Red shed at head of Camden Harbor demolished

By Susan Mustapich | Jan 12, 2018
Photo by: Susan Mustapich A red shed running the length of the American Boathouse was demolished the morning of Jan. 11, revealing a side of the building not seen in about 50 years.

CAMDEN — The demolition of a red boatbuilding shed attached to the American Boathouse at the head of Camden Harbor Jan. 11, is an occasion to revisit the history of the area in photographs.

The red shed was torn down as part of a multi-million dollar restoration of the American Boathouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Although the red shed was built up against the boathouse, it is a separate building, unrelated to the historic structure.

Cynthia Reed, owner of the American Boathouse, learned the property was for sale in 2016, after she and husband John purchased a residential property on Camden Harbor. Architects and engineers hired to evaluate the building's condition found it to be in an advanced state of deterioration. Representatives for the Reeds presented detailed restoration plans at many public meetings before the Planning Board and Select Board in 2016 and 2017. They proposed a historic restoration of the building, and asked for a zoning change to allow residential space to be built on the first floor off of Atlantic Avenue. The building is located in the Harbor Business District where first floor residential use is prohibited.

Most residents spoke in favor of the Reeds' restoration proposal at public hearings. Others spoke against the zoning change saying it would be detrimental to the harbor's working waterfront and marine related businesses. Voters approved the zoning change in June 2017. Reed signed a development agreement with the town of Camden to guarantee the restoration would be completed in keeping with the building's historic designation and meet other requirements. Reed bought the property for $1.5 million in November from owners William Cannell Boatbuilding Co. Inc.

The American Boathouse was built in 1904 to house the 140' Lawley steam yacht Mona Loa owned by Chauncy Borland. Borland was a summer resident, and one of the founders of the Camden Yacht Club in 1906. Photographs supplied by the Walsh History Center of the Camden Public Library, included with this story, show many changes to the head of the harbor since that time.

The history of ship building in Camden Harbor spans more than two centuries. Boat building at the head of the harbor is just one part of that history. According to various local histories, boat building was established at the head of Camden Harbor in the early 1800s. Joseph Stetson established the Stetson Shipyard at the head of the harbor and built 70 vessels over 20 years. In Camden and Rockport from 1792 to 1920, the following seafaring vessels were built, according to Camden historian, Barbara Dyer: 24 ships, 198 schooners, 32 barks, 44 brigs, seven barkentines, and five sloops, for a total of 310.

According to the Penobscot Marine Museum's online education site, "wooden shipbuilding in Maine in the nineteenth century required little capital expense for a physical plant. It needed only space to build and store materials, the right slope to the shore for the inclined ways to launch the ship, and enough deep water at high tide to float the vessel."

The railways used to launch ships are visible in many of the photos shown here. The American Boathouse still has such a railway located beneath the building at harbor level.

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