BAR HARBOR — “No one had a better personality, more energy or a better work ethic than Jarvis Newman,” said Ed Gray, a former business partner of the legendary boatbuilder who died Sept. 1 at the age of 84.
He was living at Birch Bay Village in Bar Harbor after spending most of his life in Southwest Harbor.
In a long career, Newman preserved classic Maine wooden boat designs by taking molds from them and creating fiberglass versions. He was best known for skiffs, Friendship sloops, but also work boats and motor yachts.
Born July 6, 1935 to Lawrence and Eleanor (Jarvis) Newman in New Haven, Conn., he graduated from Pemetic High School in 1954 and then from the aircraft maintenance program at Wentworth Institute in Boston in 1956.
After college, Newman worked for General Electric in Cincinnati and in Lynn, Mass. where he got in touch with Susan Bunker, a fellow Pemetic High School grad who was attending college in Boston.
After they married, he worked at Stanley Elevator Company in New Hampshire installing elevators throughout northern New England.
“He used to tell me he was six months in Thomaston State Prison” said Ralph Stanley, who collaborated with Newman on many projects. By that, Newman meant he had installed the elevators in the state prison.
After the birth of their second daughter, Susan and Jarvis moved to Southwest Harbor where he had been offered a job in the fiberglass department of the Henry Hinckley Company.
It was a good time to learn the fiberglass business.
Newman built hundreds of fiberglass skiffs from a mold he made from a Chummy Spurling wood original that belonged to former U.S. Navy and Defense Secretary Thomas S. Gates, Jr., who used it as a tender to his Bunker and Ellis yacht Jericho. He began building them at home and sold the first one in 1966.
Interest in Friendship Sloops, the traditional sailing lobster boats, was also at a high in those years. A Friendship Sloop Society had formed and boatbuilders were just beginning to think about building fiberglass hulls from traditional plans.
In the winter of 1968, Newman’s shop was a shed behind The Village Washtub, the laundromat he and his wife owned in Southwest Harbor. He borrowed a wooden Friendship Sloop named Old Baldy to fashion a mold and got started on fiberglass hulls. Old Baldy had been designed after the Pemaquid in Howard I. Chapelle’s “American Small Sailing Craft” and built in 1965 at Bald Mountain Boatworks west of Camden.
“The first Friendship sloop that Jarvis built, I made the mast for it up behind the laundromat,” remembered Stanley. “I made the mast, the boom and the gaff.”
Newman launched that first sloop, named Salatia, on Sept. 30, 1969. The boat is still sailed in Southwest Harbor by Miff Lauriat and Marjorie Russakoff, the son and daughter-in-law of its original owners.
In all, he built 18 of this Pemaquid design and 20 of another design, patterned after the 1904 sloop Dictator.
“Throughout the years we have enjoyed Jarvis’ paternal favoritism to Salatia, his first-born,” Lauriat wrote in the 2013 yearbook of the Friendship Sloop Society, which was dedicated to Newman.
“He will roar up to us in his Whaler, take our photo and exclaim, ‘Bee-yoo-ti-ful, Sport! Good, good, good, good!'”
After the success of his first sloops, he founded Jarvis Newman Boats in 1970 and moved production and his family to Manset.
There, in a larger shop built behind his grandparents’ house, Newman went on to build fiberglass hulls for a 36-foot powerboat designed by his father-in-law, Raymond Bunker, a Ralph Stanley 32 and 38-foot and 46-foot models designed by Royal Lowell and Eliot Spalding.
“There’s not a builder around here that didn’t finish off a boat for Jarvis,” said Gray, who originally teamed up with Newman to finish one in 1979. “What we would get from Jarvis was a bare hull — it looked like a bath tub … He made a lot of boats and it was a little shop. It was usually Jarvis and two other men.
“We came together one day and said, ‘let’s start a boatyard,'” Gray continued.
They co-owned Newman & Gray Boatyard on Great Cranberry Island for almost three decades. All five of Gray’s children worked for Newman at one time or another and two of them now own and operate Newman & Gray.
“We’re still building the one small rowboat,” Gray said. Production of the 12-foot Spurling Skiff, the one that started it all, has passed 700.
Newman “always kind of looked forward to things, he never looked backwards,” Gray said. “Rarely did something not work out for Jarvis, merely by force of personality. There was no job that Jarvis wouldn’t do.”
As their business developed, Gray continued with boat production while Newman focused more on brokerage, founding Newman Marine Brokerage in 1980. When his health began to decline, Newman sold that business to his daughter Kathe Newman Walton in 2015.
In 2017, Newman was honored with a lifetime achievement award for promoting Maine’s boatbuilding industry.
“Jarvis has done a great service to the Friendship Sloop Society by building accurate reproductions of originals; his discerning eye and strong sense of tradition ensured his boats would have the same grace and sailing qualities as their wooden counterparts,” Lauriat wrote in that Friendship Sloop Society yearbook. “More Friendship sloops currently in the water were built by Jarvis than built by anyone else. He is truly a modern-day Wilbur Morse.”
“The boats are just so rugged and so well built,” Gray said of Newman’s work. “The hulls that Jarvis built are as good as the day they were built