It was the largest wooden sailing vessel ever built in Port Jefferson, during the village’s shipyard heyday.
The Martha E. Wallace was built at the Mather & Wood Shipyard in 1902 and topped off at more than 200 feet long and 1,108 tons, according to a history of prominent residents interred at Port Jefferson’s Cedar Hill Cemetery written by cemetery historian George Moraitis.
John Titus Mather — the very same whose name is memorialized on a Port Jefferson hospital, and one in a long line of shipbuilders — and Owen E. Wood had started the shipyard around 1879. Located on the harbor, near the current ferry terminal site, they quickly got to work building the first ship for the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company, Nonowantuc, a wooden-hulled steam ferry, and later the original Park City ferry before designing the Martha E. Wallace.
The schooner Martha E. Wallace launched on Aug. 2, 1902. According to “Images of America: Port Jefferson,” written by local library staffers Robert Maggio and Earlene O’Hare, it was “the last of the great schooners built in Port Jefferson,” with four masts and 16 sails. Those sails were made at the Wilson Sail Loft, another village business situated at the harbor.
About 2,000 people witnessed the ship’s launch, Maggio and O’Hare wrote, but the majesty was short-lived — the vessel was destroyed eight years later when she ran aground off the coast of North Carolina.
That incident was early one morning in late December 1910, and records show the Martha E. Wallace got stranded near Cape Lookout in the Southern Outer Banks, while carrying cargo on a trip between Georgia and New York. The small crew was rescued as the schooner was rapidly taking on water.
The Martha E. Wallace was one of several dozens of vessels the Mather family had a hand in building. A half-hull model of the ship is on display — along with other ship models and shipbuilding tools — at the historical society’s Mather Museum on Prospect Street in downtown Port Jefferson, based at a former Mather family home.