OUR HISTORY

THE START OF MERRILL-STEVENS

Merrill-Stevens began in 1885 when three young men in Jacksonville incorporated the business and lit the spark that would grow into a wildly impactful business that spread throughout Florida. One of those men was Captain James Gilman Merrill, who first arrived in Jacksonville in 1866. The company has consistently evolved over the past 135 years, overcoming fires, wars, the Great Depression, historic hurricanes, and much more. It all started in Jacksonville, Florida.

MERRILL-STEVENS JACKSONVILLE

Captain James Gilman Merrill was a shipmaster and shipowner. Captain Merrill purchased a plantation in Charleston, South Carolina in 1853. The Civil War signaled the end of his plantation and the loss of his fortune. Captain Merrill moved to Jacksonville in 1866 and established a blacksmith and ironwork shop that specialized in marine repairs. This venture laid the groundwork for the Merrill-Stevens shipyard. Captain Merrill's sons James Eugene (Gene) Merrill and Alexander (Alex) R. Merrill began working for the company and quickly became experts in various trades, including iron forging, boiler construction, and general ship repairs. Captain Merrill's daughter Joanna Merrill also joined the company, serving as a clerk. Gene and Merrill would soon take over the business in 1879. In 1895, they incorporated the Merrill-Stevens Engineering Co. along with their friend Arthur Stevens, who was an engineer and naval architect. The business began to grow, repairing ships during the Spanish American War in Cuba and surviving the yellow fever pandemics of 1886 and 1888, which decimated Jacksonville's population to 10% of what it once was. In the Great Jacksonville Fire in 1901, the Merrill-Stevens wharf was completely consumed in fire and destroyed.

Ownership quickly built a new, more modern plant, and began to focus more on shipbuilding than repair. The Jacksonville shipyard went on to build massive ships, including the 2,500T 225' William Tupper, which was the yard's first all-steel vessel. During World War I (1914-1918), Merrill-Stevens Co. was bought by the Emergency Fleet Corporation, which was created by the Shipping Board to bolster the American Merchant Marine. The company was renamed Merrill-Stevens Shipbuilding Corporation. As the war came to an end, the Emergency Fleet Corporation no longer needed to produce vessels for the American Merchant Marine. In 1921, the company was sold back to Gene Merrill by the Emergency Fleet Corporation, and was reorganized as the Merrill-Stevens Dry Dock and Repair Co.

MERRILL-STEVENS MIAMI

Alex Merrill and Arthur Stevens used their proceeds from the sale of the company to the Emergency Fleet Corporation for endeavors outside of Jacksonville. After trying to start a sugar cane farm in Jacksonville, Alex Merrill went to Miami to reenter the world of marine repair. Alex purchased the Pilkington Boatyard on the north bank of the Miami River at 12th avenue, which included 7,800 square feet of covered storage and a marine railway. Riverfront development began to bring boaters and maritime activities to the area, presenting an opportunity for the company. Miami was also undergoing one of the greatest real estate booms in history, making the Pilkington Boatyard a prime opportunity for someone with experience and knowledge in the marine industry to turn the business around. Alex Merrill purchased Pilkington's Boatyard with $10,000 of his own money, $10,000 from his brother Gene, and loans in 1923. The yard was named Merrill-Stevens Dry Dock Co. and Alex went to work immediately, making vast improvements to the yard. The company achieved early success thanks to Prohibition (1920-1933).

Miami was a prime location for illegal alcohol smuggling, and the shipyard became a storage and repair facility for seized rum-runner's boats and Coast Guard vessels. Very large private yachts were also a significant source of revenue for the yard, including the 250' Alva, which Alex said "was like an industry" on its own. Although business was booming, disaster would strike Merrill-Stevens yet again. In September of 1926, the Merrill-Stevens plant was destroyed by what is known as the "Great Hurricane." Winds reached speeds of more than 130 miles an hour. After the storm, not a single vessel of the more than 600 boats anchored in the Coconut Grove bay were left floating. The Merrill-Stevens story would not end here. With the investment of Mr. A. B. Dick, Alex was given the funds needed to build the yard better than before. As the yard was completed and ready for a flood of business, hard times hit once again. Leading up to the Great Depression in 1929, the staff at the company decreased quickly from 150 employees to 15, and work was hard to come by. Alex, 70, decided it was time to step down from the company. He spread the word that he was seeking someone to take over managing the company. Alec Balfe, the 24-year-old son of Joanna Merrill Balfe, who just so happened to be James C. Merrill's first cousin, was recommended for the job, making it a complete coincidence that the new leader of Merrill-Stevens was, in fact, a "Merrill." The company, and the City of Miami, was the benefactor of an effort off the Merrill-Stevens yard. Alex "Colonel" Merrill, Alex Balfe's uncle, spearheaded and effort to dredge the Miami River, which finally gained traction after years of discussions and planning. The project was approved in 1930 by the Rivers and Harbors Committee, and the channel was dredged for 5.5 miles of widths between 150' and 90', and a depth of 15'. The project was completed in 1933, and the economic impact from this effort was felt immediately. Larger yachts and commercial vessels now visited Miami through the Miami River, welcoming a new service market to the area and Merrill-Stevens. As the company grew, so did their holdings. In 1940, Merrill-Stevens purchased the Walldeck Deal Dredging Co. property with nearby parcels across the river. The newly purchased land would become the South Yard, and doubled the size of Merrill-Stevens, which would be necessary to keep up with unexpected demand that was just around the corner.

RMK MERRILL-STEVENS & WORLD WAR II

When Germany declared war against the United States, which was days after the events at Pearl Harbor (12/7/1941), Miami changed. Miami shifted from a vibrant, beloved tourist destination and recreational marine industry hub to an important training and deployment grounds for the US Navy and Army. Because of its location, Miami also became a target for German submarines, known as the Nazi U-boats. Miami had to quickly rise to the challenge and assist in defending the country, and the local marine industry played a large role in that effort. Fogal's Boatyard, which later changed its name to Miami Shipbuilding Corporation, was contracted to design prototype patrol torpedo (PT) boats for the Navy and built dozens of aircraft rescue boats. At Merrill-Stevens, 3,500 war-related projects were completed from 1941-1946. Among these projects and efforts was the conversion of hundreds of recreational yachts into naval support vessels. In 1943, Merrill-Stevens CEO Alec Balfe and the company were presented with the prestigious Army-Navy "E" award for production achievement. All 300 employees on site were given an emblem to show the military's appreciation for their contribution, and the company received a flag it would fly with pride. Merrill-Stevens in Jacksonville, Florida also received the "E" award for their tremendous contributions, which included building 81 "Liberty" ships. Scholars believe that American productivity was a leading contributor to the Allied victory. In 2021, RMK Merrill-Stevens announced their support for nominating Miami as an American World War II Heritage City, which is part of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act of 2019. The effort seeks to preserve Miami's history and keep the memory of the more than 3,000 Floridians who gave their lives to protect our freedom in World War II alive. To learn more about this effort, contact RMK Merrill-Stevens' Nicole Squartino at nicole@rmkms.com.

POST-WAR EXPANSION

Alex Merrill and Arthur Stevens used their proceeds from the sale of the company to the Emergency Fleet Corporation for endeavors outside of Jacksonville. After trying to start a sugar cane farm in Jacksonville, Alex Merrill went to Miami to reenter the world of marine repair. Alex purchased the Pilkington Boatyard on the north bank of the Miami River at 12th avenue, which included 7,800 square feet of covered storage and a marine railway. Riverfront development began to bring boaters and maritime activities to the area, presenting an opportunity for the company. Miami was also undergoing one of the greatest real estate booms in history, making the Pilkington Boatyard a prime opportunity for someone with experience and knowledge in the marine industry to turn the business around. Alex Merrill purchased Pilkington's Boatyard with $10,000 of his own money, $10,000 from his brother Gene, and loans in 1923. The yard was named Merrill-Stevens Dry Dock Co. and Alex went to work immediately, making vast improvements to the yard. The company achieved early success thanks to Prohibition (1920-1933). Miami was a prime location for illegal alcohol smuggling, and the shipyard became a storage and repair facility for seized rum-runner's boats and Coast Guard vessels. Very large private yachts were also a significant source of revenue for the yard, including the 250' Alva, which Alex said "was like an industry" on its own. Although business was booming, disaster would strike Merrill-Stevens yet again. In September of 1926, the Merrill-Stevens plant was destroyed by what is known as the "Great Hurricane." Winds reached speeds of more than 130 miles an hour. After the storm, not a single vessel of the more than 600 boats anchored in the Coconut Grove bay were left floating. The Merrill-Stevens story would not end here. With the investment of Mr. A. B. Dick, Alex was given the funds needed to build the yard better than before. As the yard was completed and ready for a flood of business, hard times hit once again. Leading up to the Great Depression in 1929, the staff at the company decreased quickly from 150 employees to 15, and work was hard to come by.

Alex, 70, decided it was time to step down from the company. He spread the word that he was seeking someone to take over managing the company. Alec Balfe, the 24-year-old son of Joanna Merrill Balfe, who just so happened to be James C. Merrill's first cousin, was recommended for the job, making it a complete coincidence that the new leader of Merrill-Stevens was, in fact, a "Merrill." The company, and the City of Miami, was the benefactor of an effort off the Merrill-Stevens yard. Alex "Colonel" Merrill, Alex Balfe's uncle, spearheaded and effort to dredge the Miami River, which finally gained traction after years of discussions and planning. The project was approved in 1930 by the Rivers and Harbors Committee, and the channel was dredged for 5.5 miles of widths between 150' and 90', and a depth of 15'. The project was completed in 1933, and the economic impact from this effort was felt immediately. Larger yachts and commercial vessels now visited Miami through the Miami River, welcoming a new service market to the area and Merrill-Stevens. As the company grew, so did their holdings. In 1940, Merrill-Stevens purchased the Walldeck Deal Dredging Co. property with nearby parcels across the river. The newly purchased land would become the South Yard, and doubled the size of Merrill-Stevens, which would be necessary to keep up with unexpected demand that was just around the corner.

RMK MERRILL-STEVENS

In 2013, Rahmi M. Koc acquired Merrill-Stevens shipyard in Miami for $10.5M, and changed the name of the yard to RMK Merrill-Stevens. The yard had lost its allure, prestige, and profitability after years of neglect. After acquiring the yard, Rahmi vowed to restore the company to its former glory, and to make Miami a premier destination for yachts and superyachts from around the world once again. RMK Merrill-Stevens is composed of two yards, which straddle the Miami River, and now known as RMK MS North and RMK MS South. An investment of more than $23M was made into the complete renovation of both yards, creating nearly 100 career opportunities at the shipyard. The North Yard now features a 2,700T Pearlson shiplift, which is the largest lift in South Florida. The South Yard includes new workshops, an expanded parts department and retail counter, and offices for partners. Each yard provides refit services, maintenance, repair, and more to vessels from 30' - 230'.