job,” said Castonguay, emphasizing that the ship is perfectly safe. “It requires a new keel and sandblasting and painting the bottom.”

Doing so requires taking the ship out of the water. Castonguay said half of the expense will be to bring in barges and dry-dock the ship.

The Katahdin was built in pieces by Bath Iron Works in 1913 and brought up to Greenville the next year by train.

“The purpose of the ship was to bring people and supplies up and down the lake. At the time, there were no roads to Kineo,” said Castonguay. “Unless you owned your own boat, that was the only transportation.”

In 1922, Kate was changed to a diesel-powered ship and lasted that way until 1955, when it was changed back to a steamship.

The purpose of the ship changed in 1938 during the Great Depression.

“People stopped coming here,” said Castonguay, adding that most tourists at that time were wealthy people from Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

So Kate was called in for log duty. It boomed logs from 1938 until 1975.

“It was literally moving an island. It would move 4,000-6,000 cord of wood in one shot,” he said.

The year 1975 was almost the end for Kate, but a University of Southern Maine professor helped preserve it. Richard “Duke” McKiel helped keep the ship alive.

“Rather than sink the boat or burn it, a bunch of people up here got together and decided to save the Katahdin for history and use it as a pleasure boat, a tour boat,” said Castonguay.

The Duke McKiel’s Keel Project, the name of the fundraising effort now under way, is named in honor of McKiel, who also was a previous executive director of the Moosehead Marine Museum. McKiel died last September.

For now, it’s business as usual for Kate. Castonguay said there will be 90 regularly scheduled cruises this year, with the first beginning on June 26. Last year, 7,300 people toured on the ship.

“They came from 18 countries and came as far away as Fiji, the Marshall Islands and Nigeria,” said Castonguay. “They also came from 44 states, with 55 percent of the ridership coming from Maine.”

“It’s a huge economic engine,” said Greenville Town Manager Gary Lamb. “One of the surveys the Chamber did said that the first reason people come here is to see a moose. The second or third reason is to take a ride on the Kate. It’s such a wonderful piece of history.”

Castonguay said he’s reaching for help for the project outside of the usual contributors.

“We sell planks here. If somebody gives us a $150 donation, we’ll have a brass medallion made that goes onto a plank and they’re a plank owner,” he said.

The museum created a 14-minute YouTube video about the fundraising effort for Kate. If all goes according to plan, Castonguay said work will begin in October.

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