, Salem, MA


July 2, 2014

An unsinkable enterprise

Fire, friendship mark 100 years at Dion's Yacht Yard

SALEM — Fred Dion opened his boatyard on Glendale Street on the morning of June 25, 1914. Hours later, the Great Salem Fire destroyed much of South Salem.

One would think such a calamity would have sunk the venture, but it didn’t.

It survived and prospered in the 100 years since then, going on to work on the replica Friendship, both when its hull was delivered to Salem from Albany, New York, and in recent years helping to repair the hull, said third-generation owner Fred Atkins of Marblehead. Dion was Atkins’ grandfather.

Fred J. Dion Yacht Yard sits on a 2-acre lot on Salem Harbor at the foot of a side street, between the city’s Point neighborhood and Forest River Park. Last week, on the day of its 100th anniversary, there was no sign of a celebration.

A 52-foot racing yacht dominated the boatyard on a recent day. Sailboats were being lowered by a lift into the harbor, while owners came by to watch their boats go in. Boats of various shapes and sizes were being readied for the season. (Atkins’ boat, a rare 1946 Abeking and Rassmusen yacht, goes in last because his customers don’t want to see him in the water before them, he said.)

Atkins, 69, a Salem native, could not let the anniversary go by without some notice. He went through the company’s files, which are located in an office that was once the home of his grandfather. He found old photos of the business, and he plans to compile them into a photographic history of the yard, also known as Dion’s Yacht Yard.

Fred Dion, an immigrant from Quebec, was a man of great strength when he opened the boatyard in 1914. Atkins has a photo of him as a young man with a long wooden plank on his shoulder, balancing four boys, two on each side, with Fred Dion acting as the fulcrum.

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