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Blue Hill’s Red Boathouse

By Steele Hays

Blue Hill’s Red Boathouse on Conary Cove is a favorite subject for local artists and photographers. Photo by Steele Hays

It is one of the most painted and photographed buildings on the Blue Hill peninsula with its striking red color, its rocky perch, and picturesque setting on Conary Cove, just a few hundred yards north of Blue Hill Falls. On calm mornings and evenings at mid to high tide, the 100-year-old boathouse becomes a classic calendar shot—its image perfectly reflected in the water and its long-dormant marine railway rails seemingly still ready to pull a boat into the shed for repair or storage. 

It’s famous in the Blue Hill area, where there are dozens of similar sheds along the coast. If you say “the red boathouse,” everyone knows the one you are talking about. Beyond its visual appeal, the boathouse on Conary Cove has a fascinating history and links to a number of remarkable people and families who’ve owned it and loved it, as well as having associations with many well-known yachts. 

The marine railway no longer operates, but the boathouse is still used for boat storage. Photo by Steele Hays

The boathouse was built around 1924 by Mrs. Gertrude Haskell, the widow of Coburn Haskell of Cleveland, Ohio, a summer resident of Blue Hill who became wealthy by developing and manufacturing the most successful golf ball of his era, the first to be made with wrapped rubber bands around a solid rubber core. Widely regarded as the first modern golf ball, Haskell’s ball was quickly adopted by both professionals and amateurs as their ball of choice based on its superior performance, bringing control and feel to a whole new level and flying an average of 20 yards farther than the 100-percent gutta percha balls made from the resin of the sapodilla tree that had been the standard. 

The Haskells came to Blue Hill one summer at the invitation of friends, loved the area and soon purchased land on Parker Point and built the largest house in the area, Dundree, which still stands today. Mr. Haskell died at age 54 in 1922. Mrs. Haskell continued to spend summers at Dundree and was active in local society circles including the Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club. She and her son, Melville, purchased a 52-foot, two-masted Alden-designed schooner, Troubadour, and hired a local man, Harry Conary, to captain it. His father, Alden, owned a large tract of waterfront property about a mile south of Dundree on the cove named for his family. With two small islands to the south and southeast and bold ledges to the west and north, it offered a protected mooring place, and the Haskells apparently leased land from Conary and built the boathouse and a dock. 

Captain Harry Conary sailed Troubadour for the Haskell family and was a beloved local figure in Blue Hill. Photo courtesy Dindy Royster

In 1928, Mrs. Haskell purchased the land surrounding the boathouse and held it until 1944, when she sold it to another entrepreneurial Ohio family, Leslie and Elsa Leveque, of Columbus. Leveque built his reputation as a shrewd businessman by buying Columbus’s tallest skyscraper (and at 47 floors the fifth tallest building in the world for several years) out of foreclosure during the Depression and renaming it the Leveque Tower.

The Leveques’ summer home was just down the road toward Brooklin, overlooking Blue Hill Falls, and the boathouse and cove were a perfect location for mooring their boats as well as the floatplane Mr. Leveque loved to fly. He had a wooden platform built on the rocky beach to allow him to taxi his plane onto the shore. Ironically, like Coburn Haskell, Leveque was also an innovator in sports equipment. As the owner of a bowling alley, he worked successfully with one of his employees to develop an automatic pin-setting machine. Several other men and firms were pursuing the same goal simultaneously—with some success. A few years later, the company that became AMF purchased the rights to the Leveque machine.

Tragically, Mr. and Mrs. Leveque died in 1946 when their private plane (not a floatplane) crashed in New Hampshire on their way home to Ohio, also killing their pilot. But the boathouse remained in the Leveque family for another 63 years. The couple’s only son, Frederick, purchased it and 10 acres around it from his mother’s estate for just under $5,000 in 1954 (the equivalent of $52,000 today). For 30 years, the boathouse had been white, but soon after buying it, Frederick and his wife had it painted red—as it has remained ever since.

Troubadour ghosts along under sail in 2017. Courtesy Alden Yachts

Both the Haskells and the Leveques enjoyed having fast, beautiful boats, both sail and power. The Haskells’ Alden schooner, Troubadour, was built by the Hodgdon company in East Boothbay. It competed every year in the two-day Blue Hill to Northeast Harbor race, a major event in the 1920s and 1930s that drew more than 150 entries in multiple classes, of both sail and power. The starting and ending points for the race switched annually. 

Melville Haskell also owned the Alden sloop, Tinker, and a 36-foot powerboat, the tender Tortoise. The hulls of all three were painted black and were “quite a fleet in itself,” according to the historical profile of KYC written by Alvin Dohme. As of 2015, Troubadour was still afloat, sailing out of Brittany, France, under the ownership of Feargus Bryan, a former superyacht captain. 

One oral history account handed down about Troubadour comes from Denny Roberton, former Blue Hill fire chief and lifelong resident. When he was growing up, every year at his family’s gatherings the story would be told about the time his uncle, Ralph (Riley) Duffey, and other local men saved Troubadour from running aground after it pulled free from its mooring in the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, one of the most destructive in history. After being alerted by Harry Conary, a group of men ventured out in the storm “with the rain blowing sideways” to secure new lines to the schooner and tie them to large trees on shore, saving the ship. “That’s the way they did it,” Robertson said.

The Leveques and their extended family members also owned a number of distinguished boats over the years, including a 38-foot Challenger yawl, Abri; a 35-foot Bertram powerboat, Scout, and a 46-foot Hinckley yawl named Triumph. The Leveques’ daughter, Betty, often raced her Atlantic racing sloop, Triple Threat, in the local races. The boat was considered a particularly beautiful example of the first generation of Atlantics, and is now in the collection of the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. 

Tragically, like his parents, Frederick Leveque was also killed in a plane crash. The accident occurred in 1975 when the private plane in which he was traveling struck a radio tower on the American University campus in Washington, D.C., flying in heavy fog. Four other men were also killed.  

Conary Cove provides a sheltered mooring for roughly 15 boats each summer. Photo by Steele Hays

Walter Bissett Sr. in 1973, a true Maine waterman. Photo by Steele Hays The boathouse will turn 100 in 2024, after surviving many storms, high winds, king tides, and changes in ownership. The steel rails of its marine railway still run into the cove and are clearly visible at low tide, but the cable winch that pulled the cradle up the rails was last used in the 1960s. Until the 1960s, a wooden dock extended into the cove from the west side of the boathouse, allowing boats direct access for refueling and loading.

During the Leveques’ ownership in the 1960s and 70s, the boathouse was managed by Walter Bissett Sr. who looked and sounded like he should have been a model for a Norman Rockwell painting of a true Maine waterman, with his white hair, wind-weathered face, and ever-present pipe.

Today, the boathouse is still used for small boat storage, but no yachts. It’s been well maintained by its current owners, the John Richardson family of Atlanta and Blue Hill. They feel a strong responsibility to preserve it. “Our plan is to continue to maintain it and keep it going, both because it is useful for storage and as a workshop and because of its history,” Richardson said. 

Here’s hoping that the old red boathouse on Conary Cove is still standing tall after another 100 years.

Steele Hays lives in Blue Hill and is a part-time marketing director and writer.







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