Steamer Captain Ed Ames

In 1876 Norway’s lake saw its first steam-powered boat. Elias Woodsum’s Island Bell operated over the waves until 1880 when it was sold and taken to Thompson Pond (as the newspaper referred to it). At that point the Fleeta W, also owned by Woodsum, took over the duty, transporting summer residents to and from their cottages.

This boat was also sold by Mr. Woodsum. Serving the lake for a time was Captain Woodsum’s Minnie Midge and The Peter Woodsum. Along with Horace Cole, he built The Annie, which was used for a time. A better-known lake vessel was owned by Horace Cole and named The Henrietta, described as an oil-burning boat. It was assumed that oil, not coal, was used as fuel to produce steam to power the craft.

Probably the best-known captain on the lake was Capt. Ed Ames; with his white beard and pipe he was easily recognized. His boat was the Pennesseewassee, a steam-powered side-wheeler 62 feet long and 10 feet wide (the beam). Captain Ed, a Norway native, was a millwright by trade and a talented mechanic.

His grandfather was an early settler of the town and had operated a mill at the west end of the village. Ed’s occupational history includes a number of jobs plus the fact that he had designed, built, and operated a smaller boat, the Pogus, for hauling log booms across Umbagog Lake. Upon his return to Norway, he ran a machine shop. It was during this time that he decided to build the boat that would forever tie him to the history of Norway.

The keel for the Pennesseewassee came from a red oak cut on the family property, Ordway Grove. Construction took place in his father’s yard on Cottage Street. When completed, the boat would be licensed to carry 100 passengers; it would have a roof running the entire length with side curtains in case of rain. He insisted that every part should be produced or rebuilt by him.

The upright steam boiler was purchased second-hand in Portland and needed extensive work. For this skilled captain, this did not present a problem. He rebuilt a steam engine from a local tannery and when finished, the pair provided 85 horsepower for the boat. Soft coal was the fuel used in the boiler. There was one problem. The boat loaded passengers on the Outlet stream at the west end of the village and proceeded to the Crockett Bridge.

The bridge was too low to allow the boat to pass through to the lake due to the height of the smokestack. Capt. Ed steered from the bow of the boat so, as the Pennesseewassee started through he would give a loud blast on the steam whistle to signal the fireman at the boiler to pull the cord attached to the smokestack, the stack would fold over and the boat would safely pass under the bridge.

After a few years, the captain approached the town leaders with the idea of increasing the clearance so the boat could pass through more easily. They built a new bridge with a higher arch. The Pennesseewassee ran from about 1890 until 1910. Failing health forced Capt. Ed to sell the boat to Norman A. Crommett who continued the business for a few more years. Eventually, as more cottages were built and more people had their own powerboats, the need for steamboats faded into history.

Stop by the Norway Museum and Historical Society to discover more of the fascinating history of this Maine town. Open Tuesday from 1-4 and Saturday from 9-12. Located on the corner of Main and Whitman Streets.

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