GREENVILLE, Maine — A little rain couldn’t dampen the celebration of the steamship Katahdin’s 100th birthday Saturday night in Greenville as more than 200 people gathered for refreshments and tributes to the classic vessel.
The real highlight of the evening, however, was a $250,000 donation from the family of the late Louis O. Hilton, a local philanthropist who was instrumental in the restoration of the “Kate.”
Hilton’s widow, “B” and her daughter, Karen Fresne, presented the check to Luke Muzzy, longtime chair of the Moosehead Marine Museum Board of Directors.
“This was quite a surprise,” said Muzzy. “Lou did so much for the community and the Kate over the years. He even donated the land for the museum.”
“B” Hilton said that her husband, who passed away in May 2013, “loved Greenville and anything connected to the Moosehead Lake region. We’re just glad that we’re able to do this.”
The Katahdin was built by Bath Iron Works and embarked on its maiden voyage Aug. 20, 1914. The ship is 115 feet long and weighs 250 tons. In its heyday, it carried up to 500 passengers across the lake to resort areas such as Mount Kineo.
Once automobiles became the preferred mode of transportation in the 1930s, passenger service became less viable and the “Kate” was purchased by Scott Paper Co. and converted into a work vessel. It went into the history books by hauling 6,000 cords of pulpwood across Moosehead Lake in Maine’s last log drive on July 12, 1976.
The Katahdin was given to the Moosehead Marine Museum in 1977 and began to host passenger cruises in 1985. Over the years, however, extensive repairs were needed and Hilton — along with the late Elizabeth B. Noyce of Portland — contributed generously toward the restoration.
The last major repairs were made in 2012, funded partially by a Community Development Block Grant secured through the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council. Prock Marine from Rockland built a dry dock and re-clad the Kate’s keel in October and November 2012, and the ship never lost any cruising time.
The project was nicknamed “McKeil’s Keel” in honor of the late Richard “Duke” McKeil, longtime executive director of the Moosehead Marine Museum. His daughter, Liz Cannell, is the executive director.
Proclamations were read and presented at Saturday night’s birthday celebration from Gov. Paul LePage by Rep. Peter Johnson, from Sen. Angus King by staffer Elizabeth MacTaggart, from U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud by field representative Chris Winstead and from Sen. Susan Collins by staff member Alix Rudzinski. Winstead also presented an American flag that flew over the nation’s capital to the Moosehead Marine Museum board.
Cannell introduced representatives from Bath Iron Works, Cianbro Corp., Prock Marine and the Moosehead Lake Yacht Club, thanking them for their roles in the preservation of the Katahdin.
Steve Pound of Cianbro said that he was proud that his company did a great deal of work on the steamship “at cost” because they knew how important it was to the community.
“It’s our Kate, and we need to continue to support it,” Pound said.
Greenville Town Manager John Simko noted that no other community in Maine has a 100 year-old sailing ship docked in their downtown area.
“It took folks like the [museum] board of directors and their supporters to make sure that this ship was restored and stayed in working order,” Simko said.
The evening’s festivities were capped off with a cruise and fireworks display over Moosehead Lake.