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CRONKITE: In the 19th century only the wealthy could afford to own a pleasure boat.

Gun manufacturer Samuel Colt’s son Caldwell Colt was the prototypical 19th century Connecticut yachtsman.  Colt's 5th  yacht, the mystic-built dauntless, was a legendary champion racer.

Since the early 1980s, private pleasure boating has boomed, tying more Connecticut residents to the sea and its arteries. The joy of boating, however, is no longer limited only to those who own one.

FRANK ROGERS (Captain, Real Escape Charter Yacht): We’re in the charter business. We do it hourly. There was a time when we did the overnight charters but my wife and I find this a lot more rewarding. We get out for birthdays and special occasions, business lunches, and it’s short-term but full of fun.

JOANNA ROGERS (First Mate, Real Escape Charter Yacht): Part of the success of what we do as far as chartering is for a very short amount of time the people that are here feel like it’s their boat, and we do everything we can to make sure that they feel comfortable and that they’re at ease with everything that we have, all the facilities, and it is their boat for 3, 4, 5 hours, whatever it is.

FRANK ROGERS (Captain, Real Escape Charter Yacht): And, look, I’m around a great bunch of people here enjoying themselves. An 80th birthday. My gosh. You know? Who wouldn’t want to be here on the water on a gorgeous day like this with people enjoying themselves? I mean, it’s contagious.


CRONKITE: Today, recreational boating is a pastime available to many Connecticut residents. The concept of pleasure boating first became a reality for most people in the early 1800s, with the newly invented steamboat. For the first time, Connecticut’s rivers conveniently connected state residents to the sea and previously far-off ports for both business and pleasure.

BRENDA MILKOFSKY (Dir., Wethersfield Historical Society): Steamboats were really the leading edge of the transportation revolution in the early 19th Century.  And for the first time shippers didn’t have to worry about the wind or the tide and of great importance to the development of business was the fact that you could count on them coming.

Steamboats were really the first, with the exception of those gut-wrenching stagecoaches, the first public transportation that was embraced by lots and lots of Americans.

Disasters, of course, were not uncommon to steamboats.  But the American public loved the steamboat and they embraced the industry and more competition meant.  The boats were improved with very elegant appointments. They, of course, became known for speed and they really vied for audiences by having crystal chandeliers and grand salons with rosewood furniture and brocade upholstery and wonderful tapestries and interior paintings.

It was steamboats that enabled hundreds of New Yorkers to come up the Connecticut past Goodspeed’s Landing here in East Haddam to Upper Landing just to the north where there was a great hotel, The Champion House, and a very successful music seminary. William Goodspeed who was a great entrepreneur and had a general store in town didn’t like to see people going by his establishment and so in 1876 he opened this marvelous opera house. …He brought New York theater to people along the Connecticut River and that in turn attracted summer visitors. This was sort of the beginning of destination tourism and establishments like this sprung up all along the steamboat routes.

CRONKITE: Although the steamboat transportation industry is long vanished, thousands of Connecticut residents still use the water as an alternative to travel over land.

At the Water Street Dock in downtown Bridgeport, ferries owned by the Bridgeport Port Jefferson Steamboat Company traverse the sound several times a day.  Started in the late 1800s by a group that included P. T. Barnum, the ferries run year round, and along with the ferry service at New London, comprise a water highway linking Connecticut to Long Island. About 2.2 million passengers use the ferries each year taking about 745,000 vehicles off the road.

In the late 1990s, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, whose ancestors once traveled the Sound in huge dugout canoes, established the Pequot River Shipworks  to build high-speed TriCatamaran ferries.  The shipyard ceased building ferries in 1999 after 5 craft were built. Today the tribal owned Fox Navigation operates 2 TriCats for a tribal ferry service on Long Island Sound.


CRONKITE: The tribal ferries often carry people whose destination is the area casinos and other southeastern Connecticut attractions.

They are the modern-day counterpart to the steamers that helped bring mid-19th Century residents to riverside and coastal areas for rest and recreation.

Mystic Island, opened in the 1840s, was one such popular destination for Connecticut and Rhode Island residents who ferried in for a respite from work and business.

Today, tourism in Connecticut benefits greatly from the state’s maritime heritage.  In the southeastern part of Connecticut water-related tourism is a significant part of the economy.

In New London, Ocean Beach has attracted area beachgoers since 1888.  Letizia Smith's family moved to Ocean Beach in 1940 when her parents purchased the Mayberry Hotel.

Letizia Smith (Co-Chair, Save Ocean Beach): During the height of the summer people used to come and spend from 4 to 6 weeks here in the summertime as a summer resort for them. The families would stay and dad would go home and work during the week and just come back on the weekends  …And of course the local people were here all the time.

It was blanket-to-blanket on the beach and people would come and stake out their spot early in the day.  People had their bathhouses here and they kept their umbrellas and their beach chairs here for the whole summer.  It was really a complete amusement park for adults and children, all of that was here and little by little that all disappeared.

CRONKITE: The museums and tourist centers of Southeastern.  Connecticut play a large role in bringing the story of Connecticut and the sea to hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.

The southeastern part of Connecticut has a strong maritime tradition.

J. REVELL CARR (Exec. Dir., Mystic Seaport): from its earliest days and they’re being carried on and perpetuated by a number of organizations in the area. The Mystic Seaport, The Lighthouse Museum in Stonington, the Nautilus Museum, the Customs House Museum in New London, the Coast Guard Museum in New London, The Eagle, Mystic Aquarium all covering different aspects of the maritime story.

JIM STONE (VP Programs and Exhibitions, Mystic Aquarium): People come to this region and they’re accustomed, in fact, expecting to get, I think, a lesson about the sea. And ¾ and they’re able to learn about the sea’s history, about people’s interaction with the sea, about the natural history.  I think it’s a synergistic effect that ¾ that all the institutions in this area are ¾ are creating by being here.

STEVE FINNIGAN (Curator, Nautilus /Submarine Force Museum):  The Submarine Force Museum was actually started by the Electric Boat Company in 1955.  And when the Nautilus decommissioned in 1980, they refurbished it and decided to open it up to the public, which was a pretty novel thing to do. It’s the only nuclear powered submarine open to the public today. They decided to bring to back to Groton at the same time the museum was then going  to be enlarged and a new facility was being built. In 1986 we opened the site which you see today which houses the Submarine Force Museum and the historic ship Nautilus.  We have become the third largest cultural attraction in this area after Mystic Seaport and the aquarium.

J. REVELL CARR (Exec. Dir., Mystic Seaport): Mystic Seaport was founded in 1929 out of a concern for the loss of ¾ of the history of this river and the shipbuilding activities on it but it quickly focused much more broadly.  The museum is a sanctuary for endangered buildings and ships of the maritime world. And in addition to that, the educational programs developed all following World War II.

For Mystic Seaport its an exciting time.  We have a large factory building that is being converted to the American Maritime Education Research Center.  And, as well, we’re pursuing the idea of the mission of creating a ¾ a broad public understanding of the relationship of America and the sea. So we published a book called America and the Sea, and we’re creating a major exhibition that will convey the America and the sea theme.

JIM STONE (VP Programs and Exhibitions, Mystic Aquarium): Mystic Aquarium is …the largest visitor attraction in the state.  800,000 people a year coming here this year to the aquarium and in the future it will probably be more than that.

The aquarium started actually as a brainchild of Calvin Smith and a couple of other people who invented something called instant ocean.  His dream was to build a ¾ a major aquarium and he was inspired to build it here because he vacationed in the Mystic area and thought it was a beautiful area.

We’ve completely renovated our main building, all new exhibits.  We have a new outdoor beluga whale exhibit called The Alaskan Coast. And there is the Institute for Exploration and the exhibit center called The Challenge of the Deep.


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Last modified: September 03, 2012