Life in Harpswell Maine in the Early
to Mid 1900's
By the Third, Fourth and Fifth
Harpswell Islands &
West Harpswell Schools
A 1997-98 Harpswell History
Gladys Abby Allen
The Dead Ship of Harpswell
Roy Knight & Cliff Moody
Ken & Marge Wille
Mary & Eleanor Wilson
The Witch Of Harpswell
Boat builder & Lobsterman
Ever since the earliest
settlers came and even before that, people of
Harpswell have worked on and around the water. To
find out about one man's work around the ocean, we
talked to George Barnes. We asked him about work
that Henry Barnes did. Henry Barnes was George
Barnes' and Pat Barnes Moody's father. (Mrs. Moody
is our teacher.)
The earliest Barnes ancestor
that settled in Harpswell was Nathaniel Barnes. He
came to Harpswell in 1731. No one knows exactly
where he came from or when he first came to this
country. At one time he owned a quarter of Bailey
Island, land at Lookout Point, and High Head. Some
old deeds show that he sold the Bailey Island land
for 250 pounds or what would now be six or seven
hundred dollars. After that Nathaniel moved to Nova
Scotia, but some of his sons stayed in Harpswell.
Henry Barnes was born January
17, 1903 in what is now the oldest house in
Harpswell. It was originally called the Andrew
Dunning House. It is the white house on the right
that's just before the Mountain Road bridge to Great
Henry Barnes' father, George
A. Barnes went to sea before he became a farmer.
Twice he went on a trade ship to India. The ship was
called the Sam Skolfield. It was built at the
Skolfield shipyard. Sam Skolfield was the captain on
the first trip, Captain Bishop on the second. The
ship carried case oil to India and brought back jute
used for making rope. Another ancestor died at sea,
probably from yellow fever.
In the early 1900's a lot of
teenagers and young men worked on yachts. Henry
Barnes first went on a yacht at the age of eighteen.
At twenty-one he had his master’s papers and was
captain of an 80 ft yacht with a 7 man crew. The
yachts were owned by rich people. They sailed up and
down the coast. The homeports of yachts that Henry
sailed were New York City, Marblehead,
Massachusetts, and Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. When
yachting, Henry was gone from home from early spring
to late autumn. Once when an owner of a yacht got
sick, they sailed into South Harpswell. Henry took
the owner to Brunswick to go home on a train. The
yacht stayed in Harpswell for a month and Henry
stayed with his family until he got a telegram
telling him to bring the yacht back so the owner's
wife could have a party on it. Besides sailing
yachts, Henry had to do a lot of painting, sand
papering, varnishing and polishing brass. Later when
he built his first boat, someone gave him a
beautiful brass steering wheel. He took the wheel to
Portland and traded it for a galvanized wheel. He
said he was “all done polishing brass.”
Henry Barnes married Fern
Louise Britt who was born in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Her father was born and brought up in Harpswell. He
and his brother started a boatyard in Lynn. They
built yachts; some designed by well known yacht
One summer when Louise Britt
(Henry's wife) was sick, she came to stay at the
boarding house in Harpswell which was owned by
Henry's parents. That is how Henry and Louise first
When Henry was first married
to Louise they lived in Lynn, Mass. Henry worked at
the Britt shipyard. They later moved to Camden,
Maine, then to Harpswell.
Their son, George Barnes, was
born in Lynn, and their daughter, Pat, was born in
the family's Harpswell house. The house is the
second house below Neal's Point Road.
When Henry Barnes stopped
yachting, he worked at a company in Bath and then
Bath Iron Works during World War II. Also during
that time he started building boats and lobstering.
Henry learned how to build boats when he worked at
Britt's boatyard in Lynn, Mass.
Henry's boat shop was by his
house in North Harpswell. The shop was a small red
building that had been used as a chicken house.
Herman Morse worked with him on boats and at times
Bill Bibber, Linwood Bibber, Charlie Bibber, Abner
Lowell, and sometimes Sheldon Morse.
Henry built lobster boats,
some pleasure boats, and also skiffs. Larger boats
were usually up to 39 feet. One was 45 feet. The
boat shop building had to be extended for that boat.
Neither George Barnes nor
Mrs. Moody helped build the lobster boats, but Mrs,
Moody used to lie on the floor under a skiff to hold
the clinching iron while the men put nails in. She
remembers that it made her arm ache a lot, but she
didn't say anything because she didn't want anyone
to know how much it hurt.
George Barnes showed us
pictures to explain the steps in building a lobster
boat. We saw the beginning of a keel, the stern
post, the ribs, and the beginning of the planking.
The oak was boiled and steamed so that it would be
able to bend. When the oak, was boiled the wood
would turn a reddish color because of tunic acid in
the oak. Later the molds were taken out of the boat,
then the floor was put in. They would add the rudder
and the propeller and then the engine was put in.
Finally it would be painted and the name would be
put on the boat. Boats were dragged to Lookout Point
where they were launched.
Henry and his crew started
making boats around Christmas and worked until June.
They built two or three boats a year. The men
started lobstering in June.
Henry didn't advertise. He
got business by word of mouth or when someone save
one of his boats and liked it. Henry built 79
lobster boats, including some pleasure boats, and
many skiffs. Some of those boats are still in use.
One of those boats is on Chebeaue, one in Mere
Point, and another in North Caroline,
One boat cost $2,300 when it
was made. After being used for 20 years it was
refastened and sold for $20,000.
Henry stopped building boats
because he vas getting too old and also he didn't
want to make fiberglass boats. A few people still
build wooden boats, but most boats are made of
fiberglass. They also have marine engines now. They
used to have automobile engines.
Henry refused to make
fiberglass boats. He said, "If the Lord wanted us to
have fiberglass, he would have made fiberglass