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Blue Hill Maritime History

During the first half of the nineteenth century more than 130 ocean-going sailing vessels were built in Blue Hill, Blue Hill Falls and East Blue Hill. Most were schooners and brigs for the coastal trade but some were full-rigged ships and barks that ventured farther on the world’s oceans. In this era, the town’s economy was supported by shipowners, shipbuilders and peripheral occupations such as fishing, farming, merchants, millers, craftsmen, and blacksmiths. Cabotage favored coastal trade but the Civil War closed markets and enabled Confederate raiders to seize and burn northern merchant vessels. Moreover, steam-powered vessels with steel hulls were turning up. The wooden shipbuilding boom in Blue Hill virtually ended by 1865.

A local author, Mary Ellen Chase, described the post-Civil War economic slide of coastal towns like Blue Hill in her novels Mary Peters and Silas Crockett. But a vein of granite coursing along the northern shore of Blue Hill Harbor and extending out Wood Point and down the length of Long Island had been yielding premium building material for some time. Wharves were built to ship out huge blocks and columns as well as paving blocks to cities along the eastern seaboard and beyond. Blue Hill granite quarried by Darlings, Hinckleys, Chases, Slavens and Collinses were used to build churches and bridges in New York, public buildings in Washington and Pittsburgh, streets in New Orleans as well as many local edifices.

In 1876, copper mines began to open along the shore and westward along the present Mines Road. Blue Hill Copper and the Douglass were among the earliest and the largest mines. Western engineers and workers flooded Blue Hill. Speculation went wild. A central boarding house was enlarged; it was named the “Copper and Gold Exchange.” The mining boom subsided almost as quickly as it started. By 1881, only six of thirty-nine companies continued to operate.

As the nineteenth century closed, the steamships were no longer carrying out copper but they were bringing in “rusticators” or summer vacationers. For those that could afford it, families fled from the anticipated epidemics of tuberculosis and poliomyelitis in hot cities to the cool breezes of coastal Maine. In 1881, Captain Oscar Crockett opened a steamboat service from the railhead at Rockland to Blue Hill. A summer colony formed on Parker Point. The Blue Hill Inn flourished at the top of Tenney Hill. The season was enlivened by gala events, music recitals and sailing excursions… still summer happenings at Kneisel Hall and Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club.

Text and photo from the Blue Hill Historical Society's website.

 

 

 

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