Steamboats were once a glamorous means of transport for tourists summering at Moosehead Lake – but when the era faded, ship owners sank the once-beloved vessels.
“A hundred years ago there were dozens of these things cruising around here,” said a man who’d suddenly appeared next to me at the dock as I watched the approaching steamboat. He’d startled me out of my reverie, my gaze caught somewhere between the shimmer that dances across Moosehead Lake and the seaplanes taking off toward Mount Katahdin.
I grew up in the US state of Maine at a smaller lake not far from here, and I spent many summers taking day trips to Moosehead Lake with my family. But this was the first time I boarded the historical Steamboat Katahdin, the last of a once-numerous fleet that used to ferry hordes of well-dressed elites from nearby train depots to the area’s luxury resorts for their summer holidays.
Even though the lake is 310 sq km (the state’s biggest), it was hard to imagine as many as 50 vessels cruising around it. “What happened to the rest of them?” I asked.
He pointed down to the murky water. Apparently, many are sitting at the bottom.
From roughly the 1830s to the 1930s, when the steamboats were in operation, this lake and surrounding woods in northern Maine were as popular for American tourists as a visit to the Hamptons or Cape Cod today. US author Henry David Thoreau was captivated by these millions of acres of forestland. In his 1864 book, The Maine Woods, he recounted standing at the top of Mount Katahdin: “I could see… boundless forests, and lakes, and streams, gleaming in the sun.”