2018-01-12 / Community

A Window on the Past

Another snowy scene in South Portland history
By Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo
South Portland Historical Society

This photo, that dates back to 1941, shows a ship building yard in winter. (Courtesy photo) This photo, that dates back to 1941, shows a ship building yard in winter. (Courtesy photo) It has been a bitterly cold and snowy winter so far and it’s had me looking through some interesting winter scenes in South Portland history.

The photo shown here from 1941 marked a monumental time for our city. Although we weren’t yet at war, the war was going on over in Europe. The United States had just agreed to help Great Britain build cargo ships to replace the ones the German U-boats were sinking. The contract was for 60 ships – half of the contract would be fulfilled by the Kaiser shipyards in California and the other 30 ships would be built in South Portland. The vision for this yard was Pete Newell’s (Newell was the president of Bath Iron Works at the time). Up to that point, ships had traditionally been built on ship ways. Newell wanted to try a new method – building ships in dry basins that could be flooded when the ships were ready for launch.

Newell and Bath Iron Works would partner up with the Todd Corporation out of New York, and they formed the Todd-Bath Iron Shipbuilding Corporation to fulfill this order for British cargo ships. In the photo here, we can see the site that they selected on the eastern waterfront of South Portland. The photo was taken Jan. 3, 1941, and shows the remains of what had been the Cumberland Shipbuilding yard. You can see what remained of the four traditional ship ways that Cumberland Shipbuilding had used to build large wooden cargo ships during World War I.

The remains of those ship ways and buildings were quickly demolished and removed from the site. Todd- Bath Iron Shipbuilding hired the Sanders Engineering Company to build the basin-style shipyard. Within a few months after this photo was taken, they had a cofferdam up to hold back the tides and got to work building the large ship basins.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of South Portland Historical Society.

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