The Rise and Fall of the Steamer Fawn
Prepared by Michael J. Davis
Here in the Lakes Region, when we think of boating “in the old times” most people tend to divide into two camps. Either we imagine the first arrival of the settlers in their rustic canoes and sailboats, or we picture instead the pleasure yachts and steamships of the early 20th century, whose forms and appearance are not so different from those we still find here today. But it may surprise you to learn that the first steamship which ever operated on Sebago Lake did so over a decade before the Civil War, and what is more, that she was based here in North Bridgton. Pre-dating the tourism booms of the 1870’s and 80’s, and standing as pioneers in their trade, in 1846 several prominent businessmen from North Bridgton and Harrison organized themselves into a group of proprietors “for the purpose of facilitating public travel, not only to those places, and the towns in the immediate vicinity of those beautiful Ponds and Lakes; but also to afford a more rapid, easy and pleasant conveyance to places still farther in the interior.” These men would, in less than a year, oversee the creation of one of the most noteworthy and beloved of all the boats which ever set sail on Long Lake since the dawn of Merchant Andrews’ “nautical ingenuity.”
Since the days of Bridgton’s earliest settlement, a single water route had been the primary means of getting into the foothills of Western Maine; a traveler would portage up the Presumpscot River to Sebago Lake, navigate through the tortuously curving Songo and across Brandy Pond, and then sail across Long Lake to reach North Bridgton. The installation of Stagecoach roads to Standish at the dawn of the 1800’s cut out the portage of civilians up the difficult Presumpscot, and the creation of the Cumberland and Oxford Canal in 1832 eased the conveyance of freight Portland to Windham through a series of canals which further tamed the wild river. All of this, together with the 1820’s black powder destruction of the Songo River’s “ripplings” and the later installation of the famed Songo Lock, had the effect of opening up Sebago Lake and our lakes region to the passage of coastal tourists and travelling parties – thus beginning the tourism industry which continues here to this day.
With the 1840’s came visitors, and it was not long before the need for large boats on the lake began to be felt. Into Bridgton came tourists from Fryeburg, Conway, Bethel and beyond, and into Sebago came tourists from Portland, Portsmouth, and even Boston. With a passable waterway linking these two outposts, what our region needed was a ship to connect the two towns together; one of a size and type which the recent improvements to the waterway and radical developments in technology at last made possible.
It would have to be a Steamship.
The proprietors called themselves the Sebago and Long Pond Steam Navigation Company, and were led in their efforts by George S. Farnsworth, a wealthy shop-keeper from North Bridgton. We know that each of the men involved put in money for the boat’s development, and served as stockholders from which a board of Trustees was elected. The initial amount of money raised was $10,000, with the first stock sold at $25 per share. Regrettably, the records of their organization have almost entirely vanished, though we do know that other men from Bridgton included Samuel F. Perley, Albion K. Morse, and Moses Soule, then headmaster of Bridgton Academy. Mr. Soule would later serve as President of the company in 1848, and may have been President from the advent. A later note from Mr. Farnsworth, published in the Portland Daily Press of February 24th, 1885, recalled the founding of the association, and the little ship they arranged to have built. Someone, whose name is now lost to history, decided to call it the Fawn. Farnsworth writes; “The steamer Fawn was built by the Sebago and Long Pond Steam Navigation Company at North Bridgton in 1847… the keel was laid early in March, she was launched [around] the last of May, her engine and machinery then put in and upper works built.”
At its founding the company petitioned the State Legislature for incorporation, which the Portland Weekly Advertiser tells us was received in early June; “We referred a few days since, in our report of Legislative proceedings, to a petition for a corporation to be called ‘The Sebago and Long Pond Steam Navigation Company.’ The petitioners, mostly belonging to Bridgton and Harrison, have in view to build two steamboats of small size, one to run as a passenger and freight boat, from the landing at Standish to the head of Long Pond, to connect with a stage from this city – the other for a tow and freight boat. Our lake and river scenery, in this section, heretofore rather difficult to access, will doubtless attract many pleasure travelers to this route, and as the route by the White Mountains, by way of Bridgton…” Most notable, the charter obtained from the Legislature granted the S&LP Steam Nav. Co. not just the right, but “the sole and exclusive right of employing and using steam power for the purpose of navigation on Long and Sebago Ponds and intervening waters, during the term of ten years.” If everything went according to plan, theirs was to be a company without competition. This would later prove to be the signal element of the Fawn’s existence.
That their efforts were highly public is shown in the reminiscences of Rev. Truman S. Perry, who wrote a letter fifty years later detailing his time at Bridgton Academy in the Spring of 1846, in which he remarked; “That year the Steamer Fawn began to be talked of and next she was built and launched upon the lake, a wonder to all the country round.” The company never built the second freight boat, but from records at the Bridgton Historical Society we have determined that the Fawn was successfully launched on June 5th, 1847. We hear from a source of dubious provenance that “near a thousand” people attended, but for a more definitive account, we find the maiden voyage documented in a letter written by the Company directors on June 9th; the text of which, as printed in the Portland Weekly Advertiser, is still extant. Issued “For the Good of the Public,” this account served as a flashy broadside intended to draw vacationers up from Portland, Boston and beyond; boldly (perhaps over-boldly) touting the Fawn as ideal for all travelers whose destinations included “Portland, Sebago and Long Ponds; Fryeburg, Conway and the White Mountains; Norway, Paris, &c.; Bethel, Shelburne and Lancaster; Coos, N.H. and Essex, Vt; Travel from Boston and the South; Portland, Presumpscot and Sebago Rail Road, &c. While we will not quote the letter in total, it is here worth reproducing several significant passages;
“In passing through North Bridgton, (a gem of a village, delightfully situated at the head of Long Pond,) on the afternoon of Saturday the 5th, inst.; I was there witness to a very interesting scene; one of great novelty in the interior of Maine, and worthy of an extensive public notice.
It was nothing less, than the launching of a Steamer – an elegantly modelled boat of from ninety to a hundred feet in length, called the Fawn. A name significant of symmetry, beauty and speed; and judging from her outline and general proportions, [I] should say that it was most appropriately applied. Highly decorated with Flags, with a fine band of music, and some fifty citizens on board, she left the “ways” in fine style, and to use the pertinent expression of a spectator, “glided into the Lake, as gracefully as a young duck into a newly discovered puddle.”
Hundreds of the inhabitants of the neighboring towns and villages “were out to see the launch;” all seemed to admire the beautiful proportions of the Boat, and to appear highly gratified with the exhibition. The North Bridgton and Harrison barges, “were out, full manned, and in full regalia,” each with a fair complement of fair Ladies. These Bargemen are “gallant fallows,” and did honor to the occasion.”
Designed by Herbert Lawrence of New York and built by the noted Capt. John Friend, despite her 90 foot run she drew less than three feet in the water and her special crosshead engine, a low-pressure boiler able to be run on cordwood, was said to have been “one of the best ever constructed at the Allaire Works,” was of sufficient power to “propel the boat as rapidly as possible” across the lake. The chief engineer who designed this engine was one Mr. Millholland, and it was installed by a Mr. Curtis of Freeport, who also served as the Fawn’s master carpenter. The Bridgton News of November 19th, 1897 reports that over the course of her life, the Fawn had five consecutive engineers, in order from the beginning being “Christopher Brown, another Brown whose first name we cannot recollect, a Mr. Wilson, Newell N. Caswell,” and Albion K. Morse. The Captain “throughout was Christopher C. Sampson; the clerks were Frank Sawyer, Thomas R. Sampson, and A.K. Morse. There were also a deck hand, fireman, and in its earliest running, a wheelman. It was a side-wheel steamer; cost about $10,000.” Daniel Scribner was fireman for many years, and was later succeeded by a man named Waterhouse.
The Fawn plied a thrice-weekly route over Long Lake, Brandy Pond, and down the Songo River to Sebago Lake, for a total distance of over thirty miles. Arriving at Chadbourne’s Landing at the foot of Sebago Lake, where she would pick up morning passengers from the Portland stage roads, it took about four hours for her to reach Harrison on the return trip, having stopped twice at Naples and Bridgton. Then, having picked up any passengers from the White Mountain stage roads through Fryeburg, Norway, and Bethel, she would return back to Chadbourne’s in time for her passengers to catch the evening stage coaches to Portland and points south. It cost fifty cents per ride, and for those willing to use the stage coaches it technically allowed “a daily communication, (both ways) farther into the interior than has before been accomplished.” The proprietors, aware of the great influx of visitors this ship would bring to our region, also began to advocate for the further creation of stage lines and hotels, in hopes that “these Ponds or Lakes [might] yet become the great summer thorough-fare for the Portland, Boston and Souther travel to the White Mountains, in addition to becoming an extensive avenue for Northern Cumberland and Oxford, for Coos and Strafford in N.H., and for Northern Vermont.”
This call was soon answered by one Mr. Eliakim Maxfield, a man who seems to have gone by Maxfield as his favored name and who, according to a public statement by the company in September of 1849, was an “agent and one of the proprietors in the line of stages from Portland to Waterford, the route of said stage line being in the immediate vicinity of the Lakes.” The company formed an arrangement with Maxfield “to run stages to meet the boat at Standish and carry passengers to and from Portland to that place,” which he did until the close of the season, at which time the company was convinced of the stage’s viability and voted to purchase the stagecoach property for themselves, “uniting the staging on the land route with the Boat over the Lakes. This proposition was finally accepted and the Boat Co., became owners of the stage stock between Standish and Portland, and from Portland to Waterford… The Proprietors were satisfied after careful examination of the subject, that this was the only way by which the public could be accommodated, and passengers carried to and from Portland to the Boar with certainty.” The History of Waterford reveals that when “the Waterford Stage company sold their stage interest to the Steamboat Company,” they took “$1200 in company stock in part payment,” after which Maxfield became one of the prominent stockholders in the company, and served the Directors as Press Agent.
Mr. Farnsworth tells us that after her launch the top decks of the ship were finished, afterwhich “she made her first trial trip to Songo Lock in August and commenced her regular trips about the first of September.” In support of a late August/early September season opener, we find a letter from one E.F. Quimby of North Bridgton, dated August 23rd, 1847, who observed “that the new and beautiful steamer “Fawn” is ready for business upon the waters of Sebago and Long Ponds, and the romantic stream that unites them. She had been out a number of times upon Long Pond, and makes a brilliant appearance surely. Everything works charmingly; and we were highly gratified with the trip we made, on Saturday last, to Naples. The Captain (Mr. Sampson) informed me that he intended to pass the length of the pond in 40 minutes, a distance of about 11 miles. What a fine excursion for those who are hived up in the city, to come up these ponds in the ‘Fawn’ and so on to Pleasant Mountain, and from thence to the White Mountains. Nothing, we think, in the shape of a pleasure tour, can surpass it.”
As it happened, Mr. Quimby’s assessment was correct; the visitors did come – and quickly. Just two weeks later we find the first evidence of their patronage in a letter to the editor of the Portland Weekly Advertiser, dated September 7th;
“Having occasion to visit the interior this week, and been induced to try the new route by way of Sebago Pond, I will, with your permission, give a brief outline thereof for the benefit of your readers. We started from the American House in stages… and arrived at Chadbourne’s landing, on the south side of Sebago Pond, where we found the new steamer Fawn, all ready for a start. Having embarked, we proceeded across the pound about 14 miles to the mouth of Songo River, which was accomplished in sixty-five minutes. Here our progress, in consequence of the numerous bends in the river, was less rapid – the 7 miles to the Bay of Naples (formerly called Brandy Pond) being performed in one hour. Thence we proceeded about 4 miles across the Bay into Long Pond to the village of Naples, where we landed and took in passengers – thence up Long Pond, touching at Middle Bridgton (where stages connect for the White Mountains vie Fryeburg and Conway), at North Bridgton, and finally to the village of Harrison, where stages connect for Waterford and the towns above… In regard to the route we can say, in all sincerity, that our anticipations were fully realized – the change from the stage to the steamer after a ride of two and a half hours, was very timely – the sail across Sebago (smooth as a floor) was delightful – the navigation of the Songo, its serpentine course requiring very frequent changes in the direction and trim of the boar, was just exciting enough to be pleasurable – to which add the feeling of perfect security throughout, and we have enough to satisfy a reasonable man without adding a word about the beauties of Long Pond, which are too well known to be said or sung.”
The first year of the Fawn’s operation was a fine success, though we do hear of a few initial problems which had to be ironed out in the opening months. Sometimes the ship, when filled nigh to capacity with passengers, scraped across a sandbar near the dock at Standish, with one encounter being so near a stranding that one passenger remarked “that he was mighty glad that there was a good heavy dew the night before.” In response to this we have found evidence that the company soon bought a dredging machine, which was used to clear the sandbanks around their Bridgton and Standish docks. Another early incident, and the most humorous we have found, was later recalled by Charles O. Stickney in the July 17th, 1907 edition of the Lewiston Journal, but sadly the surviving archives of that paper are incomplete. A portion of the article is quoted, however, in the History of Harrison, from which we learn that in the Fawn’s first year of operation, due to its having not been designed for the extraordinary windings of the Songo, “In making a short turn the steamboat would tip sideways, thereby lifting one of the paddle-wheels out of the water, on account of which the passengers literally worked their passage when going through the Songo, they being used as ballast to keep her evenly balanced by dint of going to one side and the other as she went round the sharp curves… But ere long, Yankee ingenuity devised an improvised substitute in the form of a little deck car laden with iron chain, which was pushed back and forth on the deck on a cross-wise track, which had the distinction of being the first narrow-gauge ‘railroad’ ever run in that vicinity.” This ballast chest adequately solved the problem, and it remained on board for the duration of the Fawn’s operation.
The advent of winter brought an end to what seems to have been a successful, if short, opening season, and in late April the stockholders resolved to put the Fawn back in operation as quickly as possible, but owing to log drives on the Songo River its launch had to be delayed until May. We understand that the southern end of Long Lake in Naples had a particular region known as “Mast Cove,” from which considerable numbers of pine trees were cut and floated down the Songo in the early years. We find an apologetic note on the status of the “Sebago and Long Pond Steamboat” from May 16th, 1848, issued in the Portland Advertiser by the notably testy Directors; “We understand that the Steamer Fawn will probably make her first trip from Bridgton to Standish Landing next Monday. She would have run before, had it not been for the logs in the river nor yet drove out.” At last, on May 30th, the glad news came, announced by Press Agent Maxfield; “The Steamer Fawn has commenced her regular trips on Sebago, Brandy and Long Ponds in connexion with a line of stages between this city [Portland] and Standish, where the passengers up, take the boat. Passengers on this route arrived in here on the first trip on Monday at 12 o’clock, having left Harrison and Bridgton at 6 ½ o’clock A.M. the same day – a trip that formerly consumed a day in making. This is one of the pleasantest routes we now have into the interior, and passes through a delightful region of country and affords a very agreeable change from the Stage to the Steamboat, and is the nearest route to the White Mountains, to which so many of our own citizens as well as others from distant places resort for pleasure and to escape from the dusty and confined air of a city during the summer months. The conveniences and comforts here afforded the traveler will, it is presumed, secure a liberal patronage to this new “stage and steamboat line.”
To help secure this patronage, the stockholders of the S.&.L.P. Nav. Co. directed Maxfield to commence a series of regular advertisements for the Fawn; run weekly in the Portland Advertiser and nigh-daily in Boston’s Daily Bee. These ads consisted of a timetable together with a brief description of the region’s attractions, complete with a sketched representation of the steamer in miniature; from which we surmise that the patriotic flags noted at its launching had become a standard feature of its decoration. These ads continue relentlessly through the summer, and seem to have succeeded in their effort of attracting visitors. One man, motivated to leave “the bustle, business and bricks of the city for a brief sojourn among the mountains of New England,” happened to be a correspondent for the Boston Courier, and produced from his experience a glowing editorial which ran on July 27th;
“Our company arrived in Portland by the express train from Boston on Monday, the 17th. ON Tuesday morning, we took stage… after a pleasant ride of fifteen miles through Westbrook and Gorham, we took the Steamer Fawn for Bridgton. This steamer is about 80 tons burden, and draws but 30 inches of water. She has side-wheels, and is the neatest boat of her size I have ever seen. We had about seventy-five passengers, which filled our little craft comfortably full. After a sail of about ten miles across Sebago Lake, we entered a narrow pass, through thick woods, and the scene which opened upon us was beautiful beyond description. The circuitous windings of the river, bringing new views every moment, the silence of the woods, and the thought of sailing by steam at the rate of six miles an hour, through a pass less than forty feet wide – the skillful management of the steamer, and the novelty of the whole scene, conspired to make this passage an occasion of great interest… We next entered “Brandy” Pond, a sheet of water some two miles long, with a width of about one mile. At the head of this pond, we passed through a lock where we were raised some six or eight feet to a level with the waters of Long Pond. A little village at the juncture of these waters, is most appropriately called “Naples.” Long Pond is two miles wide and fourteen long, and lies between ranges of hills on every side. The White Mountain passengers were landed at Bridgton, where they took stages for Fryeburg.”
To spare our readers the repetition of these materials, it will suffice to say that Maxfield’s ads continued through the summer, punctuated occasionally by similar favourable reports from passengers in both Portland and Boston newspapers; the most notable of which called the Fawn the “Ne Plus Ultra of Steam navigation… a snug little craft, perfect in all her armament.” The proprietors, emboldened by the success, met on August 30th and re-elected Mr. Soule to the position of President in a ceremony at the “Worombos House” in North Bridgton. Evidently pleased with Maxfield’s campaign, they must have directed him to keep at it; he would overenthusiastically continue these advertisements through December and into January. The last of these, which appeared on the eve of February, 1849, still advertised the Fawn as being in service, though by this date the passable route over the lakes had almost certainly frozen over; Guy Monk’s History of North Bridgton tells us that the ice on Long Lake is reliably a foot thick by January. But whenever the season actually ended, we know for certain when the next one began; May 14th, 1849, for on this date a new series of updated, larger ads began immediately in Portland’s papers, which again run ceaselessly for the remainder of the year. The proprietors were certainly getting their money’s worth out of Maxfield, and again their efforts paid off, with Bostonians and even New Yorkers arriving that season to catch the Fawn for Bridgton. One such passenger, who wrote an account in the August 11th edition of the noted American Traveler magazine, “recalled a very pleasant trip” to North Bridgton aboard the Fawn, in which he praised the management of Captain Sampson whose “great skill” put the boat through the Songo “without the least accident, though I several times on reaching out my hand, broke branches from the limbs of overhanging trees.” Another rider, who in 1856 recalled an old trip aboard the Fawn, noted that the Songo was so narrow and twisting that he had been certain the ship would not fit within it, “but when the masterly hand of Captain Sampson took hold of the wheel, she passed in and out round the bends like a thing of life.”
It was also in this third year, then under Directors Caleb Hodsden, George Pierce, and Horace Billings, that the Fawn first faced outside pressure, and while it managed to overcome the enemy in this case, the historian today sees in this event the rumblings of a distant storm. This pressure, long the downfall of many an enterprising start-up, was the old devil competition, coming in 1849 in the form of competing stage-coach lines. Spurred by the rise of tourism and a decades long fight over US Mail commissions, the late 1840’s were the days of cut-throat fares and sparring drivers; rivalries which drove down rates on passengers from five dollars per person to $2.50, then to $1.50, then just to $0.50, and eventually even lower. The archive of the Bridgton News and other local histories thoroughly chronicle the many rivalries, attempts of sabotage, and feats of skill and luck which characterized this period, which would drag on until around 1855. The parallel events of this history will perhaps be featured in a follow-up article, but for now it will suffice to say that in early 1848, a man named Thomas Abbot had taken over the old stage coach line “between Portland and the Mountains by way of Baldwin, Fryeburg, &c.” This line was in competition with Maxwell’s own, the line now owned by the Fawn’s directors. Seeking to attract business from the tourist crowd, Abbott began advertising his line “in connection with the boat.” While the stockholders were initially amenable to this, due to poor maintenance along his line and the fact that Bridgton was considerably out of the way for passengers along his route, in all of 1848 only 20 passengers aboard the Fawn were supplied by his line. So, wrote the directors in 1849, “at the commencement of the present season, convinced by the past that we could not rely on any agreement we might make with Mr. Abbott,” the company made a new accord with other coachmen to accommodate their passengers. In summary, this new arrangement did not go over well with Mr. Abbott, the result of which being that by 1849 the steamboat company found itself in a price war between their stage line, operated by one Mr. Gage, and Abbot’s own company.
In this war of attrition, passengers sometimes found themselves casualties, as with a party of Boston businessmen who travelled from Conway through Bridgton in August of 1849. These men, who later published a critical letter in the Portland Advertiser, described how while in Conway, and about to purchase five dollar tickets on Gage’s stage coach, (the Fawn owned line) they discovered that Abbott could get them to Bridgton a few hours later, but for the much lower cost of $1.25 each. Tickets aboard the Fawn itself only cost $1.25, so taking Abbott’s line would save them a whole $5 each. This they did happily, but upon arriving at the docks in North Bridgton, they were regrettably informed by Capt. Samson that their tickets to board the Fawn would cost $5, as opposed to the $1.25 they had seen advertised in Conway. This was explained because the advertisement they had seen in Conway was one offered by Gage’s line, and passengers who used his stage coaches got a deep discount on the steamboat boarding rates. With the company taking a cut of the money paid to Gage in fares, this plan had initially been formulated to incentivize customers to use the Fawn’s stage lines back when the rates between companies were equal. However, after the rival companies cut their rates, this policy had the unfortunate effect of discriminating against those Fawn passengers who came by other coaches. Parties like the Boston group, who were not willing to pay Gage’s higher rate in Conway, now found themselves being charged four times as much per person to board the Fawn at Bridgton, the company now trying to recoup the loss they had taken on the coach by charging full boarding price. Reading the men’s letter, and the official response Maxfield issued a week later, it is clear that while Capt. Sampson tried to explain the nuance of the discount to the men, they would not hear of it and instead threatened legal action, demanding receipts and documentation which Sampson could not provide. The heat of the matter was not helped by the crew who, attempting to reassure the men, were taken for a mob. People came down from the village to watch at the docks, and for a moment things appeared dangerous, before Capt. Sampson resolutely “laid his hand on the gentleman’s arm to gain his attention and told him… ‘You shall not be hurt, there will be no striking here, we are not fighting characters.’” The company Clerk resolved to “give them tickets, carry them through, and treat them like gentlemen,” and the whole matter came to a quiet end, with the Proprietors later publishing a public letter of apology, though not without a condemnation of the rival stage line’s undercutting of their prices.
“What can be done with the boat if no passengers are brought to it? How will passengers reach the boat if Mr. Abbott and als should succeed in their efforts by reducing the faer, to have the road to themselves?... We are acting in pure self defense to save our line from destruction, and the people in other words, the stockholders, in this company, there are many of them here [who have] already had their pockets deeply smitten… there have been instances where this line of conduct we have felt obliged to adopt has seemed to operate hard on individuals. All such cases if any have occurred we sincerely regret, and do believe that when the embarrassments and difficulties under which we have labored are better understood, we shall be acquitted of doing intentional wrong by the public, for whose accommodation and convenience the route over the lake has been opened by this corporation.” To offset the losses on their stage line, the Directors were forced to authorize another batch of stock be issued, now at only $10 a share, by which point “nearly every man of property from the foot to the head of the ponds had stock in the steamboat line.” But even through these troubles, the Fawn remained profitable, and in the end the warring stage-lines did more damage to each other than to the steamboat itself. The Fawn were still the only game on the lake, and by law was guaranteed exclusivity for another eight years, and furthermore a steamship was always going to be faster and more comfortable than even the best stagecoach. What is more, with the fares being driven down at the rate they were – to the point that around 1850 some passengers were enabled to ride from Portland to Fryeburg for free! – the stage lines showed little chance of improving the quality of their rides in that climate. With Maxfield’s ceaseless efforts in the press, the Fawn had established itself as the primer link in the tourist line “from Portland to the Mountains.” The 1849 season closed successfully and with good indications of an increased patronage the following year.
The Proprietor’s hopes for 1850 were answered by the renovation and opening of the new Pleasant Mountain House on the 25th of June, to which a large assembly of guests and a brass band from Portland attended, having been brought to town on the Fawn. The connection between the steamer and the new hotel was so strong that the Fawn even came to be advertised in the Pleasant Mountain House’s own advertisements, and several travel writers who came to inspect the new grand hotel make especial mention of the Fawn in their writings. One writer, a Mr. J.R. for the Salem Register, noted in his 1850 serial Away Down East that he had been very impressed by the “snug little steamer Fawn – a tiny specimen of a steamship, commanded by Capt. C.C.W. Sampson. She is 90 feet long, draws only 32 inches, has an engine of 40 horse power, and achieves an average speed of 11 miles per hour.” During this period of growth, the History of Harrison reveals that the Fawn drew such esteemed passengers as Mary Emerson, sister of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “who was a frequent traveler over the route. She was very peculiar, and Mr. Caswell [engineer] had a great horror of her. In the engine room was a chest that sat against the boiler, and furnished a good seat for any one that was cold. Miss Emerson seemed to be always cold, for she spent the greater part of her time while on the boat, in sitting on that chest. Mr. Caswell determined that he would try to frighten her away when next she took her favorite position. Soon she was again a passenger, and planted herself on the chest as usual. As soon as Mr. Caswell was at liberty, he approached her and said: ‘Miss Emerson, do you know that you are in a very dangerous place? If the boiler should happen to burst you would be instantly killed.’ Miss Emerson evidently mistrusted what Mr. Caswell was trying to do, and quietly replied: ‘Mr. Caswell, I am prepared to go at any time when the Lord calls, and it makes no difference where I am.’ She remained on the chest till the boat reached Standish, and Mr. Caswell did not very soon hear the last of his trying to get rid of Miss Emerson.”
With 1851 came the additional investment of new businessmen to the group, including notable Bridgton men Luke Brown and Richard Gage, and the Pleasant Mountain House continued its advertising for the Fawn, a courtesy which was at last reciprocated in Maxfield’s broadsides of that year. Visitors also continued to pile in, some writing tell all accounts of their adventures through Maine and the White Mountains; each one peppered with descriptions of the “poetic” “little steamer Fawn,” broadcasting word of our region’s beauty throughout Boston and southern Maine. So effective were they that notice even began to appear in Augusta papers, primarily the Maine Farmer, which likewise drew visitors from northern Maine downwards. From everything we have seen; from all the public documents that is, the Fawn seems to be doing exceedingly well, having built up for itself in just five years a wide reputation for comfort, serviceability, and usefulness. We learn that the season closed in November, and 1852 opened with the same routine its earlier years had; constant advertisements from the company, occasional words of praise from travelers, and broad claims as to the many adventurous routes the steamship had opened up for tourists. That August, the trustees elected Samuel F. Perley as President, and under his management we find no report of issue. The season closed in November, with the Maine Farmer reporting on the 4th that “the neat little steamer Fawn… which plies between this section of the country and the southern shore of Lake Sebago” had been “moored in her winter quarters” at Harrison, “the travelling season, for people to and from the mountains, being over.”
Alas, the writer of these words could not have known just how correct they were. Looking back on the season which was to follow, we feel no finer eulogy for the Fawn could have been written. The travelling season across the lake had indeed ended, and not just for the winter, and to find the reason why we must make a brief diversion in our narrative. In 1846, the same year the Fawn’s proprietors had first met, a similar group of men had met in Portland, and driven by the exact same motivations – to increase travel and trade in western Maine – they had formally organized themselves into what was called “The York and Cumberland Railroad.” While they were not in direct competition with the Fawn at the start, comparing the growth of the two organizations reveals a sad truth. At the close of 1846, before the Fawn had even launched, the railroad was already in operation along Maine’s coast. Unfortunately, the wide reporting of the Fawn’s success during 1847, ‘48, and ‘49 had brought an unintended consequence. It had drawn people in, but it had also been loud about its success. It had shown the world just how many people wanted to visit our region, and how much money could be made in helping them get here. The new railroad took notice. And so, when the Fawn was escorting Portland’s visitors to the Pleasant Mountain House in 1850, the York and Cumberland was laying new tracks and extending its line down into New Hampshire. A year later, when the Fawn added local manufacturers Luke Brown and Richard Gage to their management, the York and Cumberland likewise brought in a new member of their own; famed railroad pioneer John A. Poor. Instituted as Director, Poor immediately extended the line from Portland into Gorham with plans for a further extension inland. Looking back on these developments, it is clear that in comparison the Fawn was simply too small of an outfit; their range too limited, their resources too meager to fight the inevitable rise of competition. In the winter of 1853, while the Fawn languished in dry-dock, two notable extensions to the York and Cumberland were made which sealed the fate of our little steamer. First, a line of tracks were run from Gorham directly to Sebago, immediately rendering the Cumberland and Oxford freight canal obsolete; and second, tracks were extended up the Saco River, following a route which matched almost exactly the path of old Sampson’s rival stage line, to form what would become the Grand Trunk Railway’s passenger line to New Hampshire. This railroad cut a path directly into the White Mountains, which meant that the old bushwalking roundabout diversion up the river to Bridgton was no longer the fastest way to reach the mountains. While these developments had taken time to manifest, it is evident that a crucial change had come, and this time it was one which the steamship could not counter. It was the old stage feud all over again, but this time, the company couldn’t run their own line and tough it out, and their charter of exclusivity didn’t matter to a train. Railroads were faster, smoother, and more comfortable. They eliminated the need for tourists to suffer the bumps and delays of stage roads, and their direct tracks made our indirect water route unnecessary. Sad to tell, despite our beautiful scenery, for people in Portland and Boston, Bridgton was only “en route to the White Mountains” until a better way was found. 1853 brought that better way.
While we do not have the financial records of the Fawn during this period, it is clear that they immediately felt the change. There were fewer passengers certainly, but this decrease must have been extensive as we sense that the company had very little money to spare. A surviving timetable shows that the Fawn did not commence operation until late July, and even then operated on a cut-down and infrequent schedule. Furthermore, and perhaps the clearest indication of their straightened circumstances, in all the year 1853 the Fawn ran only two advertisements, both of which appear at peak-season in August. Knowing Maxfield’s standard in the earlier years had been nearly one advertisement a day, in multiple newspapers, even in the months the Fawn was not running, we feel no starker an indication could exist to illustrate just how badly the train had hurt their business. As the History of Harrison somberly reveals; “The steamer paid well for one or two years, but the construction of the Grand Trunk railroad… [with] lines that served much of the territory that formerly found an outlet over the lake route, was a hard blow to the enterprise, and eventually resulted in its ruin.”
There is no record of when the Fawn ceased operation in 1853; perhaps she held out to November as in years past. But whenever that final cruise of the season took place, we suspect that Captain Sampson would have known his time at the wheel had come to a more than seasonal end. The winter passed, and spring opened up the lakes for travel again, but in 1854 the Fawn remained moored in Harrison, and did not run so much as a day that year. The following winter, driven by desperation, company President Samuel Perley ran an advertisement in the Weekly Advertiser of February 27th which declared, in no uncertain terms; “Steamer Fawn at Auction.” It was a fire sale, lock stock and barrel; everything the company had, on order of the Directors; “Pursuant to a vote of the Stockholders of the Sebago and Long Pond Steam Navigation Company, on Wednesday, April 18th next, at 1 P.M, on board, at her landing at Harrison Village, Steamer Fawn, with her engine of eighty horse power, low pressure, in good running order, cost in New York $4,900, and nearly new. Also 2 anchors, 1 chain cable, 1 pile driver, 1 dredge machine, Wharf at Standish, likewise at North Bridgton, Log gear, and Chains of the Draw Bridge at Naples, Cabin furniture, Sofas, Chairs, Mirrors, Stove, etc…”
The Fawn lay at auction until April, and to their credit the directors spread word of the sale as thoroughly as they could, running weekly ads in several Portland papers. On April 18th, the fully-functional side-wheel steamship, with quite literally all the bells and whistles, was sold for less than a quarter of her original cost to the Hon. George Pierce of Otisfield. All in all, even having bought every stick of furniture on board, the whole of the Fawn went for only $1,951.60. “The stockholders got back a very small percentage of their investment,” notes the History of Waterford. That night, a meeting of the S.&L.P Steam Navigation Co. was held in Harrison, rather fittingly at the local Tavern, where the men toasted the death of the Fawn and set about planning how Mr. Pierce was going to haul it off. As it happened, he never would. Taking the furnishings for his home, his interest in the ship was confined only to her boiler and equipment, and the History of Harrison tells how “the boat was torn to pieces,” the engine sold off and the hull and decking left to rot on the shore of the lake.
The death of the Fawn, and the drying up of visitors to our region which the Railroad effected, brought a slump to the local economy which would not be lifted until the close of the Civil War. As for the fate of the ship itself, a reporter for the Cambridge Chronicle visited North Bridgton in July of 1859, and his description of her sad bulk parallels the decline he found in our village; “Tourists regret that the little steamer, Fawn, is withdrawn; for none who have traversed these and the adjacent waters, but remember with delight her pleasant trips, and desire again to follow the sinuous Songo, through which she was so skillfully piloted… But want of enterprise and patronage has stopped her wheels, and she lies a neglected and rotting hulk, emblematic of the decay of business visible in the closed hotel, stores, and silent streets.” Ernest E. Ward’s excellent Harrison history “My First Sixty Years” reveals that the company held their last meeting over the winter which followed, and that “at the hotel of Almon Kneeland in Harrison on January 11th, 1860, it was voted to dissolve the corporation.” In the interest of completeness, the Directors at that time were George Pierce, Samuel F. Perley, and Mr. Maxfield himself, who afterwards returned to driving stage lines for the US. Post. Captain Sampson went to Portland, where he made a career on barges in the bay, and old Caswell the engineer, strange to tell, was not yet finished with the story of steam power in Bridgton; his son and grandson both would go on to become head engineers on another little steamer which, many decades later, chugged along the shores of Long Lake on narrow tracks just two feet wide. But that’s another story.
But before we turn the page of history and bring this narration to a close, there is something to offer in the way of a happy ending concerning the tale of the Fawn herself. As it happened, a copy of Mr. Stickney’s 1907 letter to the Lewiston Journal describing the Fawn chanced to reach the wilds of northern Maine, and occasioned a letter in response which was published in the August 9th edition of the Bridgton News. This article, which preserved for us the story of the Fawn’s ultimate end, was entitled “The Old Steamer Fawn, and What Became of Her.” It was written by J.E. Bigney of Greenville, Maine, a small town on the southern shore of Moosehead Lake. Evidently, generations earlier, the advertisements for the Fawn which had appeared in the Augusta papers in the last years of her life had reached an audience even further north, one of whom had noted her auction in ’54 and made follow-up inquiry of Mr. Pierce. Bigney’s letter brings closure to the Fawn’s story, and we feel there is no better way to end this history than with the text of his account, and the warm conclusion it offers to the life of the steamer Fawn.
“In your paper of July 17th, 1907, I was very much interested in the description of the old steamer Fawn on Sebago Lake, as my father took the machinery out of her and put it in a boat here on Moosehead Lake for J.H. Eveleth and others. In the year of 1858, in April, he commenced a boat which was launched about the 10th of August of that year and completed that season. The machinery had all been taken out of the Fawn the year before and brought here, the boiler arriving here sometime in the summer. The engine frame was in when the boat was launched and the engine was partly here and some came afterwards. The irons were all taken from the Fawn, even to the futtocks and chocks, cutwater, rails, truss-rods, steering apparatus, and in fact, the entire movable parts were all brought here and put into the new boat, even to the chain box for ballast – and in it was a lot of lead bricks.
The new boat was named ‘Fairy of the Lake,’ and she ran for 11 years on regular trips to Kineo every day and once a week to the head of the lake under the management of Capt. Thomas Robinson. Then in 1870 J.H. Eveleth took the management of her himself, hiring Capt. Louis Gill as master, and she was under this management as long as she was in existence, with the exception of the last four years, during which time Capt. Printice A. Snow was master.”
In her new form, for whose particulars we gladly thank the wonderful staff at the Greenville Historical Society, we have learned that the second incarnation of the Fawn was still a side-wheeler, though she now measured in at a much greater 140 feet long. And this re-design suited her, after a fashion, for we are reminded of a time early in the Fawn’s life when one traveler, viewing her larger than necessary steam-engine, had occasion to remark: “Her boiler was large enough for a river steamer!” Properly fitted out at this new size, she could attain a top speed of ten miles per hour; not quite the eleven miles per hour her engine made on Sebago, but allowing for her growth we must admit that she wore her age admirably well. A newspaper clipping from Augusta’s Maine Farmer of September 9th, 1858 – one rather reminiscent of the tattered broadside announcing the Fawn’s first launch in Bridgton – informs us that “on Thursday was launched from the yard of Messrs. Eveleth & Robinson, at Greenville, the new and splendid Steamer Fairy of the Lake.” New and splendid she was. Carrying people, freight, and the local mail across the largest lake in the state, the Fawn’s engine burned for the Coburn Paper Company well into the 1920’s, and in a supreme irony ultimately outlived even the Grand Trunk Railroad which had first driven the Fawn to the wreckers. A replica of the Fairy can be seen today in the showroom of the Moosehead Marine Museum, and having visited this museum personally, and knowing full-well the story of the Fawn, I am proud to here make the report that no finer tribute to Bridgton’s first steamship could exist. There, in a glass-case beneath the records and effects of her northern keepers, the soul of Bridgton’s Fawn rests proudly on display.
She is a sight to see.