September 24, 2020

This Week in Herreshoff History: September 24

A devastating hurricane makes landfall in Rhode Island and HMCo. prepares for winter at Walker's Cove

The Hurricane of 1938

September 21, 1938

This past week marks the 82nd anniversary of the Hurricane of 1938 in the Northeast. HMCo. was badly affected, estimating their losses in the days after "running to hundred of thousands of dollars," with "many valuable yachts stored away for winter... scattered in all directions, many of them very seriously damaged" the Phoenix reported the following Tuesday. If you'd like to learn more about the impact across New England, follow the links to watch this ten minute video containing historic footage of the hurricane and its aftermath, or to watch this 45 minute documentary produced in Fairhaven, MA to commemorate the 50th anniversary.

A group of men pose next to an 1930s car and the wreckage of a large construction building on the waterfront
The same view as above, after the waters had receded. Note the dinghy in the wreckage at lower right. Half of the South Construction Shop is gone. Miraculously, the yard scow USEFUL II and the yard sheerlegs remain; image from the HMM photo archive
The Phoenix's Emergency Edition published on Friday, September 23, 1938 - by mimeograph, for lack of power; click here to read the entire emergency bulletin from the Bristol Phoenix archive

Winter Storage and Maintaining the Ways

Storage plan on land for 24 yachts including MAGISTRATE, ENAJ, CAPRICE, KILDEE and others
The storage plan for the southern-most Walker's Cove lot from the winter of 1920 - 1921; image courtesy of the MIT Museum - follow the link to see who was in storage at HMCo. that particular winter

Hurricane season is an especially hectic time for commercial boatyards in the Northeast. It coincides (for good reason!) with the start of hauling season in New England. Seasonal storage and maintenance was and remains an important source of income for many boat building businesses. This was particularly true for HMCo. in their later years. Judging by frequent mentions in the Phoenix, the last week of September at HMCo. was also the time for underwater marine railway maintenance before the main rush for winter storage really set in. There is a particular focus across the following articles on Walker's Cove. This was the property adjacent to Love Rocks just south of HMCo.'s main campus along Hope St. Here, HMCo. developed a yacht storage and maintenance facility beginning in the winter of 1894 and 1895. HMCo. rented the site until they were able to purchase it sometime between 1926 and 1932.

Map of the harbor line showing harbor depths, piers, marine railways and HMCo. factory buildings
1897 map of the HMCo. waterfront showing the Walker's Cove property in the lower left; image courtesy the MIT Museum

September 23, 1898

Captain John Terry of Fall River helps prepare the ways at HMCo.'s main piers for DEFENDER's (HMCo. #452) return, reports the Phoenix. J.B. Terry Co. (and their steam tug ANCHOR) would also contract with HMCo. again the following June to make sure DEFENDER's relaunch would be unobstructed. DEFENDER was refitted over the course of the winter of 1898 - 1899 to serve as a trial horse for COLUMBIA (HMCo. #499) in the 1899 trials.

Layout showing marine rail and 19 vessels including ROWDY, PLEIONE, BARBARA, VENTURA, CAROLINA and others
The storage plan for the other parcel at Walker's Cove from the winter of 1920 - 1921; image courtesy of the MIT Museum

September 26, 1905

The Bristol Phoenix reports that the marine rail at the Walker's Cove site is being extended by the J.B. Terry Company of Fall River. Divers are being used to cut the old pilings, and "as yet, only a few boats have been hauled up for their winter berths..."

September 21, 1909

Four years later, the Bristol Phoenix reports on further repairs to the HMCo. marine railway at Walker's Cove again requiring the services of a professional diver.

This time, 21 year old Nathanael Herreshoff Jr. was reportedly so interested in the proceedings that he "obtained permission to take a trip under the sea" himself. Mention of the "heavy regalia" he wore suggests standard diving dress (those helmets and suits!) and compressed air delivered from the surface. Self contained breathing apparatus (later, SCUBA) technology, where divers carry their own air supply, had long been in development by this time but did not overtake the widespread use of surface-supplied diving until the 1930s frogmen and 1940s aqua-lung.

A man in a 19th century diving costume prepares to enter the water while men in period clothing stand by with diving equipment and helmet
An image of a diver fixing the ways at HMCo. around the time of DEFENDER's launch, June 1895. Imagine maneuvering in the murky New England water with suit, helmet and weights pictured here in weighted boots not visible, all while going about the activities of the divers mentioned above; image from the Hemment Collection, HMM photo archive