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Thomaston: The Town that Went to Sea

Shipbuilding Declines - 1857 to 1861

Thomaston Bank, Stereo View, Thomaston, ca. 1865
Thomaston Bank, Stereo View, Thomaston, ca. 1865Item Contributed by
Thomaston Historical Society

Due to a financial crisis in 1857, shipbuilding abruptly declined, and only two ships were built that year. Several banks collapsed. Thomaston Banks were kept in business only through the generosity and connections of millionaire Edward O’Brien, president of the George’s Bank. Due to O’Brien’s financial backing, Thomaston bank customers escaped relatively unscathed.

Map of Waterfront, Thomaston, Maine 1855
Map of Waterfront, Thomaston, Maine 1855Item Contributed by
Thomaston Historical Society

Maps from 1855 to 1875 identify shipyards on Water Street under the following names: Robinson, McCallum, Walsh, French, E. Brown, Joshua Morton, J. O. Cushing, William Singer, Lemuel Strout, Burgess and O’Brien, Samuel Watts, Gilchrest, Stetson & Gerry, James Creighton, Amos Walker, Chapman & Flint, and Washburn.

Water Street Houses, Thomaston, Maine c 1870
Water Street Houses, Thomaston, Maine c 1870Item Contributed by
Thomaston Historical Society

When established shipyard owners were not building a vessel, the yards were often leased to individuals, who would build and launch their own vessels. The waterfront remained a very active industrial center for most of the 19th century. Blacksmith shops, ships’ chandlers, block makers and sawmills lined the south side of Water Street, while the north side was lined with houses of shipworkers, riggers and tradesmen. Many houses along the waterfront boarded shipyard workers.

John Bailey to Edward E. O'Brien, Thomaston, 1861
John Bailey to Edward E. O'Brien, Thomaston, 1861Item Contributed by
Thomaston Historical Society

At the outbreak of the Civil War, shipbuilding again declined. By then, most timber used for ship construction was imported from southern forests, and a majority of the trade carried on by northern based/built ships was dependent on Southern exports. Yankee ships were in constant danger of being detained in southern ports or running blockades to be destroyed at sea by Confederate gunboats. Except for those willing to risk their ships for considerable profits, the shipping industry was immobilized.

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