Harpswell Historical Society

Incorporated 1979

929 Harpswell Neck Road
Harpswell, Maine  04079

The Harpswell Historical Society is dedicated to the discovery, identification, collection, preservation, interpretation, and dissemination of materials relating to the history of Harpswell and its people.

Table of Contents

Historic Park 
and Museum

Links to 
related sites


Occupations in Harpswell Maine in the Early to Mid 1900's

Henry Barnes: Yachtsman, Boatbuilder and Lobsterman

By students of West Harpswell School

A 2001-2002 Harpswell History Project


Growing up
Living on a Farm

Henry Barnes:
Yachtsman, Boatbuilder and 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 Island.

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 masters 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 home ports 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 designers.

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 met.

When Henry was first married to Louise they lived in Lynn, Mass. Henry worked at the Britt shipyard. They later moved to Camden, Maine and 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 at 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.

Early procedure of building a boat. George Barnes showed us pictures to explain the steps in building a lobster boat. We saw This picture show the ribs of the boat 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 tanic 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. Planking a lobster boat. 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 saw 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 Chebeague, one in Mere Point, and another in North Carolina.

One boat cost $2,350 when it was made. After being used for 20 years it was refastened and sold for $20,000.

Henry stopped building boats because he was 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 boats, he would have made fiberglass trees!