It’s a busy day on the waterfront in Stonington, Connecticut, as the passenger steamer New Hampshire arrives at the Providence & Stonington Steamship Company in this 19th-century scene painted by John Mecray. Established in 1875 with the consolidation of the Stonington Steamship Company (founded in 1867 by the Stonington Railroad Company) and in operation until 1896, the company offered passenger lines from New York to Providence and Stonington aboard five steamers, which connected to major railroad lines.
A graduate of the Philadelphia College of Art, Mecray started his career as an illustrator for books and magazines, until he was invited to crew a 40-foot sailboat on a trip to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1972. Immediately captivated by the sea, Mecray began painting marine scenes on his second trip to the Virgin Islands, and after his third passage, he moved his family to Newport, Rhode Island, to pursue marine painting as a full-time career.
Mecray took part in nine offshore yacht deliveries and numerous races. He also co-founded the Museum of Yachting and helped establish the International Yacht Restoration School. This first-hand experience gave him the expert knowledge to produce the authoritative paintings of racing yachts for which he is known.
Mecray did not just paint racing vessels, however. Closely familiar with the history surrounding them, he also captured historical scenes, such as the one above. Situated in the eastern corner of Connecticut and bordering Westerly, Rhode Island, Stonington has a rich shipbuilding and whaling history that dates back to the mid-17th century. That community of affluent seamen is represented by Mecray in the well-dressed passengers aboard the New Hampshire and the waterfront homes in the background.
Mecray passed away at age 80 in 2017. The Restoration Hall at the International Yacht Restoration School was renamed in his honor.
This article was originally published in the November 2021 issue.