← Back to Harpswell History

When Steamboat Whistles Sounded Here: Revisiting Some Steamboat Days of Old Harpswell with John Goff

Harpswell Heritage Land Trust
August 28, 2023

On Thursday, August 10, 2023, John Goff gave a presentation on the history of steamboats in Harpswell. To view the presentation, recorded by Harpswell Television, click here.

John Goff stands speaking at podium next to yellow slide presentation

John Goff speaking on August 10, 2023 (Phil Croteau photo)

The early 19th Century saw the commercial spread of steam engines and steamboats for transportation of both goods and travelers.  By the 1840s technological improvements such as the screw propeller increased the carrying capacity of steamers for ocean and coastal voyages.

In Maine, real estate development aimed at summer residents and tourists started in the last quarter of the nineteenth century as steamboats made travel from Boston easy. Increasingly affluent middle-class vacationers could take overnight boats from Boston to Portland and then take smaller steamers to arrive in Harpswell by midday. Until the Second World War several steamship lines plied Casco Bay delivering tourists and supplies to hotels, guest houses, and summer homes.  The presentation will use historic photos of ships, landings, hotels, summer compounds, and attractions to describe the rise of Harpswell as a summer haven.

Architect, historian, and author John Goff grew up in Bath, Maine and currently summers on Orr’s Island. A graduate of Brown University, he has spoken previously at HHLT, the Pejepscot Historical Society, and Mystic Seaport on a range of local history and maritime topics. Following a long career in historic preservation, Goff launched a new endeavor producing and presenting original educational slideshows on significant, but often overlooked, Maine historical subjects, one of which is the history of the steamboat era on Casco Bay.