‘I have heard a lot of tourists say that nowhere they have traveled was there a prettier ride than up the Old Penobscot River’

Barbara F. Dyer: Travel on the Boston Boat

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 2:30pm

No, I never did have a ride on the “Boston Boat,” but I do remember going to meet it when my grandfather came back from Boston. He was private captain for Charles Dana Gibson, one of the five top illustrators in his day.

Gibson was known for sketches of the “Gibson Girls,” who were his wife and her sister.

Grandpa, Charles Dyer Dyer, always smoked a pipe, and one day the doctor found a cancer under his tongue. Cancers were not as common in the mid 1930s as they are today, and the doctor he had to see was a woman, Dr. Barbara Hunt, in Boston.

When he returned, our family went to meet him arriving on the “Boston Boat.” Its arrival was always an excitement for the people of Camden, and the steamship wharf had a light they raised on a tall pole to let the people know of its arrival.

I was very young and it must have been very early in the morning, because I felt we were walking in the dark to meet it.

Grandpa came off it, but within two years he had died from the cancer. The rugged captain had become very frail and sick. I do remember the long red carpet they unrolled down the gang plank, and the highly polished brass spittoons on each side of the red carpet.

Many farmers sent their eggs and vegetables to Boston on the boat. It would be wonderful to have that service from Boston to Bangor and stops along the way, but think of all the steamship wharves that have deteriorated and would have to be built, at a very large expense.

I also was given a letter written by Roy McDermott to his grown daughter, Alma, in 1956, when she wanted to tell her son about the “Boston Boat.”

Roy was 70 years of age when he wrote the letter, but the memories were very clear.

His grandson, Professor Albert Bennett, was kind enough to share it with me and the public, because that gives, not just the history of the steamship line, but also first hand knowledge of trips. He also sent her two postcards of the “Boston Boat” going under the Waldo-Hancock bridge.

A new bridge was constructed there just a few years ago. It is a beauty with an elevator going to the highest point to give a wonderful view of Penobscot River.

I quote from his letter as follows:

I will turn back the years and tell you the story of the boats between Boston and Bangor – in and out of Camden. In 1900 they were running two boats, one named the Penobscot and the other The City of Bangor, which made three trips a week from Boston to Bangor, so we had a boat coming into Camden every other day.

The Penobscot was a very old boat, while The City of Bangor was a better and later model, but both side-wheelers. By that I mean, that there was a big paddle wheel on the side that was driven around by the engines that made the boat go, not very speedy but they got good service at that time.

The first time that I went to Boston in 1903, I went on The City of Bangor. That was in January and boy what a rough night. Left Rockland at 8 p.m. – arrived in Boston at 6 a.m. — what a night.

I will always remember that trip. As the years went by, the old boats were too slow, and could not handle the people who wanted to travel. So they built the Camden and Belfast, two much larger and more modern and speedy, and handsome boats they were, and they did a big business for a long time. I will mention, as I said the old boats made three trips a week; if we wanted to go to Bangor on other than regular boat days, they had a small steamer that ran from Camden to Belfast and returned the same day.

If you were going through to Bangor you would have to take the train to Belfast. That made nearly an all day trip to get to Bangor; very slow, wasn't it? That was in the good old days, when no one seemed to be in a hurry, and time didn't mean a thing.

Now I will get back to Camden and Belfast, the boats you know. They made a trip every day and here's how. One of the boats in Boston and the other in Bangor. Now, the one in Boston left at 5 p.m. and the boat in Bangor left at 1 p.m., arrived in Camden at 6, then Rockland, and left Rockland about 8 for Boston.

They would pass each other half way between Boston and Rockland. The one from Boston would arrive in Camden at 6 a.m. and arrive in Bangor at 11 a.m. and leave at 1 p.m. Then return to Camden and arrive at 6 p.m., and so on.

So we had a boat in and out of Camden seven days a week.

I am sending two cards of the boats. The card I found of steamer going under the bridge at Bucksport, I found at the Village Store. The other one I have had for a long time in with my collection of postcards. They don't print anymore, so another one like that just won't be found, I think a lot of it for this reason. I have taken you, Neva and Marion, to Bangor on it. Also took Marion to Boston, and it was the same boat that your Mother and I started our honeymoon trip to Boston on, and the same boat that your Mother went out on the porch to see every night – can see her now with her glasses, out there watching the landing, discharge freight, passengers, and go out again.

We would always say how we would like to be going on it tonight. So you can see, Alma, I have a soft spot in my heart for that old boat. You can keep the cards in your scrapbook and when later on you happen to be looking through it, think of us and the pretty boats that sailed the Penobscot Bay. Brush aside that tear, Alma, and tell Brad the rest of the story you started.

Climax: The boats were doing a wonderful business, until the auto came. That made travel to Boston and Bangor, so much quicker, and travel on the boats seemed so slow. That was the beginning of the end of travel on the boats.

Business kept dropping off until finally they had to discontinue them, and the fine service they had given for so long.

At the time that I took you, Marion and Grace Russell, up to Bangor, the New Bridge hadn't been built, but it was such a pretty ride up the winding river and the scenery was so pretty that a great many people went just for the ride and back. I have heard a lot of tourists say that nowhere they have traveled was there a prettier ride than up the Old Penobscot River.

Well, Alma, I guess this is the end of the story and what you and Brad wanted to know, and hope it interests you as much as it has to me to write it, and when you want to turn the pages back again, forty or fifty years, just let me know.

Love and Best Wishes to all.  Dad”


What a wonderful letter, full of love and memories. It makes us all wish that the “Boston Boats” were back again, and we could also use the trolley cars today. But I guess those days have gone forever. Dream on........

Barbara F. Dyer has lived her whole life, so far, in Camden, Maine.