Calvin Segee Adams, Boat Builder

Calais, Washington, Maine is a small community, located on the St. Croix River, directly across from St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada. Its population today of roughly 3,000 people closely matches its 1840 population. City life in Calais was at its most vibrant from the time of the Civil War into the early 1900’s when its population peaked at about 8000 residents.

Calvin Segee Adams, my 2x great grandfather (and husband of my Nammie with the almost lost rocking chair) was born on 16 March 1843, across from Calais on Deer Island, part of the West Isles of New Brunswick, Canada. He was the third of nine children born to Daniel and Sarah Ann Parker Adams. The family remained on Deer Island at least until 1854 when Daniel sold some land there. He was a boat builder and Calais was quickly gaining a reputation as the place to go to have a boat built. Daniel likely figured that it would be a lot easier living in Calais building boats than commuting across the (sometimes dangerous) waters between Deer Island and Calais.

By 1860, Daniel, Sarah and children were all living in Calais. Not only was Daniel enumerated as a boat builder, but his oldest son, Benjamin and second son, Calvin, were also reported to be boat builders.

Calvin was likely barely in his teens when he started to go to work with Daniel to learn the craft of boat building. He also likely had more formal training than Daniel, who lived most of his life on Adams Island, Deer Island and then finally, Calais. Calvin was able to travel to Rhode Island during the 1860’s to hone his skills as an apprentice at Herreshoff (not Herreskoff) Manufacturing Co. in Bristol, Rhode Island. This apprenticeship was not to be sneezed at – today the Herreshoff Marine Museum is still in Bristol and is home to the America’s Cup Hall of Fame.

I found this article – and great photo – in The Way We Were 1908, published in 1978 by Print’N Press, Ltd., St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada. (copyright restricted)

Apparently, Calvin was the man to see if you needed “yachts, river drivers’ skiffs, rowboats and motor boats of all kinds.” When this article was originally published in 1908, the Adams clan had already been in the boat building business for 40 years. Actually, as Daniel was already a boat builder in 1860, they had been in business closer to fifty years.

Calvin was also mentioned in The Motor Boat magazine on 10 January 1907. See the second entry in the top left hand column:

CalAdamsTheMotorBoatMag19070110
The Motor Boat, 10 Jan 1907

It is noted that “Calvin Adams is building a launch for Chas. Lowell.” No further information is given about Charles Lowell and his name is too common to be sure which man he was. However, it is impressive that Calvin was receiving commissions from individuals to build boats.

Here is another view of Calvin’s boatyard. This was in the treasure trove of photos I inherited from cousin Charles Chadwick:

Calvin Adams Boatyard
Adams Boatyard on the banks of the St. Croix River

I mentioned that Calais was in its heyday from the 1860’s to the early 1900’s. Calvin was not getting any younger and his son, Charles, did not continue the family tradition of boat building. Instead, his occupation in both the 1900 and 1910 censuses was cutter in the Calais shoe factory. By 1920, he was managing his wife, Annie’s, store for ladies’ goods.

Sometime between 1910, when Calvin was still listed as a boat carpenter, and 1920, when he was retired with no occupation, he stopped building boats.

Calvin’s lifespan happened to coincide with the lifespan of the boat building industry in Calais. He passed away on 15 January 1921 in Chipman Hospital across the river in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. He was buried at Calais Cemetery shortly afterwards.

In 1980, I took a trip to Calais to see where so many of my ancestors had lived. My mother, grandparents, great grandparents and one great great grandparent had all been born there and many others settled there when they moved from Canada. Cousin Charles Chadwick pointed out the spot where Calvin Adams’ boatyard had been:

Calais Maine Drydocks 1
It wasn’t quite as romantic as I had thought it would be and I’m glad Calvin didn’t live to see it because today it is the site of the Calais sewage treatment plant!

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