Historical society invites community to remember Ralph Stanley

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — The Southwest Harbor Historical Society will host an event this Saturday to remember Ralph Stanley, and all are invited. The event for the local master craftsman will start at 3 p.m. at Stanley’s boat shop at 102 Clark Point Road and will end at the historical society’s Manset Meeting House on Seawall Road. 

Ralph Warren Stanley (Feb. 9, 1929 to Dec. 7, 2021), a Mount Desert Island native, was indeed a craftsman who built master boats and violins, and he was also a sailor and a captain. Stanley was a Bluegrass fiddler, a historian, genealogist, a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow and an author. 

Known as a craftsman who literally built his interests, Stanley was also a beloved father, grandfather, neighbor and friend who could trace his ancestors back to 18th century Cranberry Isles. Timothy Stanley will lead the remembrance of his grandfather’s accomplishments and give a visual presentation of his various pursuits.  

“Our family will speak about him and give folks who remember him an opportunity to share stories about him,” said Timothy, who is excited to lead guests around his grandfather’s treasured boat shop. The event will also feature items from Stanley’s office. 

“He was the son of a fisherman and became a captain who spent most of his life surrounded by the ocean, which is why I believe he developed an interest in boatbuilding,” Timothy said. 

After college, the sailor founded his own company, Ralph W. Stanley Inc., where he produced over 70 pleasure vessels, lobster boats and his favorite single-masted Friendship Sloops.  

“My grandfather would often say if God wanted fiberglass boats, they would have made fiberglass trees,” Timothy said about the builder who exclusively used wood such as local pine, white cedar and oak.  

According to relatives, Stanley’s signature creation was reportedly the Friendship Sloop, which he personally sailed. In fact, he won the Class A division in Rockland’s Friendship Sloop regatta three years running. Now the award for the best-maintained wooden Friendship Sloop is named the Stanley Cup.  

“At one point, there were more Ralph Stanley boats in Southwest Harbor than any other builder,” Timothy said. 

Something not many know about Stanley is that he provided consultations to builders to help repair the USS Constitution.  

Since Stanley’s death, a few donated articles, such as his handcrafted fiddle, can be seen at the Historical Society. A film about the acclaimed craftsman, produced by local filmmaker Jeff Dobbs, included a segment about Stanley’s violin-making talents, which he pursued in his basement. The fiddler could also be found repairing stringed instruments in the music room at Pemetic Elementary School. 

Books written by Stanley about his experiences growing up being involved with the working waterfront on MDI are available at the Southwest Harbor Public Library. His first book, “Tales of a Maine Boat Builder,” details his encounters with various colorful characters in Downeast Maine. His second book, “The Stanleys of Cranberry Isles,” traces his family history. 

Ninah Rein

Ninah Rein

Writer at Mount Desert Islander
Ninah Rein, an MDI native, covers news and features in the Bar Harbor area. She is glad to be back in Maine after earning a bachelor's degree in San Diego from the University of California.
Ninah Rein

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