Old Hamilton Marine building finds new life hosting Searsport high school boat builders

Posted Jan. 28, 2014, at 4:26 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 28, 2014, at 5:41 p.m.

SEARSPORT, Maine — For several years, the former Hamilton Marine Seine Loft in the middle of downtown Searsport has been dark and quiet, used mostly for storage and to build the company’s scarecrow float during the community’s annual Fling Into Fall celebration.

But for the last three weeks, there has been an anticipatory buzz as contractors have quickly worked to construct a boat building classroom in the portion of the harbor front facility closest to U.S. Route 1. At the end of 2013, Wayne and Loraine Hamilton donated the property to the Penobscot Marine Museum to be used as an educational center, with Searsport District High School’s 4-year-old boat building program the first project to take shape there.

“I love education and kids,” Wayne Hamilton said Tuesday, as class began in the light-filled and spacious room. “It just feels so good to be doing something for education and young people.”

He said the former Seine Loft, which he purchased in 1982, was his marine supply company’s first store. Business was good on the Main Street location, and after opening up there, sales tripled every month for Hamilton Marine. In 1990, he expanded into a larger space up the road and used the white building to make seine nets. It has had a lot of iterations over the years — a cooper shop in the 1920s and an Oldsmobile dealership in the 1930s — and seeing it actively used again to teach about boat building is “very exciting,” Hamilton said. The structure will now be called the Hamilton Learning Center at Penobscot Marine Museum.

The town of Searsport values the building and the 1.4 acres of waterfront property it sits on at $261,000.

“It’s a very wonderful gift from the Hamiltons to the museum,” Penobscot Marine Museum Executive Director Liz Lodge said Tuesday. “We’re still in planning mode. Hopefully, we’ll do other collaborations with the school.”

That would fit nicely into the plans of Brian Campbell, principal of the middle school and high school in Searsport. He said that having a dedicated space for the popular boat building class, taught for four years by Waldo County boat builder Greg Rossel, is part of a bigger vision to turn the high school into a marine and environmental science magnet school.

“Where kids are going to have six or seven more sciences than the state requires, expeditions and fieldwork — It’s just going to be amazing,” Campbell said. “It’s using our local resources, our communities, to create a more authentic learning environment. The boat building is the first part of the whole project.”

Meanwhile, the eight sophomores who signed up to learn how to make two wooden shellback dinghies this spring listened shyly as Rossel talked to them about how to make their own tools and use the bandsaw without losing any fingers.

“Mathematics in boat building? You betcha!” was written in brightly colored chalk on the blackboard behind the teacher.

“I love seeing the changes in the students,” Rossel said. “They all work with each other because they’ve got to get the boats built on time. And where else can you make your own vehicle these days? It’s hard to do that.”