Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Albert Baldwin

"The design of granite sloops varied....the height of the design was reached in the Albert Baldwin, built in 1890, and she was the Queen, although a state of Mainer almost took her title. It is said that when was loaded a chip could be thrown astern and it would not follow her."
Howard Chapelle1

The Albert Baldwin, Aug 15, 1896
Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection
Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities
When naval architect Howard Chapelle came across the Albert Baldwin about 1930 after her sailing days were over he did have the opportunity to meet the sloop's one and only skipper, Howard Poland of Bay View. Undoubtedly it was Poland who provided that testament to the Baldwin's elegance, that her streamlined hull created so little turbulence in its wake that a chip of wood floated directly away.

Howard Poland had previously captained the sloop William P. Hunt for the Cape Ann Granite Company, a vessel also considered 'smart and able' until he "pulled the chain plates right out of her in a sail carrying contest." [That is, where the mast shrouds attached to the sides of the hull.] Company owner Colonel Jonas H. French dispatched Captain Poland to the Tarr & James Shipyard in Essex to commission a replacement that might improve on its predecessor. Poland obtained and brought with him the Hunt's original half-model, the carved half hull by which designers work out and convey their nautical ideas and sometimes their only working guide for the builders. They made her "longer and having an easier run."1
The Albert Baldwin loaded with granite at Bay View wharf
Poland family photograph, Sandy Bay Historical Society
When the assets of Cape Ann Granite were acquired by the Rockport Granite Company in 1893 the Baldwin and Captain Poland went along to complete their careers together, the equivalent of 'high-liners' in the fishing fleet. A note on the photograph below indicates they stayed in service until 1921, when he was seventy-two years old.

The Baldwin building the breakwater for the Cape Cod Canal, 1910
Poland family photograph, Sandy Bay Historical Society
Captain William Howard Poland2
With up to 200 tons of granite aboard the Baldwin required a massive sail plan to push semi-submerged through the water. It carried over 3,000 square yards of canvas. It's mainsail at 1,100 square yards, crafted at D. F. Harris in Gloucester, was the largest of any type stitched in these lofts or in Boston.3 The main mast towered to 90 feet, the topmast another 43 feet. The boom was 82 feet long and the gaff supporting the top edge of the sail 43 feet. Stem to stern she measured 86 feet.

For most of a decade after their joint service Captain Poland made daily visits to the Baldwin tied to the Hyatt's wharf at Goose Cove, Annisquam. The granite company sold the vessel to parties who moved it in the 1920s to Smith Cove in East Gloucester where they fancied converting it to a floating restaurant. Fine dining never materialized.

Postcard courtesy of the Sandy Bay Historical Society
The clipper bow and burly planking remained a public spectacle when the ship was abandoned off Rocky Neck. The last and the finest of the granite sloops, and unaltered, she came to the attention of a survey team of the Marine Research Society which recorded her lines and stimulated the interest of historian Howard Chapelle, who published comprehensive photographs and drawings in 1931.1

The Albert Baldwin grounded out at low tide, Rocky Neck4
Peabody Essex Museum photo
Not long afterward Chapelle was appointed the New England regional director of the Historic America Merchant Marine Survey, a WPA agency employing naval architects and draftsmen during the Depression. "Without them a lot of historic vessel designs would have disappeared, especially as half-models wound up in the office stove."4 Work crews of another useful branch of the WPA dismantled the Baldwin and other derelicts abandoned in harbor channels.

This legacy of drawings and photographs has provided the basis of accuracy for the many ship models fashioned of the Albert Baldwin in later years, which we will see in the following essay. As the Queen of the granite sloops she caught the eye of admirers in her working day and her afterlife.

1. E. D. Walen and Howard J. Chapelle, "Rockport Granite Sloops," The Mariner: The Quarterly Journal of the Ship Model Society of Rhode Island, April 1931.
2. Photo from Carolyn and Jim Thompson, Cape Ann in Stereo Views, Images of America series, 2000.
3. "Rockport's Old Salts Still Tell Thrilling Yarns of Stone Sloops" Boston Sunday Post, April 8, 1945.
4. " Here's the Baldwin as she looked in the Thirties over at Rocky Neck. It's a view of the transom showing the lettering on her stern, Albert Baldwin in an arch over her hail, Gloucester. There's some fancy painted scroll work on each end of the name and the hail. It's remarkable that that lettering is in as good condition as you see it. A ship carver probably carved in the letter outlines so that whoever painted in the names would have some sort of guide to follow. That's a very handsome piece of stern lettering and scrollwork." -- Erik Ronnberg, Cape Ann Museum.

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