Casco Bay Lines is one of the oldest ferry systems in the country. Nearly 150 years ago we transported summer visitors to cottages and luxurious hotels on the islands of Casco Bay. Wooden steamers with coal fired engines transported up to 1,000 passengers at a time.
When the original Casco Bay Lines declared bankruptcy in 1981, the Casco Bay Island Transit District (CBITD), a quasi-municipal, non-profit corporation, was established on April 17, 1981 through emergency State legislative action to ensure the continuation of service to the islands of Casco Bay.
CBITD took over the assets of bankrupt Casco Bay Lines and the closing occurred on the afternoon of Friday, 3/26/82. After the various documents were signed there was a break early in the evening so that the appropriate vessel filings could be made with the Coast Guard transferring ownership and recording the 1st Ship’s Preferred Mortgage given by CBITD. During the break everyone on the CBITD team went to Boone’s for dinner. The Coast Guard documentation was completed at about 9:30 pm and afterwards everyone went to the pier and looked at the vessels that were then owned by CBITD. There were no more runs that night and CBITD began operations with the first runs on Saturday, 3/27/82.
This film, produced by Portland-based Galen Koch, is an effort to capture the incredible history of ferry service on Casco Bay and share it with all who may be interested. Thank you to all who worked so hard to make it happen!
The Story of Casco Bay Lines
By Captain Larry Legere
We use the name “Casco Bay Lines” every day in our lives as island residents and CBL employees, but probably no one knows how and when the company was first called that.
Scheduled ferry service to the islands started circa 1870, but not until 1878 was there a permanent year-round company dedicated to scheduled service to the inner bay islands. This entity was called the Casco Bay Steamboat Company.
As the popularity of the islands blossomed, during the summer months in particular, rival boat companies came and went. In 1881 another year-round company, the Harpswell Line, was formed to provide service to the outer islands as far as Bailey and Orrs Islands. Both outfits enjoyed the boom economic times of the Gilded Age until the recession of the 1890s. The cost of new boat construction made it prudent to merge the two lines as the Casco Bay and Harpswell Steamboat Company in 1907. This company consolidated its best and most popular vessels at the Custom House Wharf facility.
In July of 1919, the economic effects of World War I combined with the mounting repair bills for the wooden steamboats caused over $50,000 in liens to be called in on the vessels. The company staved off the courts until September when the boats were finally shut down and the crews laid off.
By the winter of 1919-1920 the company re-emerged as Casco Bay Lines with a fleet slimmed down to four: Aucocisco, Maquoit, Emita, and Pilgrim . Now you know why we are the “Lines” and not the “Line,” taking into consideration the merger from long ago.
Captain Larry Legere, whose career with Casco Bay Lines spanned more than 30 years before his retirement in 2018, is the ferry line’s unofficial historian.