Over the past few years, the four largest Steamship Authority ferries have acquired historic steamboat whistles. These three-tone chime whistles have been heard as far as eight miles away, they echo beautifully and the public reaction seems to be very favorable.

Pretty to look at, pretty to hear.

As of this week a new vessel has been added to the fleet. The Woods Hole has arrived from her builders with the whistle of the excursion steamer State of Pennsylvania installed above her pilothouse.

The State of Pennsylvania was built by the Pusey & Jones shipyard in 1923, for the Wilson Line of Wilmington, Del. The 226-foot steamer had a passenger capacity of 3,500 and her design was considered quite advanced for her time. At various times during her career she operated on the Delaware River and Bay, the Hudson River, New York harbor and Long Island Sound. She made her last trip in September 1960. As an aside, the Wilson Line was the last company to operate the John A. Meseck, formerly the 1929 Island steamer Naushon.

Her whistle was saved by my late friend Richard V. Elliott, a noted maritime historian, author and a graduate of the United States Maritime Academy at Kings Point, N.Y. When I approached his wife Linda and daughter June about the possibility of making the whistle available to the Steamship Authority, they needed time to consider this. They had an understandable emotional attachment to it. It had been treasured by Richard and displayed in their living room for many years.

They finally decided that it would be a tribute to Richard to have the voice of his favorite steamer heard by a new generation of passengers. We hope that those who hear the whistle on the Woods Hole in years to come will enjoy the mellow sound and perhaps think of the past era that it represents.

Bill Ewen is a summer resident of Oak Bluffs.