The Benjamin W. Pickett home at 210 Front St. The house was just around the corner from Sawyer Street. The house is gone today and a garden now covers where the house once stood. South Portland Historical Society photo

One of the busy 19th century shipyards in South Portland (then known as Cape Elizabeth) was the Turner & Cahoon yard in Ferry Village. George Turner was a Portland merchant who had prior experience as a shipbuilder at Martin’s Point in Portland. He came together with another Portland merchant, James B. Cahoon, to form the partnership known as Turner & Cahoon.

The vision of Turner & Cahoon was to develop Ferry Village, heretofore a sparsely settled area, into a thriving community of businesses and residential homes, existing in harmony with one another. The businesses would provide jobs and economic security, and the homes were needed to house the workers at the various shipyards and affiliated businesses.

The proposed addition of a steam ferry being put in service between Ferry Village and Portland would lend further support to the success of the development.

The first records we are finding of land purchases related to this yard started with the purchase of waterfront acreage along Front Street. George Turner purchased half of what would become part of the shipyard lot in Ferry Village in December 1846 and he secured the other half ownership interest of the same property in February 1847.

Following Turner’s initial purchase, he would go on to buy up a multitude of properties throughout Ferry Village in 1847 and 1848. Turner & Cahoon sought out and found a master shipbuilder, Benjamin W. Pickett, to lend his talents. Pickett had previously operated a shipyard in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and was a skilled Naval architect and draftsman.

William Jordan, Jr., in his book, “A History of Cape Elizabeth, Maine,” gave this account of the new shipyard: “In addition to three sets of shipways and a long cobb-work dock for outfitting the completed vessels, the firm also constructed a shop and mould loft one hundred feet in length, a steam sawmill, and a machine shop equipped to produce chain-cable, hardware, and edged tools.”

Although no longer in operation in 1871, the Benjamin W. Pickett Shipyard is still shown on this 1871 FW Beers Atlas page. The yard was just to the east of the road leading to the Cape Elizabeth Ferry (that road is called Portland Street today, just across from the end of Sawyer Street. South Portland Historical Society image

An article in the Portland Weekly Advertiser in June 1848 gives another picture of the activity taking place in Ferry Village: “There, besides some eight or ten new dwelling houses, two large buildings for steam engines have lately been constructed, one for the purpose of sawing dimension lumber, etc., and the other for the manufacture of chain cables and other heavy iron work. The boiler for the latter (manufactured by Messrs. Daniel Freeman & Co.) was lately launched in to the water, and towed over, first having been plugged up to make it water tight – and the establishment will probably be ready to commence operations in the course of two or three weeks.”

Indeed, ship construction was already well underway in the yard as the steam ferry Elizabeth was launched in June 1848; she was outfitted and then began use on Nov. 7, 1848, as the ferry between Portland and Ferry Village.

Sadly, the visionary George Turner died unexpectedly in September 1848, so he never got to see the shipyard and Ferry Village get up to full steam. Work continued at the yard and on Dec. 26, 1848, Turner & Cahoon launched a ship of 525 tons, naming it the George Turner.

After the death of George Turner, Benjamin W. Pickett was left in control of the daily operations at the yard. He continued to supervise, build and launch ships under the Turner & Cahoon name for several years. In October 1851, James B. Cahoon would sell his interest in the yard to Pickett and after that point, we see the yard referred to as the Benjamin W. Pickett Shipyard. In early 1854, George Turner’s widow would sell her interest in the shipyard property to Pickett, as well.

Pickett continued with the vision of the original partnership, by continuing to build residential homes in Ferry Village and also selling off house lots with the condition that a house must be built. Along with continued development in the village, he would construct an impressive number of schooners, brigs, barks, and ships through at least 1866. A complete list of vessels is maintained at South Portland Historical Society.

The two largest ships constructed by Benjamin Pickett in Ferry Village were both ships with a capacity of over 1,000 tons. In 1851, the clipper ship Grecian was launched, a ship of 1,150 tons. In 1853, another large crowd was at hand to watch the launch of the ship Cumberland. The Cumberland was of 1,066 tons and built in the half clipper style.

A description of the launch appeared in the Portland Weekly Advertiser: “She glided smoothly into the water, measuring her tall length upon the deep, floating far out upon the waves, as gracefully as if she had been a thing of life. The hearts of her owners and master builder must have bounded with exultation, as they saw this noble work, the progress of which they had watched from day to day, so triumphantly taking up its ‘home on the deep!’”

With its start in 1847, the Turner & Cahoon yard had been one of the early shipyards that had led the development of Ferry Village. By 1850, they were joined by the Turner and Harris yard on West High Street, Joseph W. Dyer’s yard on the corner of High and Pine, and the marine railway on Front Street, making Ferry Village a booming center of shipbuilding activity in the 1850s and ’60s.

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 https://sphistory.pastperfectonline.com, 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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