It’s hard to believe that the Jones River in Kingston, Massachusetts, was once a robust shipbuilding center that produced hundreds of wooden sailing vessels—whalers, traders, fishing boats—from the early 1700s to the mid-1800s. The river, which flows from the glacial ponds of southeastern Massachusetts to Kingston Bay, is so shallow in spots, especially at low tide, that you can hardly float a kayak, so the thought of 100-plus-foot ships built to sail the world departing from this small, marsh-lined estuary seems fantastic.
When rail service came to the area around 1845, the Jones River shipbuilding industry faded, although a few small yards endured. Perhaps the best known belonged to George Shiverick. From 1898 to 1940, Shiverick designed and built handsome catboats and other small sailing vessels, many of which still exist. Later, the yard served as home to the Mackenzie boatbuilding company, creator of the classic New England “bass boat.”
Given the river’s rich maritime past, it’s fitting that the same buildings used by Shiverick and Mackenzie are now home to the Jones River Landing Environmental Heritage Center, which, among other things, seeks to connect the local community to the waterway that flows through its heart.
I visited the Center in February 2011, and met with director Pine Dubois, who gave me a tour of the facility and explained its mission, or missions, as the Center serves several purposes. Aside from educating the public about the river’s history, the Center is headquarters for the Jones River Watershed Association, which seeks to restore the river to its natural state to ensure robust populations of anadramous fish and a healthy marine ecosystem.
As part of its goal of connecting people to the river, the Center also provides water access. The annual $50 membership fee includes free parking and use of the Center’s small ramp and dock for launching of canoes and kayaks.
The Center also serves as a community gathering place, where dances and potlucks, as well as lectures on the local environment, boatbuilding and history, are held throughout the year.
During my visit, I sat in on a youth boatbuilding class conducted by shipwright Jack Pitney, who was teaching a group of eager young students from the local Montessori school how to build a shellback dinghy. The kids were thoroughly engaged in the project, and were looking forward to sailing their new boat in the spring.
Even though they might not become shipwrights and naval architects, the students were learning new skills and becoming familiar with area’s boating culture and history—something the Jones River Landing Heritage Environmental Heritage Center offers to anyone who’s interested.
If you’d like more information on the Jones River Landing Environmental Heritage Center, visit www.jonesriver.org.