Posted by: Sand Squiggles -- Richard Modlin's Blog | December 26, 2015

Finding Nautical History at Moosehead Lake, Maine

This past September (2015) Marian, my wife, wanted to photograph some moose. So we decided to spend a couple of days in Greenville, Maine, a little city at the southern end of Moosehead Lake. This town is roughly located about midway on the southern perimeter of the vast northern fir/birch forest that extends almost unbroken across the upper part of state from I-95 on the east, and west to the Canadian border. Though photo-hunting moose can be exciting and great fun, Greenville and Moosehead Lake also satisfied my pursuit of nautical history.

Moosehead Lake, the biggest lake in Maine, functioned as a storage area during this state’s great logging period. Tree trunks from the forest, cut during the summer, autumn and winter months, were stored on the lake until ice-out in the spring, then rafted to the West Bay and the Kennebec East Outlet (a stream that connects Moosehead Lake with Indian Pond). From there the logs were then floated, with the aid of high water, to the headwaters of the Kennebec River. Once on the river, logs drifted downstream to sawmills.

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MV Katahdin

 

During Maine’s logging heydays, the lake was home to more than fifty steamboats of various sizes that conveyed loggers, fishermen, hunters, and others to camps around the lake. In the summer some of the larger steam vessels transported prominent New Yorkers and Bostonians from the railhead at Greenville Junction to the plush Kineo Hotel, a resort at the base of Mt. Kineo. This resort was located about twenty miles up the lake from Greenville. These larger vessels reverted to their normal towboat responsibilities in the spring and pulled massive log-rafts (some many acres in size) from around the lake to West Bay.

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Of the many steamboats that once plied Moosehead Lake only one remains, the MV Katahdin or the Kate as she is known locally.

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Kate is the second vessel of its kind. The first Katahdin was a wooden hulled steamboat launched in 1896. But in 1913, she burned while trying to remove a log-raft off Sand Bar Island. Within a year a steel hull, built by the Bath Iron Works of Bath, Maine, was shipped in parts by rail to Greenville. This hull was assembled by the Coburn Steamboat Company’s shipyard and launched onto Moosehead Lake. The shipyard added the superstructure and christened the hull with the name of the vessel that burned.

This second Katahdin was 115 feet long, had a beam of 26 feet, and weighed 250 tons. It drew seven and half feet of water and was originally certified to carry five hundred passengers. It went into operation in August of 1914 and continued operating as did the original wooden-hulled Katahdin and the other steam powered towboats in the Coburn fleet. At some point the MV Katahdin’s steam engine was replaced with a diesel engine. Kate continued to tow log-rafts in the spring and haul tourists in the summer until the Last Log Drive on July 12, 1975.

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Today the Katahdin is the last passenger-carrying towboat of its kind in Maine—an over 100 year old functioning relic from the past. In 1977 she was donated to The Moosehead Marine Museum. With the support of several benefactors, the Kate was restored and repowered. She was recertified to carry passengers, but this time only 225 instead of 500. In 1985 the Kate began again carrying tourists on day cruises.

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During my visit to Greenville, I was not able to take a tour on the Katahdin, because we were there on Sunday and Monday. The vessel does not sail on these days and only once on most other days. The shortest roundtrip is to Sugar Island, a three hour cruise. But on some days, a 4.5 hour tour to Kineo Mountain and back can be made. Then there is an all-day, circular voyage to Northwest Bay, which takes eight hours. It is best to check the cruise schedule by visiting the museum’s website https://www.katahdincruises.com/katahdin-cruises/ before attempting to ride on the MV Katahdin.

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ʃ ʃ ʃ ʃ

© Richard Modlin copyright 2015

 

 


Responses

  1. Very interesting history, Richard. Who knew? Thanks!


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