Pennellville Historic District
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Pennellville Historic District
|Location||Roughly bounded by Pennellville Rd., Middle Bay Cove, and Pennell Way, Brunswick, Maine|
|Area||130 acres (53 ha)|
|Architectural style||Greek Revival, Italianate, Federal|
|NRHP Reference #|||
|Added to NRHP||October 10, 1985|
Pennellville is significant for two main reasons: it has several historic ship captains' mansions, and much of the real estate is waterfront property. The real estate in Pennellville is some of the most expensive in the state of Maine.
The area's historic significance centers on the fact that the Pennell family founded a shipbuilding company and shipyard there. The company built wooden ships there for the 18th and 19th century shipping trade. Their company was known as "Pennell Brothers," and was one of the most successful shipbuilding companies in America. The shipyard was located in the cove at Pennellville.
- 1 History
- 2 Geography and government
- 3 See also
- 4 References
Before the arrival of white settlers, Pennellville and Brunswick, Maine were inhabited by Native Americans. The greater area was known as "Pejepscot" at the time, and encompassed the modern-day town of Brunswick, and other nearby towns. Native Americans left the area by the year 1725 AD.
Pennellville was settled by Thomas Pennell II, who arrived in the year 1760 AD. His father, Thomas I, had emigrated from Jersey (in the Channel Islands) around 1708. He originally settled in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Thomas I married Sarah Durin, and sired two sons and two daughters. Thomas I died in 1723. When his two sons, Thomas II (the future settler of Pennellville) and Clement, came of age, both moved north to Falmouth (now known as Portland). They moved around the year 1735 and purchased land in the Stroudwater area. However, Thomas II lost this land in 1759 due to a legal encumbrance. As a result, he and his family moved to the Brunswick area in 1760. He then built the first house in Pennellville. This original house, however, no longer stands.
Thomas II had five sons. His second son, Thomas III, was born in 1739. Thomas III lived in the Brunswick area, becoming a tax collector and was a shipwright in the 1790s. He married Alice Anderson of Freeport, Maine. Together, the couple had five sons and five daughters. Thomas III taught these sons the shipbuilding trade. Together, they expanded their shipbuilding activities and merchant shipping business in the period around 1800.
The eldest son of Thomas III was Jacob Pennell, born in 1778. He was the most prosperous of the five sons, and built at least 20 ships in Middle Bay (the larger bay upon which Pennellville sits) between 1810 and 1841. He acquired most of the land at Pennellville (land originally owned by his father) by buying the lots that had been divided amongst his brothers. He then built a house with his new-found wealth. At the beginning of the 21st century, his house (the "Jacob Pennell Mansion") is the oldest standing house in Pennellville.
The earliest records show that the Pennell family was building wooden ships around 1760 in the Pennellville shipyard. Over the next 114 years (1760–1874), the Pennell family would build in excess of 90 ships in Pennellville. This made them one of the wealthiest and most famous shipbuilding families in all of America. The Pennell family entered into a massive shipbuilding boom, and became one of the families of the fabled American shipbuilding era.
With the wealth acquired from the massively successful shipbuilding business, more mansions began to follow. Jacob had several sons and, around this time, they christened the company "Pennell Brothers." The area where their activities were centered soon became known as "Pennellville."
Pennellville was soon considered its own community, and three roads in the area would bear the Pennell name: Pennellville Road, Old Pennellville Road, and Pennell Way. Soon the area had its own schoolhouse and signs designating the area as being separate from Brunswick. Another road in Pennellville, Tedesco Way, is named for a Pennell ship. In all, the Pennells built seven mansions in the area between 1760 and 1877.
With their new-found fortunes, the Pennell family began building mansions along Pennellville Road. The names of the mansions are as follows:
- James Pennell Mansion
- Charles Pennell Mansion
- Benjamin Pennell Mansion
- William Pennell Mansion
- Job Pennell Mansion
- Jacob Pennell II Mansion
Captain Abby and Captain John
A notable relative of the Pennell family was Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Robert P.T. Coffin (1892-1955). Coffin was the bother of Alice Pennell, and lived in the Jacob Pennell II Mansion. Robert Coffin wrote the critically acclaimed novel Captain Abby and Captain John (1939), an epic of two Pennell ship captains.
Pennell Brothers Shipbuilding Company
The Pennell Brothers shipbuilding company built wooden cargo ships. Sometimes the family they would retain ownership, and charge clients for shipping cargo. In other instances, the family would sell a ship. The Pennells were also captains of many of the ships they built.
The business operated out of the shipyard located in Pennellville. The site of the yard, including the "ways" from which a ship was launched, was located in the Pennellville bay (known as Middle Bay Cove). The shipyard was moved to three locations in the bay during the operation of the company. The first site was located deep inland, farthest away from the entrance to the ocean. The yard was moved twice after this, getting successively closer to the open ocean with each move.
The Pennell family was building ships in Pennellville by 1760. However, the Pennell family was likely building ships in America before the first records of these activities in the 1760s. This is thought to be true because ancestors who pre-date the first Pennell in America were shipbuilders in England.
Pennell ships carried all sorts of cargoes; among them were timber, deadstock, wine, guano, salt, and fruit. Often they would also transport people as passengers from port to port for a fee. It is noted, however, that the company was never involved in the American slave trade.
The ships the Pennells built are generally referred to as "tall ships." However, they built many different types of tall ships, more specifically classified as barques, schooners, sloops, and brigs. The largest ships weighed over 2,800,000 lbs. (1,400 tons), while the smallest weighed as little as 90,000 lbs. (45 tons). The Benjamin Sewall, the biggest ship ever built by the Pennells, weighed 2,866,000 lbs. (1,433 tons). Completed in 1874, it would also prove to be the last ship the Pennells ever built. In 1903, it sank and was lost off Taiwan (known at the time as Formosa).
Demise of the shipyard
By the end of the 19th century, metal-hulled steamships had replaced wooden ships as a means of transporting goods. Railroads had also come into their own as a means of shipping. By the end of the 19th century, it was faster and safer to ship cargoes by railroad from New York City to San Francisco than it was to sail around Cape Horn. Wooden sailing ships were becoming obsolete.
Around this same time, James Pennell (the master builder of the Pennell Brothers company) died as a result of an accident in the shipyard. As James was the last master-builder of the Pennell family, his death was likely a major blow to the workings of the yard. By the early 20th century, the shipyard had gone out of business.
Housing development has been relatively sparse, and much of Pennellville remains wooded areas and open fields. However, the area has become somewhat more developed since the 1980s. Because of its historical significance, Pennellville was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Evidence of the shipyard still exists. The ways (the wooden rails a ship was launched down) can still be seen sitting in the bay at low tide. Another visible feature of the yard is the hall where the shipyard workers lived, located at the very end of Pennellville Road, on the east side of the road.
Geography and government
Pennellville is located in the southern portion of Brunswick, Maine, on the Atlantic Ocean. It sits on a cove known as Middle Bay Cove. The greater bay where it sits is known as Middle Bay, which is a part of the still larger Casco Bay. No official boundaries have ever been designated.
Pennellville is part of the town of Brunswick, Maine (U.S.A), and has no government of its own. Residents use Brunswick's post office, police department, fire and rescue departments, library, and public school system. Residents of Pennellville are also subject to Brunswick's town taxation system, and Maine's state taxation system.
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- National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- Maine League of Historical Societies and Museums (1970). In Doris A. Isaacson. Maine: A Guide 'Down East'. Rockland, Me: Courier-Gazette, Inc. pp. 176–177.
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