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Along the Penobscot: Searsport


Did you know that a small town on the coast of Maine nearly became the capital of Massachusetts in 1747?


Legend has it that after Province House, the official residence of royal governors of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, was destroyed by fire, General Samuel Waldo lobbied, unsuccessfully, for the capital of the colony to be moved to Searsport, Maine (then a territory of Massachusetts).


Formed from portions of the Old Frankfort Plantation, the town of Searsport is was incorporated on February 13, 1845. Originally planning to name the new town "Maineport," a group of savvy citizens requested that their community be named in honor of David Sears - a wealthy Boston China merchant. Sears was honored by this and sent the town $1,000 to cover incorporation costs including the construction of the town hall.


Located at the confluence of the Penobscot River and Penobscot Bay, Searsport is Maine’s second-largest deep-water port and became an important trade hub in the 19th century.


During late 1800s, the town came into its heyday, boasting 17 shipyards, building over 200 ships, and producing more shipmasters than any other town of its size in the world, nearly 300. Searsport ships were built and captained by Searsport men, many of whom sailed the world, “rounding the horn” of South Africa and sailing to India and China. Many captains returned home to build the large homes that line the streets of Searsport.


In addition to producing first-rate ships and captains, the port became a hub of industry and trade. Sail makers, lumber mills, carpenters, and cooper shops thrived and railroads opened even more doors for the port town, ferrying potatoes, timber, and other goods for distribution around the world.


Curious to learn more about the history of Searsport and Maine's maritime past? Visit the Penobscot Marine Museum in person (tours are limited due to COVID-19) or online.