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Steamboats on Moosehead – a presentation by Walter Macdougall

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A number of steamboats moored in downtown Greenville circa 1913. Sanders Store is visible in the background. Photo courtesy of the Moosehead Historical Society.

GREENVILLE— Imagine for a moment that its 1913 and the ice, thankfully, has departed Moosehead Lake. If you were standing on the shore, you’d see large boats plying the waters. In those days steamboats were still a common sight. The Moosehead Historical Society (MHS) will celebrate these beautiful vessels with a program, “Steamboats of Moosehead Lake” presented by historian and author Walter Macdougall, on June 21 at 7 p.m. at the Center for Moosehead History on the corner of Lakeview St. and Pritham Ave. in Greenville.
Macdougall, who is legendary in his fondness for the railroad also has an avid interest in the boating history of the 40-mile lake. “The Katahdin was basically a tow boat when I cruised on her for the first time,” Macdougall said. “I had a chance to ride up on a motor car with the travelling engineer for the B & A (Bangor & Aroostook). He was making his last inspection when the Greenville Junction Branch was being closed. We went out onto the wharf to eat our lunch and the Captain invited us to ride with them. If I recall, they had altered the back end of the boat for towing. The ride was short, but I’ll never forget it,” he added. He has since written definitive articles concerning these craft.
The first boats on Moosehead Lake were the nimble canoes of the native population; they were followed by sailing craft once the white man settled in the area. At one time, there were two-masted schooners traveling these often-unpredictable waterways. The arrival of the steamboats made for safer and more reliable transportation. And at one time, there was quite a fleet of them, including the old side-wheel paddle type.
The thousands and thousands of acres of magnificent timber drove the economy of the area as well as the burgeoning tourist industry. Moosehead Lake was dotted with establishments, from the huge complex of the Mt. Kineo Resort to farms and small sporting camps around the lake. In one article Macdougall noted that “by 1890 Greenville had two hotels, and there were hotels at Deer Island, Lily Bay and West Cove. Kineo Hotel,” he wrote. “under the brow of the great mountain of the same name, underwent a series of burnings and rebuildings until, in 1911, it could accommodate 500 guests and boasted a fine golf course, electric lights and a fire pump system.”
Everything was moved by water, Macdougall observed. The bigger boats burned huge amounts of wood before the advent of coal. D.T. Sanders (of the famous Sanders Store in Greenville) served as an agent for the Coburn Company. Macdougall reported that Sanders was able to keep crews of men cutting 500 to 600 cords of wood, which was then piled in convenient locations around the lake to keep the boats running.
In those days, the boats had wonderfully fanciful names – Fairy of the Lake, the Twilight, and the Comet being among them. Each had many stories connected to them, some unfortunate, due to the fickle nature of Moosehead Lake. The Comet and a sister steamer named Salerno were driven ashore in a huge gale more than 100 years ago and another craft, the Priscilla lost a fair amount of heavy planking during heavy weather. Macdougall will be introducing his audience to these valiant craft, as well as their history and the men who sailed them. His presentation will feature many pictures, assembled with the help of the Moosehead Historical Society as well as the Moosehead Marine Museum and Macdougall will share some fascinating information. “The people of Greenville know so much about the old steamships; they have been kind enough to donate so much material and information over the years,” he said. “He cited Peter Templeton, who creates exact replicas of these beauties in miniature, as one of many he is grateful to. “I am so happy to come here and give back in return,” he said.
There will be a short MHS meeting prior to Macdougall’s program. All are invited for this free event on the evening of the Summer Solstice. The Moosehead Historical Society has more events planned for the summer of 2013. The Eveleth-Crafts-Sheridan Historical House opens its doors for summer tours on Wed., June 26. This year’s theme for the guided tours is “Through the Years”. Tours are scheduled Wed. through Fri. from 1 to 4 p.m.
On Fri. June 28 at 6:30 p.m. there will be a book discussion group – Growing Up Between Cultures. This will take place at the Center for Moosehead History in Greenville and is sponsored by the MHS and the Shaw Public Library. All are invited to attend. On July 6 the Eveleth-Crafts-Sheridan Campus celebrates our nation’s Independence with an Open House from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and that includes lemonade and cookies!
Plan to spend some time at these unique and acclaimed historic places this summer. As mentioned earlier, the Eveleth-Crafts-Sheridan house is open for tours Wed. through Fri. until early October from 1 to 4 p.m. The Carriage House, which also houses the Lumberman’s Museum, is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tues. through Fri. all year long. You will also enjoy the Center for Moosehead History at 6 Lakeview St. It is open Thurs. – Sun. 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and, in addition to providing an ideal venue for programs and performance, it houses the Moosehead Lake Aviation Museum as well as an extensive exhibit of Indian artifacts. Visit these museums on line at or email You may also call them at 207-695-2909.