Two things struck me last year when I first saw the Mary E at the Maine Maritime Museum: First, the boat was tiny (I was expecting a full-size schooner); and second, it was half torn apart and in very poor condition. I guessed that I was seeing the effects of 112 years of age.

What I didn’t realize is that the boat had already been restored, in the same location, by a member of Bath’s shipbuilding Donnell family.

The Mary E was built in Bath in 1906 by Thomas Hagan. Sixty years later she was abandoned and rotting away in the mud at Lynn, Massachusetts. There the boat would have faded into history if not for the efforts of William R. Donnell, whose grandfather was an old-time Bath shipbuilder.

The Mary E was in very rough shape, but Donnell recognized its historical value. Of the thousands of commercial wooden ships built in Bath, this was the last restorable example. It was the oldest Maine-built fishing boat, and the only fishing vessel with a clipper-design bow.

Donnell spent 10 days shoveling mud out of the Mary E and patching the hull at low tide. He broke three ribs when he fell on deck, but didn’t let the pain stop him. Four days of towing brought the boat back home to Bath, where the real work would begin.

Donnell built a cradle for the Mary E at the old Percy and Small Shipyard, and “stripped the hull and deck and rebuilt her, timber by timber and plank by plank.” Somehow he funded the project by tending bar at night and doing some substitute teaching.

Eventually Donnell was forced to take a full-time job, and the ship restoration lagged. Fortunately, he received expert help from many others, including Jim Stevens.

The Mary E was finally re-launched on August 27, 1967, two years to the day after it had arrived back in Bath. Donnell chartered the vessel until selling it in 1971.

Thankfully, the Mary E is back in Bath once again, now owned by the Maine Maritime Museum.

Source: Down East Magazine, June 1968