June 23, 2018
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Public invited to watch oldest Maine-built fishing schooner return to the water in June

By Callie Ferguson, BDN Staff
Updated:

This June, the public will be invited to watch as the oldest Maine-built wooden fishing schooner returns to the river where she was built over a century ago when she is launched into the Kennebec River following a yearlong restoration at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath.

The Mary E, a two-masted clipper schooner, was built in 1906 on the banks of the Kennebec on the grounds of what is now the museum. The ship is also believed to be the oldest Bath-built wooden vessel, according to the museum. The oldest surviving Maine-built schooner still afloat is the Lewis R. French, which was built in 1871 and is not a fishing vessel, according to its owners. It operates out of Camden.

In the century since its construction, the 73-foot long ship has spent a peripatetic life away from its native city, serving stints across New England as a fishing boat, a carrier ship, a rum-runner, and in its later life, a river tour boat, according to the museum.

Early last year, the museum acquired the vessel from a New York owner and embarked on an extensive restoration. A team of shipwrights has been replanking the ship’s hull and deck, and replacing her engine, according to the museum.

On June 9, the public is invited to “Mary E Commissioning Day,” when the ship is “re-launched” into to the Kennebec for only the third time in its life, the museum announced Friday. The museum will be the ship’s permanent home, but the vessel is set to make appearances at select events across the state, “serving as an ambassador of Maine’s maritime heritage,” the museum said.

The June event, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., will take place at the museum, located downstream from Bath Iron Works on the Kennebec. Reduced admissions prices will be offered to adults, and children younger than 12 will be admitted for free.

It will be the first time the public is allowed to board the ship, and museum docents will be giving dockside tours of her newly modeled frame and telling stories of her storied past.

But it won’t mark the the first time the Mary E has been restored in Bath.

The vessel has changed ownership many times since its original Bath shipbuilder, Thomas E. Hagan, sold her in 1907. That includes a time in 1963 when it was salvaged for $200, after the vessel was abandoned and then sunk off the coast of a Massachusetts fishing harbor during a Thanksgiving Day hurricane, according to the museum.

Her new owner — William R. Donnell II, the great-grandson of a shipbuilder who was an associate of Hagan’s — brought the vessel back to Bath for its first major restoration on what is now the museum’s campus, according to the museum.

The ship was then used as a passenger vessel in the Maine Windjammer Fleet until 1971, before she was sold several more times, ultimately landing in the hands of her most recent owner, a New York man who used her to perform summer river tours in Connecticut.

Prior to her restoration in the 1960s, she served at a trade and fishing vessel in Rhode Island and Gloucester, Massachusetts.

The Maine Maritime Museum sailed the Mary E back to Maine last April, and work on her most recent restoration began in May. The museum is still in the midst of raising $2 million to pay for its continued restoration and maintenance.

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Correction: An earlier version of this report mistakenly called the Mary E the oldest surviving Maine-built wooden schooner. It is the oldest Maine-built wooden fishing schooner. The oldest Maine-built schooner is the Lewis R. French, built in 1871.


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