Some people believe Maine’s First Ship, the Virginia, was actually a prefab vessel.  It may have come across the Atlantic in pieces with the Popham colonists, who only had to assemble it.  This might help explain why the new Virginia is taking so much longer to build than the original.

Just over 100 years ago, Bath Iron Works tried its hand at building a couple of prefab vessels.  According to “Bath Iron Works, the First 100 Years,” by R.L. Snow, the first of these was a 90-foot steamboat called the Goodridge, destined for use on Sebago Lake.  The next was the Katahdin in 1914, which was built for Moosehead Lake.  It is still in service there today, and is the oldest BIW product still in use.

The Katahdin was built for the Coburn Steam Ship Co., owned by M.G. Shaw of Bath.  Shaw was a wealthy timberland owner and sawmill operator, and he ordered the 104-foot vessel to serve his lumber camps around Moosehead. Steamboats had been operating on the lake since 1835, and they were the only lifeline for the camps and settlements around the shore.

There was no way for the Katahdin to travel all the way up the Kennebec to Moosehead Lake, so BIW built the metal-hulled steamboat and then took it apart again.  Everything was loaded onto train cars and shipped north, and then a team of oxen brought the boat to its final destination in Greenville.  Thus the Katahdin became the only complete BIW vessel that was never launched into the Kennebec.

A crew of BIW workers followed the Katahdin to Moosehead and built a temporary shipyard to assemble her.  Home for the “Kate” was the Mount Kineo Hotel, which was a grand wooden structure where wealthy people would come to spend an entire summer.  These summer holidays fell out of favor when roads came into the region, and people came up to visit for only a few days at a time.  The stock market crash of 1929 also put an end to the good times.  The Kineo eventually burned down, and many of the lake’s steamboats were burned or scuttled by their owners.

Fortunately, the Katahdin survived.  It was purchased by the Scott Paper Co. and used to haul logs across the lake; by this time the steam engines had been replaced by diesel. It would often haul many acres of floating logs to the Kennebec, where they would be released to float downstream.  It was given to a nonprofit in 1977, which patched the vessel enough to offer cruises on the lake. People flocked north for the chance to ride on an old-fashioned steamboat.

Unfortunately, time took its toll and the Katahdin needed major repairs.  A fundraising effort was begun in 1993, with the goal of raising $500,000.  Half the money was needed simply to remove the boat from the water.  BIW replated the hull at a loss, and other businesses volunteered time or materials to make the renovation happen.  In 2010 the Katahdin and her dock both needed an additional $1 million worth of work.  I think we can all agree that it was worth the money to keep such a piece of history alive.

The Katahdin offers several different wonderful cruises.  If you would like a chance to travel aboard a Bath-built vessel that’s more than 100 years old, visit katahdincruises.com.


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