Volume 45

The Building of History I: Mathews Boats

A Port Clinton Family Business Building Quality Boats for the World


  • MathewsBoat

How would you like to begin to build your dream boat in your basement? Scott Mathews, born in 1869, just after the Civil War, did just that. He grew up around a sawmill on a small farm in Bascom, Ohio, learning the wood crafting skills from his father. He spent two years in the military then two more at Kenyon College. His wife Martha Miller and her family owned a tile company in Bascom. S.J., as he was nicknamed, had a real vision for a boat company. He started his company along Wolfe Creek. It wasn’t until 1905 that he and his brothers 20 plus employees and their families moved their company to the banks of the Portage River, in Port Clinton.


In 1905, S.J. and Martha decided to take an incredible “Showcase” voyage of their 40 horsepower, 70 foot cruiser 9,000 miles along the Mississippi, then along the east coast of the United States. This was a big gamble, but it payed off for the Mathews. Bob Reynolds, a former Mathew’s employee, who was a distant family member has a fantastic lecture and DVD presentation at the Ida Rapp Library in Port Clinton!


In 1912, the business began to boom with the threat of war in Europe. Before the fighting got too intense, THE DETROIT, a 32 foot, Mathews, with a 12 horsepower gasoline engine became the first gas powered and smallest boat to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Other boats were minesweepers, rum runners, and cruisers from 10 feet to 110 feet.


Popular entertainers, including Arthur Godfrey and Charles Ringling of Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus came to Port Clinton to design their personal cruisers. In 1946, the 38-foot cruiser was a hit at the annual New York Boat Show, which was a favorite place for the Mathews to display their latest models.


The 1960’s was a decade for plastic boats to infiltrate the popular wooden boat builder’s models. It was not a good market for the once popular wood boat builders. The company was forced into bankruptcy during the 1970’s. The old location along the Portage was bought by Brand’s Marina and after the location of the historic Port Clinton Lighthouse is settled, a Mathews Boat Museum is in the future!


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