Legends built here – News from southeastern Connecticut – theday.com

The Indian and Colonial Research Center in Old Mystic holds more than 150 scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings that date back decades and cover a wide range of topics, many of which are relevant to todays headlines. For example, an item published by The Day in 1959 announced the sale of the Post Shipyard on Washington Street in Mystic to Seaport Marine, Inc., predecessor of the current shipyard of the same name.

The article was a timely find because of the recent proposal to develop a complex called Smilers Wharf on that property. Intrigued by the clipping, I turned to William Petersons remarkable book, Mystic Built, to gain a better appreciation of the sites distinguished and colorful past. (Any errors in this narrative are mine, not Mr. Petersons.)

The story begins in 1841 when Dexter Irons and his partner, Amos Grinnell, established a shipyard in Mystic at Pistol Point (the Washington and Cottrell Streets area). The men had worked at Leeds shipyard in Old Mystic, and now they were poised to achieve remarkable success on their own. In the17 years between the formation of the company and Irons death in 1858, the prolific firm built 38 vessels including sloops, schooners, brigs, barks and clipper ships. Irons and Grinnell ships were used in coastal and South American trading, and for transporting goods to the California Gold Rush. Their most famous ship was the clipper Andrew Jackson, advertised with justifiable pride as the fastest ship in the world.

Launched in 1855, the Andrew Jackson was a "medium" clipper, built for both cargo capacity and speed, in contrast to "extreme" clippers that were designed primarily for speed. Despite her "medium" design, on her fifth run to San Francisco from New York, the Andrew Jackson set a world record by making the voyage, harbor entrance to harbor entrance, in 89 days, 4 hours. That round-the-horn record was never broken.

Some of the credit belonged to her captain, John Kicking Jack Williams. Williams lived in Mystic in a mansion that still stands on Gravel Street. He was a hard-driving captain who knew how to get the best out of the ships and men under his command. He must have had a formidable personality because people were advised not to mess with him. Hes immortalized in the sea-shanty Blow the Man Down, which cautions, Tis larboard and starboard on the deck you will sprawl, for Kicking Jack Williams commands the Black Ball. (The Black Ball packet line was one of his employers.)

After Irons died, Grinnell partnered with Mason Crary Hill, a ship designer and former superintendent at the Mallory shipyard. (Hill had drawn the plans for the Andrew Jackson.) When Grinnell retired, Hill operated the enterprise alone until it was destroyed by fire in 1883. After that disaster, the yard passed through several hands before Franklin Post established his shipyard there.

Post had been a machinist at Lathrop Engine Company before striking out on his own in 1914 with a boatyard at Fort Rachel in West Mystic. During World War I, he converted yachts for use by the Coast Guard. During World War II, he built aircraft rescue and harbor patrol boats for the Navy. In 1923, Post moved his operation to the old Irons and Grinnell site, where he built fishing boats and yachts. During Prohibition, some of Posts boats were used by rum runners. In fact, the proposed name "Smilers Wharf" was a nod to one of the rum runners who was famous for always smiling.

Perhaps the most famous craft built at the Post facility was the Onkahya, which in 1948 won the annual Chicago Yacht Club Race between Chicago and Mackinac Island, a 333-mile course with several hundred competitors. The New York Times carried the exciting headline.

The Mystic River is just 3.4 miles long, but between the years 1784 and 1919, it was lined with at least 25 shipyards. (Petersons book has an excellent graphicshowing the names and locations.) Understandably, all that experience led to excellence. At one time, it was said that the distinctive craftsmanship and beauty of Mystic ships made them easy to recognize in ports around the world. They were legendary and put a tiny New England village on the map.

Here is the original post:

Legends built here - News from southeastern Connecticut - theday.com

Related Post

Comments are closed.