Shipbuilding and boatbuilding have been important
industries for Connecticut throughout most of its history. From
clipper ships built for the California trade in the nineteenth
century to Navy submarines in the twentieth and twenty-first,
vessels of many types and functions have been constructed, rebuilt,
and repaired in Connecticut yards. Some were slated
to work for a living, as military, cargo, passenger or fishing
vessels. Others were built for pleasure. Patrol boats, freighters,
tugboats, sail and motor yachts, barges, America's Cup contenders,
canal boats, ferries, coasting schooners and speedboats are but
a few of the many products of Connecticut ship- and boatyards.
While vessels were built at and launched from a number of cities
and towns in the state, due to favorable geography and other factors,
the five-mile long Mystic River proved a particularly good environment
for ship and boat construction, reconstruction and outfitting.
From Mystic and Noank yards alone, over 1,400 vessels were launched.
Bird's-eye view of Palmer Shipyard,
Photograph by Bailey & Rathbone
Between 1904 and 1914
Photo CD: 0397
Among the many
shipyards in coastal and riverfront cities and towns was the Robert
Palmer & Son yard in Noank. The Palmer family's shipbuilding
and repair facility, in operation from the mid-19th century until
1914, was one of the most prominent on the east coast. It was
incorporated under several names and experienced substantial growth
in the second half of the 19th century, specializing in the production
of utilitarian barges and floats. At the time depicted in this
view, the yard employed 400 men on average.
Mason Crary Hill and John Forsyth
Photograph by Hoag & Quick
Photo CD: 4768
Designers were responsible for the first step in
ship or boat construction. Mason Crary Hill and John Forsyth of
Mystic worked on vessels built in local area yards as well as
those constructed elsewhere. Hill is given credit for developing
a distinct type of clipper ship associated with Mystic shipyards,
the half clipper. In his long career, Forsyth worked
for a number of yards in and out of state, including the Thames
Towboat Company of New London. During the Civil War, Hill and
Forsyth were government inspectors of vessels built or purchased
for war service. They are shown here with a picture of a Civil
War era single-turret monitor, possibly the Catawba.
Half-model of the ship Frolic
Photo CD: 4203
The design phase often involved the carving of a
half model. These might consist of sections that were later separated
and "sized up" to create wooden patterns (molds) for
the shaping of vessel hulls. This half model of the ship Frolic
was possibly the work of Thomas Greenman or Frank Champlin. Thomas
Greenman was the youngest of three brothers who owned George Greenman
& Co., a shipbuilding firm in Mystic. Champlin was their nephew.
Installing planking in a new vessel.
Between 1900 and 1904
Photo CD: 3152
Inside the hull, work included laying the ceiling,
or inner planking of the hold. This photograph depicts an unidentified
vessel under construction, possibly at Eastern Shipbuilding in
Groton. Eastern Shipbuilding launched several large vessels in
its short working life, including the steel steamships Minnesota
and Dakota, which ran between Seattle and ports in Japan and China.
The company employed around 1,900 people at its peak. Electric
Boat Company, famed for building submarines later established
a subsidiary company on the Groton site.
Schooner Nellie Crowell
under construction, Hartford.
Photograph by R.S. DeLamater
Photo CD: 3152
Work on the schooner Nellie Crowell appears to be
complete as she sits on the building ways at the Seabury &
Eugene S. Belden shipyard at Dutch Point, Hartford. Workmen are
gathered alongside her. Several men with mallets appear ready
to knock out chocks. A smaller vessel is in the frame at left.
Ship Frolic at wharf in Mystic
Photo CD: 4199
Vessels were built by Connecticut ship- and boatyards
for pleasure, work and war. The ship Frolic, whose half model
is seen above, was built by George Greenman & Co. of Mystic
for John McGaw and launched on July 5, 1869. She was a clipper
ship intended for the California trade. Also visible in the photograph
are the hulls of gunboats built by Charles Mallory & Sons
of Mystic as well as other local builders for the Spanish government.
Launching of the schooner
Marie Gilbert, Mystic
Photograph by George E. Tingley
Photo CD: 4759
Launchings were occasions for celebration and frequently
drew large crowds. The four-masted auxiliary schooner Marie Gilbert
was built and launched at the Gilbert Transportation Company yard
on the Mystic River, just south of the highway/trolley drawbridge
in downtown Mystic. The schooner was named for the company founders
wife. Auxiliary refers to a vessel being fitted with
an engine as well as rigged for sail.
Launching the Balsto,
Groton Iron Works, Noank
July 2, 1918
Photo CD: 2480
The Balsto was one of many World War I era freighters
built to support the war effort. Groton Iron Works, which had
a main yard on the Thames in Groton and a second on the site of
the earlier Palmer shipyard in Noank, produced a number of iron
and wood-hulled vessels during and after the war. In the postwar
period, business declined and the Noank yard was closed. The Groton
yard remained in operation for a while longer, until the late
1920's. By that time, the Electric Boat company was increasing
its business. The U.S. Navy, which had a substantial presence
in the New London-Groton area, became a principal customer for
Electric Boats submarines and other vessels, and the company
became and remained a mainstay of the local economy through World
War II and into the nuclear age.
Camouflaged yacht, World War I,
Photo CD: 1341
Vessels could have many lives, and might be adapted
for purposes other than the one(s) for which they were constructed.
A schooner might be rebuilt as a barge, or a yacht, cargo or passenger
vessel converted to military use during wartime (and then back
again). Making such changes were another source of income for
Connecticut yards and their workers.
at Mystic Iron Works wharf, Mystic
Photograph by Everett A. Scholfield
Photo CD: 4203
Rerigging, refitting and structural modifications
were part of the work of Connecticut ship- and boatyards. The
outboard vessel at the Mystic Iron Works wharf, seen in starboard
stern view, is undergoing overhaul and is in the process of being
rerigged. Many vessels built or adapted for Civil War service
were refitted for commercial use.
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