We continue this week with the story of the shipyard that once existed in Knightville, in the area that is now home to South Port Marine and the Anchorage Place townhouses off of Ocean Street.

As I wrote about two weeks ago, Thomas Knight purchased the land and started building his shipyard in that spot back in 1848; he built ships there right up until his unexpected death in 1868. After Thomas Knight died and his father Robert retired, the shipyard lay idle until put back into use by Joshua F. Randall, a wholesale grocer in Portland, through his business, J.F. Randall & Co.

The Carrie Heckle, built by master shipbuilder Daniel Brewer, at the J.F. Randall & Co. Shipyard in Knightville in 1877. Her commander, Capt. Benjamin Woodbury, is one of the men on board in the photograph. The ship is nearly complete here, but still awaiting installation of her masts. She would be rigged as a barkentine. Woodbury Collection/South Portland Historical Society

Randall had the means and financing for the shipyard, but he was not a ship carpenter. Instead, he hired a master shipbuilder, Daniel Brewer, to do the actual work of constructing ships in Knightville. In an April 1874 article in the Portland Daily Press, Brewer was already working on two good-sized sailing ships, both of roughly 450 tons – the Clara Leavitt and the Golden Sheaf.

The Clara Leavitt was a three-masted schooner that was completed and launched from the Randall yard on Sept. 10, 1874. She was described as having “a fine cabin, finished in chestnut and black walnut, and, taken as a whole, is one of the finest vessels ever launched in Maine, and reflects great credit on the master builder, Mr. Daniel Brewer … she will remain at the wharf at Knightville to receive her rigging.”

The Golden Sheaf quickly followed. She was completed and launched on Oct. 27, 1874, and towed over to Central Wharf in Portland where she would receive her rigging as a barkentine (a sailing ship with one square-rigged mast and fore-and-aft sails on the other masts).

In early December, 1874, news reports indicate that there was a lot of ship timber being hauled over to the Randall Shipyard, in preparation for another ship to be constructed. In April, 1875, the yard was hopping as there were 75 men employed and they were framing out a sailing ship that would be roughly 1,350 tons.

We can’t be sure which ship they were talking about, but it is likely this was the start of the Alice D. Cooper, which was completed and launched from the Randall yard on Sept. 18, 1875. As would be any shipbuilder’s fear, the launch did not go smoothly.

As reported in the Portland Daily Press, “She started on the ways and went nearly her length, when the ways split and she stuck in the mud very solid. It is said that it will cost a large sum to get the ship from her present condition.”

A news article from the following month explains how it turned out: “The ship Alice D. Cooper came out of the dry dock yesterday afternoon with colors flying. She is a fine ship and was not injured in the least by her detention on the ways.”

It was fortuitous that the Portland Dry Dock was located just adjacent to Randall’s yard.

The Randall yard continued to be productive through 1876. Daniel Brewer and his crew completed and launched the Edith Davis in August. She was 830 tons and rigged as a bark (a sailing ship with two square-rigged masts and fore-and-aft sails on the other masts). We are lucky to have a news article that describes her construction in detail.

A beautiful carving adorned the front of the ship: “The figure is that of a woman dressed in a loose, flowing garment. Her hair streams down over her well-formed shoulders, while a string of pearls encircles her neck. One hand hangs carelessly by her side while the other is slightly raised. The face is bright and smiling and looks as though it was human.”

There is a great description of the cabins, as well: “The cabin is one of the finest if not the finest in any sailing vessel which hails from this port. It is very large, occupying the whole width of the ship instead of having a passage way each side as is the usual style. The captain has a fine large parlor for his own use besides the forward and after cabins. The officers have large and convenient staterooms, and there are three for passengers. There is also a bath room, pantry, wash room, water closet, medicine chests and many other conveniences. The after cabin is finished in bird’s eye maple, chestnut, and mahogany.”

The year 1877 appears to be the last year of construction at the J.F. Randall & Co. Shipyard. Daniel Brewer had a crew of 50 to 60 men working there on two large ships. The roughly 700-ton bark Grace Deering was completed and launched around June, 1877, and the 500-ton barkentine Carrie Heckle was launched on July 14, 1877.

After the Carrie Heckle was launched, the shipbuilding activities at that site ended; Brewer moved to Portland and continued building ships at a yard on the Portland waterfront. The shipyard in Knightville would remain idle until World War I, when Count Rafailovich would purchase the land and create his United States Shipbuilding Corporation on that site.

Our continued thanks to society volunteer Jackie Dunham for her help with research on these early shipyards.

Note to readers: The South Portland Historical Society needs your financial support, especially at this time with the museum closed and our events continuing to be postponed due to the pandemic. If you are not currently a member, or if you have not paid your dues for 2020 yet, we encourage you to find a way to help. Membership information is available on our website at www.sphistory.org (a family membership is $25) and you can donate online at our Online Museum website at https://sphistory.pastperfectonline.

The society can also be reached at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106, by phone at 207-767-7299, or by email at [email protected] Thank you.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society.

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