Dec. 15, 1885: Lloyd’s of London receives word that Red Jacket, the Rockland-built clipper ship that set a record by crossing the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Liverpool in slightly more than 13 days during its maiden voyage in 1854, has slipped its mooring in a storm and broken apart on rocks in Funchal Harbor on the Portuguese island of Madeira. Two hundred tons of coal were on board at the time.

The wreckage is sold for 112 British pounds to Blandy Bros. & Co. Ltd., which uses the lumber from the ship to build a home for the family that owns the company and for furniture in the company’s offices.

Some of the Red Jacket’s wood eventually is returned to Maine and given to the Shore Museum in Rockland and the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport.

Dec. 15, 2001: At 6:05 a.m., Amtrak’s Downeaster passenger train begins its first run between Portland and Boston, reviving passenger service along that route for the first time in nearly 37 years.

The project cost more than $50 million in public funds and took longer to accomplish – 11 years – than construction of the transcontinental railroad, according to the Associated Press.

Amtrak engineer Erik Young of Limerick climbs down from the control car of the Amtrak Downeaster after arriving at North Station in Boston on Dec. 15, 2001. Staff Photo by Herb Swanson

The train stops in Saco and Wells, then Dover, Durham and Exeter, New Hampshire; and finally Haverhill, Massachusetts, before arriving at North Station in Boston at the end of a two-and-a-half-hour trip. The service begins with four daily runs each way on the 114-mile route. Stops in Old Orchard Beach are added for summer travelers, and Woburn, Massachusetts, is added to the list of year-round stops.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority estimates that 320,000 passengers would use the train during its first year of operation. The annual ridership proves to be far short of that figure during the train’s first seven years of operation, but in 2008 it jumps to 388,352. In 2019, the train achieves an all-time high number of riders – 574,404 – an 8 percent increase over the year before.

Regular train service is expanded in November 2012 up the coast to Freeport and Brunswick, making the total distance of each full Downeaster run 143 miles.

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]

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