This Place in History: Shelburne Shipyard

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SHELBURNE, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Shelburne with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We are at Shelburne Shipyard and this has been an ongoing concern here since 1820, so a long time.
The shipyard was started by a guy named White, as far as we can tell, doing some boat servicing and building small craft. But it was quickly bought by Cornelius Van Ness, a wealthy shareholder in the Lake Champlain Steamboat Company. There were a number of steamboat companies on the lake, which ultimately combined into the Lake Champlain Transportation Company, which we still have today,” began Perkins.

“I think the most famous one that we all know about was the Ticonderoga, which is now at the Shelburne Museum. That was the last steamboat built here at the Shelburne Shipyard and it plied Lake Champlain until the 1950s.”

“It somewhat went into decline. The Great Depression really hit all the United States very hard. But when World War II broke out, there were some enterprising folks who said that we could build boats right here and help that war effort,” continued Perkins.

 “Not quite destroyers, but they weren’t small either. There was a young man named Jerry Aske who saw this as a great opportunity because it’s a good location and build the economy here in northern Vermont.”

“So the first contract was for sub chasers. These were ocean-going ships built right here. Later on, they built big ocean-going barges and then a little bit later, ocean-going tugs.”

“What I found fascinating is because of wartime rationing, they couldn’t get a lot of parts shipped up here in a quick manor. These boats were made with Vermont oak, milled at Hague Lumber right in Burlington. All the cabinet work was done right here and even things like drive shafts were milled at mills in Winooski because they couldn’t order them. One of the estimates I’ve seen, especially with these sub chasers, is that 98% of that ship was made whole cloth right here in Vermont,” explained Perkins.

“Shortly after World War II, we had the Korean Conflict. With Jerry Aske’s reputation, the Navy came back and said can you build some of these 35 foot motorboats, which we often talk of as captain jigs or admiral boats, used for moving people in between the larger ships of the Navy.”

“Shortly after that conflict ended, this shipyard received a very large contract to produce landing craft.  And as the Burlington Free Press said, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Vermont was facing a slight downturn in its economy, but that was the last big contract for this shipyard,” added Perkins.

“Today, still as you can see, it’s a vibrant shipyard, maintaining boats and taking them in and out of the water. The Askes built a marina in conjunction with the shipyard and also some shore side development. Ultimately the Aske family sold the shipyard. They did retain the marina. Now the Griswold family owns Shelburne Shipyard today,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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