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Thomaston: The Town that Went to Sea

Shipbuilding Industry Expands - 1850 to 1857

Map of Waterfront, Thomaston, Maine 1855
Map of Waterfront, Thomaston, Maine 1855

Item Contributed by
Thomaston Historical Society

In 1853 Alexander McCallum and E. S. Counce also moved from Warren and established a large-scale shipbuilding business at Fort Wharf on lower Knox Street. Chapman and Flint laid out a new yard on the Narrows (a narrowing of the river northwest of the Wadsworth Street bridge) near John Paine’s original wharf, in what was earlier General Knox’s pasture. In that year alone, seven or eight ships of 1100 tons or greater were in the process of construction. Within a year, Captain Simon Shibles built a ship with Maxcy and Mathews on his land north of the Narrows.

Shipbuilding made for prosperous times in the town. A ship built by Joshua and Charles Morton in Morton’s shipyard on Water Street was sold for an Australian packet and netted $85,000 in profits; however, most of the vessels built were owned and operated by Thomaston citizens. During this period, Thomaston Down Easters, designed with fewer sails that required smaller crews and built with larger and deeper hulls, greatly affected their desirability for successful world trade.

Blacksmith Oliver Matthews, Thomaston, Maine
Blacksmith Oliver Matthews, Thomaston, Maine

Item Contributed by
Thomaston Historical Society

Many tradesmen were needed to support such industry. Blacksmith shops to forge iron fittings were as plentiful as today’s neighborhood corner stores. Steam mills and blockmakers were located at both ends of Water Street, and there were lumber mills to provide for both ship planking and house timbers. Ship’s joiners and carpenters had their choice of jobs, and more accomplished finish carpenters were in high demand. A captain’s cabin was as finely finished and detailed as his house.

Ship's Caulking Tool Kit
Ship's Caulking Tool Kit

Item Contributed by
Davistown Museum

Work was plentiful for ship caulkers, whose job was to fill the seams between the wooden planking. Painters were needed to varnish and paint the ship’s topsides and hulls. Hoop makers were needed to produce hoops to be sewn to the sails so they would easily slide up and down masts. Sparmakers fashioned masts, booms and yardarms. Blocks and tackle (the running rigging and gear used to work the sails of the boat) were configured and set up by riggers.

A ropewalk situated on the eastern bank of Mill Creek/River supplied rigging and sheets (ropes or lines used to secure a sail) to hoist sails. Sails were cut and sewn at the sail lofts of Washburn & Sons and William Campbell. Shipyard owners and builders, Robinson, McCallum and Counce, sold land on the north side of Water Street to Christian Henry Bohndel, a ship’s rigger, who was born in Denmark and arrived in the area in the 1830s. He and his son, by the same name, became sail maker/riggers and worked in Thomaston until the 1870s. The sailmaking business by the same name remains active today in Rockport, ME.

Bohndell House, Water Street, Thomaston, Maine 2008
Bohndell House, Water Street, Thomaston, Maine 2008

Item Contributed by
Thomaston Historical Society

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