Construction started on the City of Rockland at East Boston’s McKie Shipbuilding Company in 1900 and by 1901 she was sailing regular runs up the coast of Maine carrying summer visitors and freight back and forth to Boston.
With stops in Rockland, Camden, Belfast, Bangor, Northwest Harbor, Southeast Harbor, Seal Harbor and Bar Harbor the company Eastern Steamship Company advertised the vessel as travelling “the picturesque route with connections to all northern Maine sporting resorts.”
They might well have added – ‘provided you ever arrive.” The City of Rockland was one of the most troubled steamers ever to carry the summer tourist trade north for a break from the city heat. In those days $5 would get you from Boston to Camden or Rockland and back. $6.50 to Bangor and 7.50 and $8 for the tonier destinations of Northeast and Seal Harbors and Bar Harbor.
In July of 1904, the 274-foot side-wheeler struck a ledge in the Muscle Ridge Channel off Thomaston Maine in the fog. News accounts of the day cheerily reported that divers believed the vessel could be repaired.
“After an examination lasting an hour they reported that the City of Rockland was resting on a huge boulder forward and an old sunken wreck aft. They could not find that the steamer was badly strained, nor were they able to locate the leak in the bow.
“Newton’s wharf is tonight piled high with freight and baggage from the wrecked steamer. Among the articles rescued today was a trunk containing imported lace valued at $15,000. The lace is ruined.”
“A large wrecking fleet still surrounds the stranded vessel and not the least interesting incidents at the scene today were the numerous fights among fishermen in their endeavor to secure valuable wreckage.”
The company sent its officers to search the surf for lost bags and belongings, including a grand piano. Passengers were threatening to sue to invalidate the language on their tickets that declared the shipping line was only liable for lost luggage up to a value of $100.
On August 1, with a gale bearing down on the Northeast, the City of Rockland was refloated to a standing ovation from onlookers. She was precariously towed to land where she was beached for patching and transport back to McKie for a full repair. A new fog bell was erected on Otter Island and channel markers, pulled from their proper location by winter ice, were restored to their rightful locations.
In June of 1906, the City of Rockland again came to grief. With only the whole ocean to navigate in, the City of Rockland managed to collide with her sister ship, the City of Bangor, 20 miles off Portland. The City of Bangor suffered only minor damage. The City of Rockland, meanwhile, had railings torn from her three decks and five staterooms on her main deck smashed in.
In July of 1912, the City of Rockland managed to collide with a coal ship near Boone Island, 20 miles from York, Maine. The coal ship was undamaged, naturally, while the Rockland partially sank. Two hundred summer tourists returning to Boston had to be transferred to the coal ship, Chisolm, to finish their journey while the City of Rockland was once more towed to shore and made ready for repairs.
In 1913, the City of Rockland had to be towed into Boston once again, this time with a gaping hole in her bow inflicted by a crash with the Schooner H.P. Havens.
1921 found the City of Rockland again sunk – this time while still tied to her pier in East Boston.
The final bow for the City of Rockland came September 2, 1923. The ship this time was headed from Bath, Maine toward Bangor when the ship ran up on a reef near Popham Beach. Repeated blasts from the horn drew rescuers. Passengers leapt from the lower deck and were caught by Coast Guardsmen who deposited them on the beach where they gathered around a huge bonfire and ate food brought from the ship.
In his book Storms and Shipwrecks of New England, Edward Snow described the scene: “The castaways were good natured and made the best of it. The children, while sliding down the sloping sides of the steamer into the boats, enlivened the proceedings by their songs, singing at the top of their voices, ‘Yes, We Have No Bananas Today,’ or ‘Barney Google,’ the favorites of the period.”
In October the ship was scuttled at an aptly named location – Misery Island in Salem, Mass. There she was burned for her fittings. For a century her ribs would appear on the beach at low tide. For all her misfortune, no one ever died in any of the accidents and very few were injured.