Annie L. Henderson met her demise in the briny deep
Please don’t look for Annie L. Henderson at Mountain View Cemetery — if there is anything left of her skeleton, it is in the briny deep of the Penobscot River. This is an interesting story about her demise. (Because my column appears each week in the Camden Herald I like a little diversity and hope my readers will also.)
“Annie L” came from Camden, but she was a vessel launched in the Holly M. Bean Yard in 1880, now part of Wayfarer Marine Co. Most of the vessels built in the Bean Yard were schooners used to haul coal. It was owned by A.H. Henderson and others had a part interest, but he was the Captain and had the most shares when it was built. The vessel was 140 feet in length, a beam of 32 feet and 9 inches, gross tonnage was 428 and net tonnage 353. The official number was 105899, and the number always remained with the vessel even if ownership changed.
She was refitted 25 years after being built and considered in good shape. Horace Stone was the managing owner of 44 of 64 shares and the other 20 shares were sold to people around the Bangor area. The purchase price was about $9,000.
Capt. Frank Hardy, his mate L. M. Closson and cook Chester Brown sailed the vessel up the Penobscot River Aug. 31, 1906. They docked her at the Bacon & Robinson wharf in Bangor and secured her with lines and all seemed well.
The next morning the coal shovelers and trimmers were in the hold of the vessel moving the coal, when some sort of an explosion happened, followed by flames pouring out of the Bacon & Robinson shed nearby. A wind swept the flames to the rigging and sails of Annie L. Henderson. They attempted to move the vessel but a barge had been tied up across her jib boom and held her fast. Then the coal stage that led to the Bacon & Robinson shed fell on Annie's deck, thus making it impossible to move her.
Two fire alarms had been rung in but the fire was reported in different locations. By this time the wind carried sparks across the river to Brewer, setting fires there as well. Then the three-master, all ablaze, freed herself from the Bangor shore and the strong wind carried her all the way across Penobscot River. So, she was setting numerous fires on that side in Brewer.
In fast and furious pursuit of Annie L. Henderson was a tugboat called Bismark. Its captain had orders to tow the flaming vessel to the flats near the railroad yard. He managed to do that, and she burned there for many hours.
The fires around the two sides of the river were finally extinguished, but the losses were great. Annie L. Henderson was the greatest loss, being purchased for $9,000 but insured for only about $500.That was the demise of another beautiful vessel built by Holly M. Bean. Twenty-five years of use is not bad for those schooners. Even though they were very well built, they depended on the wind (no motors) and the weather could be very bad at times.
Ownership of vessels in this vicinity were by group cooperatives, selling increments of one-eight share or even one sixty-fourth. Some of the vessels had as many as 40 owners, including the managing owner, who had organized the enterprise. When the contract was drawn up, it was he who signed for all the owners. It is said that one contract with Holly Bean and a captain was for $60,000. Payments were made in one-fifth installments of $12,000 each. The first was paid when the keel was laid, one when she was framed, one when sealed, one when the vessel was planked and finally when she was launched and delivered.
The managing owner received the money for the freight from the captain, and disbursed dividends to the other owners. Some captains sailed under the “Square Halves” system. That was after some expenses were deducted from the gross receipts, the balance of the money was divided between the captain and the vessel. Most of the repair bills were taken from the vessel’s share and the left over was dividends to the owners. In those days a captain could clear $3,000 or more a year, and that was a lot of money. It may account for some of the beautiful large old captains’ homes we see. Another old story was that some of their lumber cargo was “lost” (to building their homes). Today, some might refer to it as “money under the table.”
There has always been a “love for the sea.” So in this area it was easy to find summer residents to invest in a vessel. After all, they could watch the three-, four-, five- and even six-master being constructed in the Bean Yard. It was exciting to be part of the launchings and to become a part of the community. It was fashionable to name the vessel after your wife, daughter or self, if you owned the most shares.
Some of the vessels paid back their cost in five or six years, but the life expectancy was on the average only 15 years, barring accidents. The era of the beautiful, hand crafted, wooden vessels came to an end about 1920, when “wind and water” was no longer the cheapest transportation.