BATH, Maine — A piece of Bath history is due to return to the city known for shipbuilding Sunday morning, when the 73-foot schooner Mary E sails up the Kennebec River to Maine Maritime Museum.
The 73-foot, two-masted clipper schooner was built in 1906 on the banks of the Kennebec, just upriver on land that is now Bath Iron Works, according to the museum. Recently acquired by the museum, the Mary E is believed to be the oldest Bath-built wooden schooner, and the oldest fishing schooner built in Maine, still sailing.
The son of a Georgetown farmer, shipbuilder Thomas E. Hagan built the Mary E and sold it in 1907, according to the museum.
During the next half-century, the schooner worked as a fishing vessel and for coastal trade, then as a dragger out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, according to the museum. Other stories tell of the Mary E carrying mail and passengers, and working as a rum-runner. The schooner was abandoned in 1960, and sank in the harbor at Lynn, Massachusetts, during hurricane on Thanksgiving Day 1963.
In 1964, William R. Donnell II of Bath, whose great-grandfather had been an associate of Hagan, bought the “half-sunken fishing schooner” for $200, according to an advertisement, and renovated it at what is now Maine Maritime Museum before sailing it in Penobscot Bay.
Several owners later, after stints based in Boothbay Harbor, New York City, and Key West, Florida, Matt Culen bought the schooner in 2006 and began restoring it with Capt. Eric Van Dormolen. The ship then was used for river tours from the Connecticut River Museum until the board of the Maine Maritime Museum approved acquisition in December 2016.
“This is a vessel of remarkable importance, despite its modest size,” Nathan Lipfert, then the museum’s senior curator, said in December. “We have compiled a list of historic Maine vessels that are still extant, and there is nothing older or better that is available to us.”
Following restoration, the schooner will be docked at the museum and accessible to the public. The museum plans to continue to research the schooner’s history.
The Mary E is scheduled to sail up the Kennebec between 10 a.m. and noon Sunday. Admission to the museum and the “welcome home party” for the schooner is free.