July 26, 2010
There’s nothing like being in the right place at the right time! Hiram Lowell opened a boat shop in 1793 and designed a dory. It now qualifies as the oldest continuously operating boat shop in the United States. A woman pulled up, we watched as she started for the door with keys in hand. Aha! “I’m sorry she said, I’m not open, we are participating in a festival at Newburyport, its a once a year thing!”
She was curious about Panama Or Bust written on the Bronco and, in the end, Elizabeth Hartnell very kindly allowed us to look around and take pictures while she gathered forgotten items for the festival. She gave us a running account of this wonderful place that builds super strong dories and sailing skiffs of sun dried cedar. One boat builder, 10 boats a year. Average cost, 6,000 to 10,000 dollars each. Hiram and his workers, highest productive year was 1911, with 2,029 boats from this spot, each one built by template exactly like the one before it.
This boat in progress has sides and ribs which are riveted in place and slightly overlapped like siding.
The cedar is not wetted to make it bend. It is ever so slowly teased into place clamped and riveted in place, rib by rib.
Its a huge old drafty building, right on the water. Great barn doors open on the side to a ramp where the boats can be removed and slid down into the water. Boats are repaired here as well as made to order. During its heydey, no one would think of going to sea without a dory. Whalers and every working ship had a dory on it. They would be delivered to the bigger ports by horse and wagon. So strong and well designed, a small dory could hold over a thousand pounds and it was still stable with only a couple inches of “freeboard” above the the water.
In the paint room above, the floor is nine inches higher than the adjoining room from years of paint and shellac dripping and covering the floor. The old plank flooring has gaps, now. I counted four old wood stoves that were used to keep everything warm in winter. And, the old one holer built into the side of the building over the water, is still there, now used to store signs.
Lowells Boat Shop sits on the Merrimack River at Amesbury. Its a non-profit working museum and a National Landmark. No one has been able to design a better, more stable dory or skiff than Hiram Lowell in all these many years. The templates hang from the ceiling for the different size boats. It is speculated that Henry Ford got the idea for mass production assembly from Hiram Lowell’s method of boat building.
We drove on to Newburyport for the festival after Elizabeth got me to drooling over a Greek Food Festival. The activities were spread all over town. One local told me, “This used to be a nothin’ place, now its a tourist attraction.” He shook his head as though still unbelieving.
This public sculpture, one of several near the waterfront. Muscians and food booths set up on the grass attracted people with their lawn chairs, setting up for a day of music and enjoyable breezes off the water to beat the heat. I watched plates of elephant ears go by, a kind of plate sized slab of fried dough sprinkled with sugar. We cooled off with ice cream, for me, maple nut since they no longer sell it on the West Coast.
Great boats pulled in to enjoy the festival. This restored old wooden yacht among them.
Following the brick sidewalks to a local park, another 30 tents were set up with art work, snazzy items and crafts for sale, a car show and tempting food like lobster rolls, lobster cakes, shrimp cocktails, italian sausage grinders, but I was holding out for the Greek food. Elizabeth told us dories from her shop would be in a paddle boat race on a small lake.
A parade of old antique vehicles, some of which we remembered riding in, made us realize we are antiques too. Hmmm!
The face painting, pony rides, the belly dancing, food smells everywhere, I managed to make it to the brand new Greek Church for a sit down dinner in their air conditioned hall.
Many of the home made specialties were already sold out, but I was able to enjoy the lamb shanks tomato gravy on rice without the shanks, Loucanico, a Greek sausage made with a bit of orange rind, very different and delicious. I tasted a chicken and lamb kabob with mint, lemon and fennel seasoning, and pastichio, a macaroni and cheese bakes with a special bechamel sauce. (Jim and I shared.) This is a three day festival, so those who can, should go. The imported Greek beer was much like Amstel light.
A yummy day.