With its 2019-2020 special exhibit, the Castine Historical Society invites visitors to step back in time to the 1800s when Castine’s working waterfront thrived on a global market. Shipyards and a dozen active wharves stood along a half mile Castine Harbor. Chandleries and sailmakers on Water and Sea Streets outfitted schooners and square-riggers amidst the smell of tar and fish and wood.
Castine merchants and shipowners ran an effective and largely self-contained international trade in fish, cotton, and salt from about 1820 to 1860. But not without trouble, hardship, and loss for almost everyone involved. This economic prosperity depended, after all, on men and women sailing wooden ships out into Penobscot Bay and across the open ocean to carry merchandise to distant ports.
Captains, seamen, merchants, and their families accepted the risks of the commercial sailing business. The ships and people you meet in this exhibit will dispel notions of a romantic seafaring life. Multiple factors—many very different from 20th century business and personal risks—could dramatically affect the success of each voyage.
If you immerse yourself in the first-hand accounts, artwork, logbooks, charts, letters, shipping documents, and objects in Risky Business, you will leave with a new perspective on Castine’s and coastal Maine’s history.
The motivation for this exhibit is the extensive research and writings of guest curator Richard Ames whose family history served as a catalyst for his study. The Castine Historical Society will publish Ames’ fully-illustrated book offering a fresh interpretation of Castine’s maritime economy.