Historic boats are as much a part of New England as Revolutionary battlefields and old taverns. The region has a fascinating maritime history — even in Vermont, which has the 110-mile long Lake Champlain.
Historic boats include everything from submarines to frigates, steamboats to schooners. The luxurious to the prosaic, Gilded Age yachts carried millionaires while workhorse schooners hauled coal and fertilizer.
We decided against including replicas such as tall ships, though we did include historic boats that have undergone extensive restoration.
Here, then, are six historic boats, one in each New England state.
Charles W. Morgan
The Charles W. Morgan, a whaling ship built in 1841, is the oldest surviving merchant vessel and America’s only surviving wooden whaling ship from the 19th century.
She was designed to catch whales and harvest the whale blubber on deck for whale oil. The Charles W. Morgan made 37 voyages from her home port of New Bedford, Mass. They ranged from nine months to five years.
On her very first voyage, her crew caught and processed 59 whales for 2,400 barrels of whale oil. Over the course of her active lifetime, 1,000 men served as her crew and harvested 54,483 barrels of sperm whale oil. Some of her crew survived a cannibal attack in the South Pacific. She also sailed the South Atlantic and Indian oceans.
Difficulties bookended her career as an active whaling ship.
As she was under construction in 1841, the boatbuilders went on strike, demanding a 10-hour work day. Three weeks later the workers accepted a 10-1/2 hour compromise.
After harvesting whales for 80 years, it took 87 years to fully restore the old vessel. Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Conn., finished restoring the Charles W. Morgan in 2013. In 2014, she sailed her 38th voyage — touring New England.
75 Greenmanville Ave., Mystic, Conn.
The Victory Chimes, known as a shoal draft centerboard schooner, one of only three surviving examples of a three-masted schooner in the United States. Her owners used her in the Great Lakes, along the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. Today people call her a windjammer, and she carries passengers on pleasure cruises along the Maine coast.
Schooners carry cargo, wood, coal, fertilizer and grain; empty cans for canning factories; and goods for stores along lumbering rivers. The Victory Chimes, a Chesapeake Ram schooner, was designed for the shallow Chesapeake Bay and Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. Ram schooners earned their names because they butted their way through the other schooners on the canal.
Built in 1900 in Delaware, she hauled cargo along the Chesapeake until 1946 under the name Edwin and Maude. In retirement, she worked as a ‘dude schooner’ on the Chesapeake.
Windjamming had started in Maine in the 1930s when a man named Frank Swift of Bucksport came up with the idea. Maine investors bought the Edwin and Maude in 1954, renamed her Victory Chimes and repurposed her as a windjammer.
In 1984, Thomas Monaghan of Domino’s Pizza bought her and called her Domino Effect. In 1988, he refitted – and saved – her, using original techniques. She returned to Maine in 1989, bought by Capts. Kip Files and Paul deGaeta, who renamed her Victory Chimes.
Today, Victory Chimes appears as the windjammer on the back of the Maine state quarter.
Captain Spear Drive, Rockland, Maine
We simply couldn’t leave the legendary naval frigate Old Ironsides off our list of historic boats.
George Washington named her in 1797, and today she is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat.
She defeated four English warships of the supposedly invincible British Navy during the War of 1812. On Aug. 19, 1812, she earned her nickname while quickly winning a one-sided battle with the Guerriere off the Nova Scotia coast.
The Guerriere began firing at the Constitution while she was largely out of range. As one shot bounced off her hull, a seamen reportedly shouted, “Huzza, her sides are made of iron!”
The U.S. Navy considered Old Ironsides a piece of junk in 1833, until a young Harvard student found out about their plans to use her for target practice and sink her.
An indignant Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a poem about her and sent it to the Boston Daily Advertiser. Old Ironsides begins:
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky…
You probably know how the storm of protest saved the old warship. Today you can visit Old Ironsides year round at the USS Constitution Museum in Boston.
Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown, Mass.
The Albacore, once described as ‘the submarine that gave its body to science,’ today ranks as one of the most popular tourist attractions in Portsmouth, N.H.
The experimental sub’s most perilous voyage was her last – from Portsmouth Harbor to her permanent display site on dry land.
In Portsmouth, workers built a marine railway along which she could float to her final resting place. First, they had to remove a railway trestle and make a temporary cut across a four-lane highway. She struck bottom three times and then got stuck in the middle of the road. It took months to build a dam so she could be refloated. Portsmouth commuters were not amused.
During her active life, the Navy used the Albacore to test experimental features used in nuclear submarines. Built in 1952-53 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the Navy launched her on Aug. 1, 1953. For the next two decades she went through many changes as the Navy experimented with hull configurations, propellers, rudders, blow systems and sonar.
Like most of the other historic boats on our list, she is a National Historic Landmark.
Albacore Park, 600 Main St., Portsmouth, N.H.
Amazingly, Rhode Island has no historic boats listed as National Historic Landmarks. But America’s wateriest state does have the Coronet, one of the world’s oldest and largest schooner yachts. The word ‘yacht’ indicates a vessel built for sport or pleasure rather than hauling freight. And she is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Industrialist Rufus T. Bush had the Coronet built as a luxurious waterborne home and as a Gilded Age status symbol in 1885. She earned worldwide fame when Bush won a transatlantic race against the Dauntless in 1887. The New York Times devoted its entire full page to the race results. Bush then circumnavigated the globe in the Coronet. After he died, she passed through six owners, including the religious organization known as the Kingdom.
Since 2010, the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport has worked on restoring the Coronet. Coronet Restoration Partners manages the project.
449 Thames St, Newport, R.I.
The Ticonderoga, a side-paddle-wheel lakeboat, carried passengers and freight on Lake Champlain. She was built in 1906 on Lake Champlain in the Shelburne Shipyard. In 1950, the historic boat returned to Shelburne – to the Shelburne Museum, where she sits on dry land. The SS Ticonderoga was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964.
At two-thirds the length of a football field, she required a crew of 28. In the early days, she met the evening train from New York in Westport and steamed to St. Albans carrying passengers, farm produce, livestock and dry goods. During both world wars she carried soldiers between Plattsburgh, N.Y., and Burlington. Later she ran from Burlington west to Port Kent, N.Y., and for a while she operated as a floating casino.
The museum restored her interior, with original furniture and appointments in the dining room, captain’s quarters, promenade deck and barber shop.
6000 Shelburne Rd, Shelburne, Vt.
Images: Charles W. Morgan By Rhvanwinkle at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15032247; Victory Chimes By Raphodon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5516997. Old Ironsides By Yuhan Zhang – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73538648. This story was updated in 2023.