Windjammer Emporium: A community celebrates its maritime history

Wed, 06/19/2019 - 8:15am

The 18” x 24” black and white photographs lining the top of the wall entreat you to step back in time … back to the days when four and five-masted schooners were regular visitors to the Boothbay region. These photos depict schooners picking up ice from the West Harbor Ice Company. Another preserves the launching of the Ada Cliff (1918, East Coast Shipyard. The original Nellie G is in the forefront.

When Mark and Dianne Gimbel bought the former Mountain T’s T-shirt building on Pier 1, they did it with the idea of blending a maritime history component with nautically themed merchandise. The history component of the new Windjammer Emporium is Mark’s brainchild – and what he managed to pull together in time for the store opening over Memorial Day weekend is impressive. And it all happened with the help of members of the community, museums, historical societies, and family.

It’s not really a surprise to have two of the founding members of the Friends of Windjammer Days designating one-third of their new store for Windjammer and maritime history. The festival, now in year 57, celebrates windjammers, schooners and their role in the region’s, and Maine’s, history. The Gimbels, and the dedicated crew of fellow volunteers, have been at the helm of the Boothbay Harbor Windjammer Days Festival since 2013 though many crew members have been volunteers for the festival for decades.

Being a team player, Mark reached out to locals in the industry and others with all things maritime in their veins, including Hodgdon Yachts, Bristol Marine, Andy Tyska and Ross Branch, Elaine Jones, George McEvoy, David Winslow, Jon Dunsford, and Nat Wilson;  the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin College and Penobscot Maritime Museum. 

Mark called on Paul Coulombe to request the use of some of the models that graced the former Rocktide Inn. From that collection, there’s the 5-foot model of Titantic. Why? Mark plans on having a display about the Mainers onboard it that fateful April night.

Leisha MacDougall at the Video Loft was contacted to scan, develop and enlarge photos from various sources from negatives and precious original photos to digital files; Barbara Rumsey and Boothbay Region Historical Society provided historical photos and information.

“I think it’s pretty amazing what Mark managed to put together in such a short period of time,” MacDougall said referencing the Gimbels’ November to Memorial Day weekend timeframe. “People love local heritage. When you get a bunch of locals together there, the stories start coming! We have a lot to learn about our own history … as time goes by that history can get lost through the generations.”

Ryan Leighton worked with Mark on editing a schooner Bowdoin documentary once used by Admiral Donald B. MacMillan during a lecture about his 1950 trip to Greenland. Mark worked with the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum in Brunswick making many visits there researching for the Bowdoin exhibit now at the Windjammer Emporium. The looping video is eight and a half minutes long.

“It was built at Hodgdon in 1921. Then in the 40s and 50s, Boothbay Harbor was (its) homeport,” Mark said. “The video is so exciting to watch … 3,000 people were at the town dock to see her off to Greenland. You can see the Nellie G II and the original Linekin in the harbor.”

Local historian and accomplished ship modeler Jon Dunsford contributed a Bowdoin diorama depicting the vessel wintering in the Arctic Circle circa 1924. Dunsford has also instructed Mark on the finer points of model cleaning – to care for models coming in for the exhibit that may have been in storage a long time and general upkeep post installation. “Jon has actually been a great mentor to me,” Mark said as he moved on to the Hodgdon kiosk.

The Hodgdon Yachts kiosk depicts its history, 1895 to present day, the region’s oldest, longest running shipyard. Mark asked employee and history major (at University of Maine at Farmington this fall) Page Brown if she wanted to help with the content for the Hodgdon kiosk.

“Being a history major, I was excited to not only help build a place where visitors can enjoy history, but to also learn of my own region’s history,” Brown said. “Some of the photos selected highlight minesweepers, luxury yachts, classic schooners and the world famous Comanche.”

Brown wrote captions for the Hodgdon kiosk with some help from Tim and Audrey Hodgdon, who also provided numerous photos. Brown also wrote some captions for the Bristol Marine kiosk.

“I’m using this fantastic opportunity as a resume builder,” said Brown. “Having physical evidence of historical research, particularly research that was intended for public consumption and not just for a grade, will be a great asset to me in years to come. I’m very thankful Mark thought of me and trusted a teenager enough to work on this.”

Bristol Marine paid tribute to Sample’s Shipyard with a display of advertising clippings Mark said are really fun to read. Ross Branch and Andy Tyska provided information on particulars like defining what a steambox is used for, how it bends wood frames; and the processes used in rebuilding the Ernestina-Morrissey and in the repair of the Bowdoin.

As more community members heard about the new exhibit under construction, other local families contacted Mark to contribute to it including Mark Carter who created the Fuller Shipyard display; Alfred Barter donated his father’s and grandfather’s shipbuilding tools that Ross Branch identified for the antique tools display.

Internationally renowned sailmaker Nat Wilson of East Boothbay has a different kind of canvas – his own kiosk focusing on “The History of Sailmaking.” Mark said the kiosk will include sailcloth made in 1890 by LA Dunton Sailmaking, which was located where Fisherman’s Wharf is now.

With plans for a Winslow Marine display, Mark spent some time with the late Eliot and Marjorie Winslow’s son, David. During that time he heard some great stories and received incredible photos of Eliot during World War II to borrow for copying.

“A super interesting story David told me about was when Eliot was the commander of an armed Coast Guard cutter, the Argo during the war,” said Mark with a touch of excitement in his voice. “We have a photo of Eliot and a surrendering German commander. Eliot and his crew escorted four German Uboats to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

“To celebrate, Eliot managed to get permission to bring the Argo to Love’s Cove (on Southport Island) to show his parents his ship. He backed the cutter into the Cove and, naturally, he was such a ham (laughing) he took his parents on a sightseeing tour aboard the cutter up the (Townsend) Gut, and around Boothbay Harbor before bringing it back.”

Elaine Jones and Hal Marden created a Burnt Island display that includes a model of the bell tower constructed by Marden and previously on display in the walkway in the keeper’s quarters. The lighthouse will be 200 next year. To add to the funds for the capital campaign for the complete restoration of the tower and lantern room, which will include a 6 1/2-foot fiberglass model of the tower, $1 donations will make the tower light flash.

There is so much history already in the Windjammer Emporium, but it isn’t complete as yet so today’s visitors – locals and others – will need to come back for more.

The Emporium, with a retail side of historical, nautical clothing, games, books, ship models and more, is a fine example of a community celebrating its rich history to share with one another and the thousands of visitors who also love the Boothbay region. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be at the Windjammer Emporium when one of the local old-timers is there … to hear, in the words of news announcer-reporter Paul Harvey, “… the rest of the story!”