Part 2 of a two-part series.

Two weeks ago, we looked at the ship repair business at Portland Shipbuilding and the marine railway. We turn this week to look at the new ship construction at this business that was once located at 257 Front St. in the Ferry Village section of South Portland, now the site of Aspasia Marina.

The steamer Electronic, under construction at the Portland Shipbuilding yard in August 1913. Ruth Horton Dyer collection/South Portland Historical Society.

As we discussed last week, the Dyer family was a large force behind the development of this business. Nathan Dyer was the yard’s first superintendent, but it was his son, Nathan Randall Dyer, who took over the company and would lead it down the path toward ship construction.

Nathan R. Dyer had a lot of experience in ship construction and had even used land at the marine railway to construct a number of ships back in 1874. When the new company, Portland Shipbuilding, was formed in 1891, the company leased the marine railway property and put Nathan R. in charge of the operation. While they were still conducting ship repairs, they immediately started construction on a steam ferry. The steamer Madeleine was launched on June 13, 1893, built for the Falmouth Foreside Steamboat Company.

Portland Shipbuilding constructed a large variety of wooden vessels during this period from 1893 and leading up to the first World War. A list of ships constructed is available at South Portland Historical Society; types include lighters, coal scows, lobster smacks (built with a special hold for carrying live lobsters), yachts, fishing schooners and various other small craft.

The construction of passenger steam ferries became one of the specialties that Portland Shipbuilding would become known for. Over the next 20 years after the Madeleine was launched. We see the company producing a regular supply of passenger steamers, including: the Santa Maria and the Louise in 1895, both built for the Presumpscot River Steamer Co.; the Sebascodegan in 1895 and the Aucocisco in 1897, both built for the Harpswell Steamboat Company; the Henry F. Eaton in 1901, built for the Frontier Steamship Company of Calais; the Maquoit in 1904, built for the Harpswell Steamboat Company; the Schoodic in 1907, built for the Winter Harbor Land Co.; and the Electronic in 1913, built for the Cape Breton Electric Company.

Portland Shipbuilding also became known as a builder of wooden tug boats. The list of many tug boats includes: the tug Charles Mann in 1903 and the tug Charles C. Gallagher in 1904, both built for the Commercial Towboat Company of Boston; the tug Orion in 1906, built for the Boston Towboat Company; and the tug Pejepscot in 1907, built for the Bay Shore Lumber Company of Brunswick.

The half hull model for the tug Pejepscot was preserved and is now part of the Dyer Collection at South Portland Historical Society.

The steamer Electronic, shown ready to go in December 1913, just a few days after her launch at Portland Shipbuilding on Nov. 29. Built for the Cape Breton Electric Company, the vessel would be used by the trolley company to ferry passengers between Sydney and North Sydney on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Ruth Horton Dyer collection/South Portland Historical Society.

After the launch of the steamer Electronic in 1913, most of the company’s business consisted of ship repair until the United States entered World War I in 1917. With the need for massive food supplies for Allied troops, a new company, East Coast Fisheries Company, was formed with a vision of building a fleet of fishing trawlers to supply millions of pounds of fish for the Allies every week.

Portland Shipbuilding signed a contract with East Coast Fisheries to build the hulls for these large beam trawlers; the Portland Company would outfit the vessels with engines. According to one news article at the time, “The Government turned over steel and other material to the company so that the fishing fleet could be quickly completed and started on its way to help relieve the food situation both here and abroad.”

Three of these vessels were launched from Portland Shipbuilding in 1918 during the war (the steamers Kingfisher, Fish Hawk, and Albatross) with more completed and launched after the war had ended (the steamers Sea Bird and Pelican in 1919, and the Medric in 1920).

In 1939, Boyd Donaldson acquired the yard and land through his company, Maine Shipyards Corporation. In December 1940, Donaldson announced that Maine Shipyards had signed contracts with F.J. O’Hara & Sons, Inc., of Boston, to build a fleet of diesel-powered, wooden draggers.

F.J. O’Hara had turned over its seven steel trawlers to the U.S. Navy, so it needed new vessels to replace them. Throughout 1941 and early 1942, Maine Shipyards built and launched 10 of these fishing trawlers – the Ave Maria, Queen of Peace, Trinity, Boston College, Fordham, Notre Dame, Holy Cross, Georgetown, Villanova, and Jeanne D’Arc.

Note to readers: If you enjoy reading about South Portland history, please consider a donation to South Portland Historical Society to help support its mission of preserving local history. Donations can be made through our Online Museum website at, or if you’d prefer to donate by check, please make it payable to South Portland Historical Society and mail to us at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106. Thank you.

If you need to contact the society, we can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 207-767-7299.

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

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