What’s in a Picture

old photo of a steamboat next to another sinking steamboat on Moosehead Lake
Photograph courtesy Collections of Moosehead Historical Society
Early one morning in 1853, on a stagecoach from Bangor, Henry David Thoreau caught his first glimpse of Moosehead Lake, noting “a suitably wild-looking sheet of water . . . with mountains on each side and far in the north, and a steamer’s smoke-pipe rising above a roof.” In their heyday, dozens of such steamboats plied Maine’s largest lake, hauling supplies and labor out to lumber camps, dragging back flotillas of freshly cut timber, and, so Thoreau wrote, frightening moose with their whistles and bells. By the turn of the century, steamers also ferried well-heeled rusticators to posh outposts like the Mount Kineo House hotel. Soon, though, the Great Depression and the age of the automobile took their tolls, and as steamboats grew obsolete, they were scuttled or simply allowed to sink at mooring — the undignified fate of the Twilight II in 1943. Tied up next to it, the Katahdin II became the only surviving Moosehead steamer. Starting each June, it still sets out on scenic cruises (perhaps to the chagrin of the shy local moose population).