The word is out about Greenville, Maine. The charming hamlet on the shores of Moosehead Lake, Maine’s largest freshwater body, steadily bustles with tourists from New England and beyond.
Settled to support the early logging industry, Greenville was a hub for paper production, hunting and tourism in the early 1800s thanks to the vast wilderness and density of trees. The lake made for “easy” transport of logs from the northwoods down to the mills at the south end.
One of the features of the area for decades were the steamboats which cruised the lake, offering visitors a chance to see the beauty and vastness of the 40-mile-long, 75,000 acre body of water. In addition, the boats were used as workhorses, and at their peak saw at least 25 of these boats shuttling workers and visitors alike. Several of the boats were eventually scuttled or sunk in the lake, chronicled in a new documentary “Sunken Steamboats of Moosehead Lake.”
Cruises on the sole remaining vessel, the Katahdin, or “Kate,” are still offered in season. The boat is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours run three hours up to Sugar Island, a 12-mile journey, or eight hours up to the head of the lake in Seboomook, and there is also a nice cruise to Mt. Kineo on occasion.
Kineo is the largest known deposit of rhyolite in North America and was used by early native peoples for arrowheads and tools. The Katahdin has many artifacts and photographs on board which document the history of steamship life on the lake. China dishes and fancy menus from resorts of the lake’s heyday are on display.
Prior to the railroad and road development, steamships were the only way that visitors could reach camps and the hotels that dotted the lake. The Moosehead Lake region was and still is a getaway for those seeking to escape the hustle of modern life. The last service run of the Katahdin was in 1976 when Scott Paper made its final log drive. The boat was donated to the Moosehead Marine Museum in 1977.
Food service is available or you can bring your own picnic. Dress in layers as the lake can be windy and unpredictable. There is an informative historical narration that accompanies the cruise, with interesting features of the lake highlighted. For example, Elephant Mountain, the site of a B-52 bomber crash, Big Moose mountain, and Mile Light, the first navigational aide on the lake, set atop the original boiler from the Kate, set up in 1922.
There are benches and tables inside the boat along with folding chairs on the deck. A small gift shop onboard has some nice items and a special tour of the engine room was offered. In October, the twin diesel engines will be replaced by a new engine which will be more efficient and quieter.
If your plans take you up to the Moosehead Region of Maine, be sure to grab a ride on the Kate. Tours run until October, weather permitting and tickets are available at the Moosehead Marine Museum.