BATH — Maine’s First Ship is turning the corner in its decades-long endeavor to build a replica of the 17th century vessel, The Virginia.

For years, volunteers have kept their heads down, focusing on the difficult task at hand — building a replica of a 17th century ship with 17th century methods. Now, thanks to a donation of $250,000 toward an endowment fund, the people behind the project are lifting their heads to envision what they can do with the ship once it’s finished and in the water.

Built by the English Popham Colony in current day Phippsburg in 1607-1608, the original Virginia lays claim to being the first ship built by the English in New England, and possibly in all of North America.

Nearly four centuries later, a group of Midcoast residents interested in the colonial history of the area began thinking about building a replica of the historic vessel. The keel was laid in 2011 on the waterfront at the Bath Freight Shed. Since then, volunteers have continuously worked to build the ship.

Now, with the end of construction in sight, the organization has received a sizeable donation toward a new endowment fund. Bob and Diane Weggel have committed $250,000 to the fund — $100,000 this year and $50,000 each year for the next three years.

The fund will not fund the ship’s construction, but rather will help keep the program going after the ship is launched. The group already had $55,000 in the endowment fund, said Wood, before the Weggels more than quadrupled it.

Wood said the Weggels have been generous in their support of the construction of the ship for years before deciding to give toward the endowment.

Along with the donation, Maine’s First Ship is renaming its visitor center after the Weggels’ relative Jane Stevens, who was a catalyst for the Virginia project and an integral part of their efforts.

“She was really the spark plug that got a lot of this stuff going,” said Wood.

Organizers hope that the ship will be launched in 2020, though that time frame is dependent on consistent volunteer labor and funding.

According to Woolwich Selectwoman and Maine’s First Ship Secretary Allison Hepler, the group has spent between $200,000 and $250,000 on the ship so far, and expects to put another $100,000 into it before it’s completed.

But with that date fast approaching and a growing endowment fund, the organization can finally look forward to the days when the ship will be a permanent fixture on the Bath waterfront.

“When it’s launched, it will be on a permanent dock in front of the Freight Shed on the Kennebec River,” said Wood.

The vessel will be available for educational visits and even outfitted with a motor that will make it possible to take it out for trips. The endowment will fund these efforts, as well as the inevitable maintenance issues that come with preserving a wooden vessel on the water.

“It’s very expensive to maintain it,” said Wood. “As we are aware of that reality, we have started an endowment fund to provide funds in the future after the ship is launched to maintain it into the future.”

Wood said that the group has a goal of increasing the endowment over time to $1 million, which will maintain the program in perpetuity.