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The Great Northern's Navy

Odds and Ends From The MUSEUM!


            In the early 1900’s, many Maine made products were shipped via water from towns along the coast. The Great Northern Paper Company was unable to take advantage of this method of transport as the nearest ports, Bangor and Bucksport, were frozen in winter. Paper being made at the Millinocket mill and the newer Aroostook Mill (at first known as the Lower Mill) was transported via rail on the B & A RR to Bangor for shipping. A complication with that was that the B & A ran through LaGrange and connected with Maine Central RR at Old Town. Fees were charged by both railroads.

            When the railroad (B & A) constructed a new line from South LaGrange through Hermon and on to the usually ice-free Searsport on Penobscot Bay, Garret Schenck was happy! This line started running in 1906 (when the Aroostook Mill/later known as East Millinocket mill opened.) Not only did this allow GNP to ship product by water to New York, coal and sulphur could be brought to the mills from southern ports.

            Water shipment meant paper storage space at Searsport and at Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Storehouses and pier space was acquired.  The ships became known as the Great Northern’s salt-water Navy. The first vessel was the Northland (1906) carrying coal from Virginia to Searsport. A steamer, the Millinocket, designed to handle paper, was contracted through the A.H. Bull & Co.

            The Northland was sold in 1916 and GNP chartered several schooners and owned one, the America. This was sold when the US entered WWI. The Millinocket and other coastline steamers were taken over by the US government. As a result, GNP bought a tug John T. Donahue and several barges.

            In May, 1919 (the war had ended), Schenck’s grand-daughter Priscilla christened the latest edition to the GNP Navy. It was the S.S. Ripogenus. It was a four-masted schooner with deck houses, a big stack, large ventilators and a coal pocket on the aft deck. By 1927, the company decided the Rip was too costly. It was costing $1.94 per ton for the Rip to carry coal for the mills. A contract carrier had bid $.94 a ton. For a time, the Rip was chartered to others and finally scrapped after a collision in 1932.

That was the end of the GNP’s Navy! 

  Great Northern also had their fleet of towboats that moved the booms of logs across the lakes during their journey to the mill. The William Hilton and the O.A. Harkness are two examples. Built in the 1960’s by Goudy and Stevens in East Boothbay, these two towboats were very similar. The Hilton was powered by two 250-horsepower diesel engines and was 70 feet long. The cabin included a pilothouse, dining area and crew’s quarters. It operated on Chesuncook Lake. Home port for the Harkness was North Twin Lake. She towed booms across Ambejejus Lake, Pemadumcook Lake, North and South Twin Lakes and Elbow Lake.

Information on the GNP Navy is from McLeod’s short version of the GNP story. 2-3 original copies available at museum. Hilton and Harkness info from Roger Moody’s book Logging Towboats and Boom Jumpers available at the museum. 


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