GREENVILLE, Maine — The Katahdin steamship, better known as Kate “the Lady of Moosehead Lake,” was pulled onto dry-dock last month to undergo a $432,400 hull repair.
Repairs include recladding the keel with 1-inch-thick steel plating, repainting it, and checking the hull for any needed routine maintenance.
The project has been 2½ years in the making, said Maynard Russell, executive director of the Moosehead Marine Museum, a local nonprofit organization and owner of the Katahdin. Work is expected to be completed by Dec. 1.
Contractor for the project is Prock Marine Co. of Rockland. Prock will also finish replacing the old wharf at the museum with vertical steel pilings, which Russell said should last some 80 years. Engineers are A.E. Hodson Consulting Engineers.
Financing was secured through a federal Community Development Block Grant for a public infrastructure project, as well as community and private donations.
The project ignited regionwide interest in the 98-year-old boat, which many businesses consider a major economic engine to this small north woods town. The Kate’s history has a long, parallel run with the changes of the times, from an early working ship to logging ship to present-day cruise ship for the tourist trade.
The steamship was built by Bath Iron Works and launched on Moosehead Lake in 1914. Russell said the Katahdin was first used to move freight, mail, people and animals up to outposts on the lake when water was the mode of travel.
Later it was turned into a tugboat to corral acres of logs into booms to cross the lake to market. Historians note it was the sole ship to make the last log drive on the lake in 1976. Shortly thereafter, Russell said local businessmen got together and formed the Moosehead Marine Museum and put the Katahdin back to work as a pleasure craft.
Today the ship runs cruises five days a week, from the last of June through Columbus Day weekend. It includes sold-out rock-’n’-roll dance nights and weekly excursions to Mount Kineo in Rockwood, as well as sunset and foliage cruises, said Russell. It attracts 750 tourists in a season — a jump in recent years from a plateau of some 600 visitors — with many visitors staying overnight, going on a cruise and stopping to shop in the village, so the Kate has become what he calls a real trigger point economically. He said 55 percent of visitors are from Maine; the Katahdin has also drawn people from 47 different states and 25 foreign countries.
“I shudder to think what Greenville would be like without it. It’s such an icon of Greenville,” said Russell. “Most of the people in town either worked on it at some point or had a relative who worked on it. It touches everybody here in some form or another.”
Jean Wortman, co-owner of Aunti M’s restaurant in Greenville, called the Kate one of the only places that can hold up to 200 people, and so it is often booked for charters, weddings and summer outings.
“As far as I’m concerned, it would be a shame to not have the Kate here. People love the dances and the evening trips. We don’t have Squaw Mountain [resort] anymore, so the Kate is a great place for events. It’s a busy little boat,” said Wortman.
“Oh, it definitely brings in people,” said Seth Turner, co-owner of The Black Frog, a Greenville restaurant that shares East Cove with the Katahdin.
“People come up for events — they’ll go out on the Kate or into the woods — that’s what there is here. They’ll eat out and shop in town.”
Russell said the fundraising campaign, called “McKeil’s Keel,” drew wide local support, and the project was also the only Community Development Block Grant applied for in that category to receive the full $300,000 award. He attributed that success, especially in what he called challenging economic times, to Ken Woodbury, executive director of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, who wrote the grant proposal.
McKeil’s Keel was named in honor of Richard “Duke” McKeil, a founder and longtime executive director of the Moosehead Marine Museum who died just as plans were being made to fix the keel.