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Islesboro--An Island in Penobscot Bay

Water Transportation

Text by David Thibodeau

Ship Compass, Islesboro, ca. 1940
Ship Compass, Islesboro, ca. 1940

Item Contributed by
Islesboro Historical Society

SInce arriving in the 18th century, Islesboro's early settlers depended on privately owned boats for transportation to the mainland. Boats of all sizes and types, from rowboats and small sailboats, to fishing boats were used for this purpose.

Sieur de Monts Steamboat, Islesboro, c. 1901
Sieur de Monts Steamboat, Islesboro, c. 1901

Item Contributed by
Islesboro Historical Society

The first steamboat wharf on Islesboro was built at Lime Kiln in Pripet in 1847. Later, wharves were constructed at Ryder’s Cove, Hewes Point, Smith’s Landing and, by 1891, at Dark Harbor. Steamboats, however, did not usually transport residents of Islesboro to or from nearby towns on this side of Penobscot Bay such as Belfast or Camden. One could travel by steamboat from Islesboro to Rockland and Castine but these services were never consistent in terms of year-round transportation. By 1934, the last boats that had provided service to Dark Harbor, the Southport and the Westport, made their final runs and freight and passenger service to and from Islesboro ended.

Red Wing Scow, Islesboro, ca. 1933
Red Wing Scow, Islesboro, ca. 1933

Item Contributed by
Islesboro Historical Society

In 1913, the Maine Legislature passed a law prohibiting the use of automobiles within the town of Islesboro and for twenty years, no private vehicles were seen on the island. However, on March 17 of 1933, amidst much controversy between the summer and year-round residents, the Legislature repealed the 1913 law, which opened up the island for private vehicles.

The first transportation for automobiles was available by means of privately owned flat scows. They loaded on the beach or mud flat areas at Lincolnville and Gilkey Harbor. The Red Wing, owned and operated by Leroy McCorison transported cars for $4.00 between 1934 and 1936. It could carry four passenger cars.

Governor Brann Ferry, aerial view, ca. 1950
Governor Brann Ferry, aerial view, ca. 1950

Item Contributed by
Islesboro Historical Society

The first public ferry boat, the Governor Brann, was launched in Rockland, Maine, in May of 1936. The Brann was 65 feet long, had a beam of 27 feet, and was powered by a 160 horsepower diesel engine. The ferry was built and maintained with town funding in the form of four bonds “not to exceed $30,000, payable at the rate of $3,000 a year over a ten year period.” The ferry docks on Islesboro and in Lincolnville were maintained by the State of Maine. The fare was $1.00 for a car and 25 cents per passenger. However, in 1937, after determining that the Brann was too small to handle all the traffic to and from the mainland, the boat was taken out of service so that twenty-seven feet could be added amidships, thereby increasing her overall length to ninety-two feet. This increased her capacity to carry twelve rather than ten cars.

Governor Muskie Ferry, Lincolnville, ca. 1987
Governor Muskie Ferry, Lincolnville, ca. 1987

Item Contributed by
Islesboro Historical Society

By 1951, the town recognized the need for a new and larger ferry, so a capital reserve fund was set up for the purpose of financing the endeavor. In 1959, the Governor Brann was replaced by a new ferry, the Governor Muskie, which had the capacity of 24 cars. The Muskie was built and maintained by the State.

Margaret Chase Smith Ferry, ca. 2000
Margaret Chase Smith Ferry, ca. 2000

Item Contributed by
Islesboro Historical Society

On December 1, 1987, a new ferry, the Margaret Chase Smith was put into service. The length and breadth of the boat was such that extensive renovations had to be done to the ferry docks on Islesboro and Lincolnville at the cost of $2 million. The Smith herself cost $3 million. This ferry, still in service, can carry 250 passengers and 33 cars.