WISCASSET — It has been nearly two decades since the decaying remains of the Hesper and Luther Little were unceremoniously demolished and dragged to the landfill.

Built in 1918 and 1917, respectively, the two schooners arrived at what would be their final berth in the 1930s, the product of an ambitious scheme that vanished as quick as the tide when Frank Winter, of Auburn, bought the ships at auction and towed them to Wiscasset Harbor.

His plan was to use the narrow gauge rail line he built, the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railroad, to transport lumber from parts of northern Maine to the shore. Then, the two schooners would carry the cargo to Boston and New York markets.

The idea certainly fit the Hesper and Luther Little’s original purpose. Built at the tail-end of World War I, the two ships were always intended to transport coal and lumber along the coast, a task they did successfully for a few years. However, by the mid 1920s, the wind-driven schooners couldn’t compete against their faster steam-driven counterparts.

But Winter thought he could still use the vessels for their original purpose. However, his venture failed thanks to the Great Depression, and his rail to sail dream was over before it began. The schooners’ arrival in Wiscasset, sails filled with hope, was the last time either ship would take to the sea.

Time wasn’t kind to the vessels. Storms, multiple fires, and neglect took an inevitable toll over the decades, but as they sunk into the harbor’s mud, they inspired the imaginations of both residents and those just passing by as they crossed the Sheepscot River. They became icons of a bygone era.

Paintings hang in dozens of homes, businesses, and even in the town office in Wiscasset depicting the mouldering wrecks. Maine Maritime Museum even has a detailed model of the schooners as they rested on the shore, complete with fire damage from the many times the Hesper was accidentally set alight.

Generations of people remember the four-masted relics. Plenty of long-time residents of Wiscasset even remember playing on them as children. Despite the fact they were built in Massachusetts, the ships were a reminder of the town’s maritime past, when big wooden vessels plied their trade up and down the coast.

In the early days of the United States, Wiscasset was the busiest seaport north of Boston. Remnants of that glorious past still stand, such as the Nickels-Sortwell House and Castle Tucker, two of the grandest houses in the Midcoast and examples of the town’s prosperity. Wiscasset, maritime trade and shipbuilding were so important that nearby Fort Edgecomb was constructed to protect the harbor.

That history is long past, but the Hesper and Luther Little were ever-present reminders of it until their demise in 1998.

Yet pieces remain, left in a pile at the former landfill.

Many parts of the schooners were, reportedly, fed through a wood-chipper, but some romantic soul must have felt some parts were too precious to mulch. The nameboard of the Hesper is one, and a piece of wooden scrollwork from one of the schooners is another.

Other pieces were too difficult to destroy, like a prop, bollards, davits, and hawsepipes. Made of iron and immensely heavy, they were left to accumulate decades of rust in the landfill.

The rusted remnants of a prop from one of the schooners waits for restoration. Staff photo by Chris Chase

Bill Gemmill, a Wiscasset resident, feels that the town could do better than leave pieces of Wiscasset’s maritime history languishing in the elements. At the Jan. 9 select board meeting, he made a proposal: Restore what’s left, and display it near where the schooners once sat.

“I think people’s primary impression of Wiscasset was seeing those tied up at the pier,” said Gemmill to the board. “To me, it’s just a darn shame to see these remnants of Wiscasset maritime history sitting in the landfill.”

He’s a big fan of history in general, but maritime history in particular. “I think they’re the strongest connection Wiscasset has to their maritime history,” he said.

That connection certainly shows in the town office. Gemmill gave his proposal standing next to a painting of the schooners that has hung on the wall for years.

A piece of mast from one of the schooners hangs in Wiscasset’s Town Office, just behind where the Select Board sits at each meeting. Staff photo by Chris Chase

Each time the select board meets, it does so in front of a piece of one of the masts from the schooners, with an image of the ships burned into it. Photos featuring the Hesper and Luther Little are situated throughout the office; from artistic shots to aerial photographs.

The select board members all agreed that creating some form of monument to the schooners is a “great idea.” Board member Katherine Martin-Savage suggested that display cases could possibly be constructed by the carpentry program at Two Bridges Regional Jail.

“I think that they would be a good candidate, to at least ask them about this,” she said.

While the select board was reluctant to commit funds to the project without having a way of registering residents’ opinions on the issue, they all supported the idea. Select Board member Bob Blagden said he was willing to commit some effort in the form of moving the heavy pieces to where they’ll be displayed.

“If you clean up those pieces, I’d lug them down for you, that’s my donation,” said Blagden.

Elsewhere in town, other people are donating labor. Ken Boudin, Jr., who operates Machinery Service Co. in Wiscasset, plans to refurbish the metal pieces sometime this year. He’s currently busy with orders, but plans to carve out some time. Currently, the bollards, prop, and more are sitting out back awaiting the work.

Other residents support the idea, too. Steve Wallace, who works at the town’s transfer station, said he remembers when the schooners were finally hauled away.

“It was kind of like something that defined the town was gone,” he said.

As a frequent traveler of Route 1, the two schooners were always icons that stood out. Wallace attributes his affinity for ships to his grandfather, who sailed on ships similar to the Hesper and Luther Little. He added that he’d love to see some sort of monument to the schooners that once captured the imagination of everyone driving by or stopping in Wiscasset.

The proposal is still just an idea, but Gemmill said so far the reception has been overwhelmingly positive.

“There seems to be a great deal of enthusiasm about it.”

With the town’s tacit approval, he is starting to work with the Lincoln County Historical Association – of which he is a trustee – to determine how to raise money for the project.
A time-line, at this point, is hard to give.

“One guy that I talked to about the landscaping said, ‘this is a five-year project,’” said Gemmill.

Still, he’s confident that the many residents of Wiscasset with fond memories of the schooners will pitch in, either with ideas, skills, money, or memories.

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