The Adirondack Guideboat-William West Durant-Part 2

In the last post we learned that William West Durant created a new style of architecture called Adirondack Great Camp in Raquette Lake NY in the 1870’s.  We heard all about Great Camp Pine Knot, Durant’s first venture into this new, bold expression of rustic living.  In that post. architecture was the prime focus.  In this one we will search for what kind of man Durant was.  Like all of us he was both saint and sinner.  Here is a profile of Durant as a dashing young man.

William West Durant

This pose would suggest that he was quite a ladies man.  Indeed he was.  He was especially attracted to young ladies.  He married Janet Strop, age 19, in 1884.  The Strops were long time friends of the Durant family.

Now I’ll take a tangent and show you an old photo that piqued my interest.  It is of guides and guideboats at the Camp Pine Knot landing.

Raquette Lake, landing at Camp Pine Knot.

What attracted my attention was the object floating offshore.  It must be the houseboat Durant called Barque.  Here is a close up of Barque pulled up on the shore at Pine Knot.

The houseboat Barque.

What was the purpose of Barque?  In the Adirondacks starting in about mid-May and lasting well into June and perhaps beyond, a scourge of tiny insects called black flies appears.  They look more like a gnat than a fly.  They are relentless in their pursuit of bare human flesh.  Their bite is painless but soon a welt the size of a dime rises at the bite site.  This welt may last for up to a week and it itches like mad.  Insect repellents have no effect on black flies.

One can escape them by getting out on the water, especially if even a slight breeze is present.  Hence Barque.  Durant supposedly built Barque so that ladies visiting Pine Knot in the spring and early summer would be comfortable.  He may have had an ulterior motive.

Here is Durant’s cabin at Pine Knot, a modest affair.

W. W. Durant’s cottage at Camp Pine Knot.

My admiration for Durant went up when I learned he spent the winter of 1875 in a tent on the Pine Knot site.  Having spent a full year in the Adirondacks I can appreciate the struggle he faced to keep warm and sane.  The landscape turns white, with some splotches of dark green, and the sky is uniformly pewter.  It snows every day, often just an inch or so, but it all adds up.  We had seventeen feet of snow fall the year we stayed through the winter.

There was another structure on the Pine Knot grounds that had a very low profile.  In fact, when the Camp was sold to Colis P. Huntington, it was not even marked on the survey of the property.  This building was unusual in that every room in it had a door that opened to the outside.  So visitors to Camp Kirby could come and go undetected.  It was called Camp Kirby after its owner, a Mrs. Kirby.  A young lady, Cornelia, spent her summers with her cousin at Camp Kirby.  Cornelia was seventeen.

The docent on our tour of Camp Pine Knot said that Durant kept a bicycle handy for a quick transit to Camp Kirby.  So while the ladies were safely holed up on Barque avoiding the black fly menace, Durant was braving them to make his way to other pursuits.  His interest on other women apparently became widely enough known that his wife was granted a divorce in 1895.

Durant was a brilliant architect but a terrible business man.  He simply could not control the cost of building his Great Camps.  In order to avoid bankruptcy he would sell each of his camps as soon as they were completed.  As mentioned, Camp Pine Knot was bought by Colis P. Huntington, while Camp Uncas went to J. P. Morgan and Camp Sagamore to Alfred Vanderbilt.

When Durant’s father died without a will in 1885, William was drawn to this new source of money like a moth to flame.  He somehow wrested control of the estate and proceeded to cheat his sister out of her share of it.  When he granted her a mere $2oo a month while buying a 190 foot ocean going yacht, sister Ella took legal action.   After years of litigation she was awarded $750,000.  You have probably guessed the outcome, there was no money left in the estate satisfy her judgment.

There is a brighter side of William West Durant.  He built two churches on Raquette Lake.  Both are still there and in fine condition.  Here is St. Williams Roman Catholic Church.  The other is an Episcopal Church, the Church of the Good Shepard,

St. Williams Roman Catholic Church on Raquette Lake.

Next time I’ll give my take on how Durant affected the iconic Adirondack guideboat.

 

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The Adirondack Guideboat-William West Durant-Part 1

Why would you christen your dinner cruise vessel the W W Durant?  This steamboat-like vessel was built with your hands and the help of three others.  It is spacious enough to hold 70 people and feed them gourmet meals.  You constructed it in 1992 on the shores of Raquette Lake, the same shores where wooden steamboats where built and launched by journeymen ship carpenters in the late 1800’s.

The motor vessel W W Durant on Raquette Lake.

Your name is Dean Pohl, and together with your wife Donna, and chef son Jim, you operate a dinner cruise vessel on Raquette Lake.  You were born and raised in Raquette Lake and you know its history by heart.  On your cruises you relate that history to the delight of your guests.  One of my favorites is the story of how Raquette got its name.  It goes something like this:

Near the end of our War of Independence, Sir John Johnson, a Tory, was being hotly pursued by the Revolutionary Forces.  In March of 1776, he and is party of Seneca and Mohawk braves were fleeing north on snowshoes trying to escape to Canada.  A sudden Spring thaw overtook them and they were forced to abandon their snowshoes, called raquettes by the French.  They happened to be at the South Inlet of Raquette Lake when shedding their raquettes.  This large pile of abandoned snowshoes remained for years and led to the name given to the lake.

Dean Pohl, Captain of the WW Durant.

The Durants, William and his father Thomas caused seismic changes in the life of the Adirondacks when they arrived on the scene in 1870’s.  It is safe to say the changes they caused still reverberate in the North Country today.

Thomas Durant was the VP of the Union Pacific Railroad when the eastern portion of the transcontinental railroad was completed.  As a consequence he was given 500,000 acres of Adirondack land to develop.  He promptly put his son William in charge of the task of developing this vast region.  The first thing they did was to extend the rails from Saratoga to North Creek.  Still, it was day’s journey by stagecoach to Raquette Lake.

William then conceived of a  style of architecture that was unique to the Adirondacks.  It came to be called Adirondack Great Camp.  William hoped that these Camps would entice the exceeding wealthy of the day to own them.  This summer Fran and I toured Great Camp Pine Knot, Durant’s first Great Camp.  We learned much about Great Camps and the man who built them.

Here is the main lodge of Great Camp Pine Knot on Raquette Lake’s North Point.  All Durant’s Great Camps have a main lodge.  It was in the main lodge that the Robber Barons of of the day were wined and dined and persuaded to invest in an Adirondack venture; a Great Camp.

The main lodge at Great Camp Pine Knot.

As far as I know, all the main lodges of Durant’s Great Camps were two stories high and totally constructed of wood. This one was called Chalet.  As a youth William was educated in Europe.  His style of Adirondack architecture was no doubt influenced by his exposure to Old World building styles and conventions.

Below is the recreation building.  Inside, a guest could relax by playing card games or billiards in the game room.

Recreation Building at Great Camp Pine Knot.

Here is  a view of the game room inside this building.  The guest is surrounded by objects and other reminders that he is now far away from his familiar surroundings.

The game room inside the recreational building.

You have perhaps noticed the intricate twig work on these buildings, especially the recreation building.  It would become a hallmark of Durant’s style and later, of Adirondack design.  Here are some further examples.

Window treatment on a Camp Pine Knot building using elaborate twig work.

Porch furniture and windows at Camp Pine Knot.

Elaborate twig work on a door at Camp Pine Knot.

By now you have realized that all construction in Durant’s Great Camps is of wood and kept as rustic as possible.  Buildings were set back away from the water for privacy and were constructed to serve a specific purpose, say recreation hall, sleeping cottages, dining hall, etc. They served to make the guest feel immersed in the wilderness yet not separated from the creature comforts they were so accustomed to.  To provide these comforts, servants lived in buildings away from the main complex. The entire Camp covered a wide area as you can see from the view below.

Camp Pine Knot grounds.

Building interiors reinforced the presence of the wilderness.  Here are views of the interior of one of the sleeping cottages.

A bedroom in one of the sleeping cottages.

Interior view of a cottage at Camp Pine Knot.

The dining hall was intriguing.  Here it is, a glass house.

The dining hall at Great Camp Pine Knot.

What a wonderful view of the lake the guests had as they took their meals.  We wondered how hot meals made it from the kitchen to the table without getting cold.  Here is a view of the inside of the dining hall.

Inside the dining hall at Great Camp Pine Knot.

Next time, in Part 2, we will talk about Durant as a person.  It turns out he was quite a scoundrel!  I will also draw guideboats into the story.

 

 

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The Adirondack Guideboat-The Blue Mountain Lake Flotilla-Part 3

As explained in an earlier post, the Blue Mountain Lake Flotilla was being held to reenact a parade of lighted small craft held in 1882.  That Flotilla celebrated the opening of the Prospect House, the first hotel in the world to have electric lights in every room.  As the New York Telegram proclaimed in August, 1882 “It was one of the prettiest and most novel sites ever witnessed in the wilderness”.

So this was the arrangement for towing the small craft electing to join the Flotilla. The vintage motor launch, Toowaloondah, would drag a tow rope.   Affixed to the tow rope were shorter rope “branches” coming off at intervals.  At the end of these branches were carabiners.  Each boat participating in the Flotilla would connect their painter to the carabiner and off we go.

Here is a photo of the Toowahloondah and some of the parade boats.


The launch Toowahloondah and some of the parade boats. Note the Chinese lanterns on the boats.

I was suspect of this arrangement.  Some “what ifs” came to mind.  What if we were dragged into the main line and got dumped over?  Was there enough space between each boat so we wouldn’t crash into one another?  As a friend put it “guideboats are to be rowed, not towed”.  So we decided not to be towed but to follow the Flotilla under our own power.

Now a second problem arose.  The schedule for the day’s events kept slipping.  The Flotilla was slated to start at 6 pm.  It was long after that and no movement was made to get underway.  As shown by these photos of the bonfire taken at later and later intervals, it got darker, and darker, and darker.

A bonfire takes some of the chill off. There is still plenty of light around.

Getting darker!

Dark!

So finally the order was given to launch to Flotilla’s collection of small craft and get in line behind the Toowahloondah.  It was now about 9 pm.  The beach suddenly became a scene of chaos.  In the dark, boats headed every which way.  I was manning the oars in the bow and Fran had a guide’s paddle in the stern.  The decision to arm her with the paddle would save the day for us many times over as you will see.

We shoved off the beach and headed into the fray.  As rower I couldn’t see where we were headed.  Fran barked orders from her vantage point as helmsman.  I got impatient to get free of the “bumper car” melee but she restrained me.  “Stop” or “Slow to the starboard” she would say.  We finally did get free and, miraculously, did not hit anyone.  We headed, slowly east down the lake.

We were suddenly aware of how really dark it had become.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a half moon slide down behind the southern hills. It was now pitch black!  We Fishers call this “Adirondack Dark”.  No diffused light pierces its inkiness.  We tried hugging the shore line but there were no lights onshore to help us.  To make matters worse, our flashlights were out of reach in the middle of the boat.  Adding to our unease, Blue Mountain Lake was totally unfamiliar to us.

At this point we abandoned the thought of being in the Flotilla and decided a safe passage was more important.  As we crept along, ghostly shapes of buoys, moored boats, and piers arose and drifted by.

I insisted on searching out the boat livery ramp where we had launched Frances C. earlier in the day.  We simply could not find it.  Still I insisted on looking for the ramp.  I was like a male driver refusing to ask directions.  Finally I gave up and, since I could not see where we were headed, turned over all navigation to Fran and her guide’s paddle.

She said “I see a light and maybe a couple of people ahead.”  We decided that was the only option available and headed for the light.  As we drew closer Fran began to shout “HELLO, HELLO!”  No answer.  HELLO, HELLO!  Still no answer.

Finally we scraped up on a sandy beach and a man and woman rushed down to help us out of the boat.  They must have be astounded when two people dressed in 1880’s attire washed up on the town beach.  Back to the future?

Fran asked “Didn’t you hear us yelling Hello?  “Oh” they said, “We thought you were saying “Row, Row!”  So that’s why sailors shout “Ahoy” when they want to get your attention.

So we took in the fireworks display marking the end of flotilla Day before putting Frances on her trailer and heading home.

The fireworks display marking the end of Flotilla Day.

One final note.  Here is heroine Fran the next day with her guide’s paddle.

Fran with her guide’s paddle.

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The Adirondack Guideboat-The Blue Mountain Lake Flotilla-Part 2 Flotilla Day

In the last post I talked about the Prospect House, an amazing hotel constructed in the middle of the Adirondack Wilderness in 1882.  The owners of Prospect Point Cottages, David and Paul, decided to reenact a celebration held in the summer of 1882 in honor of the Prospect House.  The original celebration was a flotilla of over 70 small craft drawn by a steam boat that circled the Lake.  Each boat was lighted by Chinese lanterns or other means to give a stunning visual effect.

David and Paul planned a number of gala activities for Flotilla Day.  The event was truly a “happening” as you will see.  The day started by getting our Old Lady guideboat, the Frances C., on her trailer and hauling her to the Blue Mountain Lake boat livery.  Fran and I were both in 1880’s garb, Fran in Victorian  dress and me dressed as an Adirondack guide.  After dropping Fran at Prospect Point, I rowed Frances C. over to the Prospect Point beach.  Here she is.

Our guideboat, Frances C. on the Prospect Point beach.

The first of the day’s activities was was to partake in a bounteous feast of H’0rdeurves and various beverages including Champagne.  This was held at the nearby resort, the Hedges.  The Hedges goes back to the same era as the Prospect House, the 1880’s. Here are photos of some of the guests enjoying the food and drink at the Hedges.

Guests, some in period costume, enjoying the offerings at the Hedges.

Fran has a sip of Champagne at the Hedges.

Fran enjoys a sip of champaing at the Hedges.

I noticed that Santa had arrived early and had taken possession of a guideboat.

Santa in his guideboat.

Now back to Prospect Point.  There was costume judging going on and guess what? Fran and I won first prize.  Here we are:

Winners of the costume contest.

Later on in the afternoon we were treated to a delicious chicken barbecue.  After dining, David introduced his parents.  He explained that his parents had been coming to Prospect Point since right after WWII.  The boys began coming when they were very young. When the cottages came up for sale in 1952 the older Oestreichers decided to purchase the cottages.  This, despite the advice of relatives who said “We’re from the Bronx, we don’t fix stuff”.  Below is a photo of Mom and Dad Oestreicher, David and Paul’s parents.  They got a large hand from the crowd.

Mom and Dad Oestreicher, who bought Prospect Point Cottages in 1952.

Before going further I must show you a photo of Blue Mountain.  She really was blue that day.

Blue Mountain as viewed from Prospect Point.

Well, by golly, Santa decided to join the Flotilla.

Santa arrives at Prospect Point.  He wants to be a part of the Flotilla.

Now the day has flown by and darkness is not far off.  The cannons have been firing from time to time but we still need the orchestra to serenade us and Hallie to give her talk on the history of boats and boating at the Prospect House.  A  cool breeze has sprung up off the Lake which causes some shivering on Fran’s part in her light costume.  We are not sure how the orchestra and concert pianist will fare under these conditions but they do a marvelous job.

After the concert we adjourn to a tent where Hallie gives her delightful rendition of the history of Prospect House.  You have gotten pieces of her story if you read my previous post.  Here is Hallie, in partial darkness, giving her talk.  She won the prize for the most authentic costume.

Hallie Bond giving her talk on boats and boating and the Prospect House.

Now it is getting quite dark and chilly.  Thank goodness the organizers had planned a bonfire.  It took some of the edge off the chill.

A bonfire takes some of the chill off.

The Flotilla was supposed to start at 6 pm.  It is well past that and getting really dark.  This will add to Fran and my travails as we attempt to join the Flotilla.  More on that next time.

 

 

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The Adirondack Guideboat-The Blue Mountain Lake Flotilla-Part 1

Flyer advertising the Blue Mountain Lake Flotilla

This summer I picked up one of these flyers at a local business in Long Lake.  I was intrigued by it.  It sounded too good to be true; food, music, lights, fireworks, bonfires, and a boat parade, all for $25 if you brought your own boat.  I thought the best person to get the scoop on this event was my friend Hallie Bond.  If it involves boats in the Adirondacks then Hallie will know about it.  After all, she is the former curator of watercraft at the Adirondack Museum and has authored the classic volume, Boats and Boating in the Adirondacks.  Sure enough, Hallie was on the committee that planned the activities surrounding the flotilla.  The idea for the flotilla originated with David O. who, with his brother Paul, operate Prospect Point Cottages.

Prospect Point Cottages now occupy the site of the former Prospect House hotel, which opened in 1882.  Here is a description of the Prospect House taken from the Prospect Point Cottages website.

“It is difficult now, gazing at the quiet cabins, trees and fields, to imagine that Prospect Point has a unique place in Americas past.  But it was this point with its magnificent setting that Frederic Durant, nephew of railroad tycoon, Thomas C. Durant, chose as the place to to realize a grandiose vision.  In 1881, on the grounds of of Prospect Point, Durant erected what swiftly became the most fashionable mountain hotel in the Northern United States.  With the help of Thomas Edison, who saw to the electricity, Durant’s fabulous Prospect House was the first hotel in the world with an electric light in every room.  It soared 6 stories high, boasted 300 rooms, accommodated 500 to nearly 600 guests, and offered a bowling alley, barbershop, shooting gallery, billiard room, hydraulic steam elevator, electric bells, restaurant, library, physician and pharmacy, telegraph office, steam heat and resident orchestra, which twice each day charmed America’s wealthiest  and most influential citizens.  Among them were the Astors, Tiffanys, Whitneys, Vanderbilts and many others.

Here are some photos and drawings of the Prospect House provided by Hallie Bond and the Adirondack Museum.

The Prospect House as seen from the east end of Blue Mountain Lake.

Rendering of the Prospect House in 1884. Courtesy of the Adirondack Museum.

Prospect House as viewed from the windmill used to provide water to the hotel. Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Museum.

One of the special activities of the Flotilla celebration was a talk given by Hallie on boats and boating at the Prospect House.  She shared the photos and commentary in that talk with me.  The boats at Prospect House were not guideboats, as one might expect, but a craft similar to one called whitehalls. The whitehalls I know were used as water taxis in the New York and Boston harbors.  They were rowed, or sailed, and could be used by ship chandlers to intercept clipper ships as they approached these harbors.  The first boat to board an inbound ship would more than likely get the business.

Here is a whitehall, Elysea, built by by my Uncle Don with the help of master ship builders on the Eastern shore of Maryland.  They used the old tools and methods to build her.  Uncle Don donated Elysea to the Mystic Seaport Museum.  Note the wineglass stern and lapstrake planking that are the hallmarks of whitehall construction.

A seagoing whitehall, Elysea, built by my Uncle Don.

None of the over 80 boats used at Prospect House remain.  Hallie found a reference to them that said they were “broad boats of the Champlain type”.  They were transom-sterned craft of the whitehall shape.  They were built by a fellow named Fletcher Joyner, a former Adirondack guide.

However we do have some images of them.  Here is a rather romantic scene.

Photo entitled “Cosey Nook”. Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Museum and Hallie Bond.

The boats were launched from finger docks as shown below.

Finger docks at the Prospect House. The tower in the distance is the windmill used to supply water to the hotel. Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Museum and Hallie Bond.

The guests were allowed to go out in the boats on their own without a guide.  This resulted in more than one amusing situation, I am sure.  Here is one such instance.

Guests go out for a row.   The gentleman in the stern looks like this was not a good idea.   Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Museum and Hallie Bond.

Hallie was curious as to what you do with 80 some boats in the wintertime.  She found a photo showing that they were stashed on the balconies of the Prospect House.

Next time we well follow the day’s activities of the Flotilla celebration.  In the final post on the Flotilla I describe our rather harrowing experience as we partake in the Flotilla.

 

 


 

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The Adirondack Guideboat-relaunch of Thankful

In the last post Thankful passed to new hands.  I knew she was in good hands when Jon, her new owner, decided to “re-launch” her in her symbolic place of birth.  Her “mom”, the Queen Anne, was built by Caleb Chase of Newcomb, NY for the Pryun family who owned Great Camp Santanoni.  I reproduced the Queen Anne when building Thankful.

Caleb Chase had his home, shop, and farm on Rich Lake in Newcomb.  My son Stew and I originally launched Thankful on Rich Lake as a salute to the old master boat builder Caleb.  It seems right to honor this old gentleman by bringing back his “progeny” to their place of origin for a ritual bath in Rich Lake.

Rich Lake is a beautiful Adirondack Lake.  Its gently sloping white sand beach is secluded with no evidence of human presence.

Here is a narration of the launch day’s events provided by Jon:

“On Monday we met John, along with his boat and a stretch of glorious weather, for a beautiful outing on Rich Lake.  After a quick rendezvous at the Adirondack Information Center, we proceeded to the launch on Rich Lake.  My wife and daughters were along as well.

We carried Thankful from the upper parking lot and doubled back for John’s boat.  We launched with my wife and children in Thankful, and John solo in his boat.  We headed up to the marshes of Fishing Creek, quickly noting how smoothly she pulled through the water.  The lake was mirror-calm, and Thankful had no problem holding a line.  We were entertained by a charismatic loon who put on a small show for us, at much closer range than we are accustomed to from these beautiful birds.  Perhaps he recognized the boat?  We returned along the opposite shore to the gorgeous beaches for the children to swim.

At this point, I jumped into the middle seat, and along with John and his boat, we headed around the point and did a short row up one of the other bays.  We returned to the beach to switch boats, and give John a chance at Thankful’s oars.  We both agreed that the boat moves flawlessly and was a joy to see on the water.  I was also thrilled to have a chance to row John’s beautiful boat as well.

We took her [Thankful] out several more times during the week from our camp on [the Fulton Chain] and had plans to take her up to South Inlet on Raquette Lake to Sagamore, but ran out of time.

She really is a beautiful craft, and we look forward to years of enjoyment from her.”

Jon rowing Thankful

Jon with his oldest daughter in Thankful.

The littlest one learns about guideboats.

John takes a turn in Thankful

Jon and John in their boats on Rich Lake.

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The Adirondack Guideboat-Thankful changes hands

If you have been following my blog posts you know that I was offering to sell one of my guideboats.  This was the latest of those that I have built and it is named Thankful after the wife of  builder Caleb Chase.  Caleb created the Queen Anne, the guideboat owned by my friend Susan and the boat that I have reproduced three times (a fourth is on the way).

It is hard to part with anything you have spent hundreds of hours creating.  As with many traditionally built guideboats, the Thankful was called a work of art by many who saw it.  Indeed I was quite proud of her and sometimes wondered how I was able pull it all together into such a beautiful object.  Although I loved Thankful it was time to turn her over to others to enjoy.  My hope was that someone would take possession of her who had the same passion for these boats that I do.

I need not have worried.  Jon is the perfect new owner of Thankful.  He grew up knowing the Adirondacks and guideboats and is determined that his children will have the same experiences.  He was quite sensitive to my having to part with something that I had invested so much of myself into.  Best of all Thankful will not be relegated to a stale “display” in someone’s Adirondack Camp never to see the water again. Jon will see that she is on the water often.

So the day arrived when Jon came to take Thankful to her new home.  Here she is about to be put on top of Jon’s car.

Thankful about to be put on Jon’s car. I give her a final caress.

Here is Jon tying down Thankful.

Jon ties down Thankful.

By now Jon and I are good friends.

Jon and Gordon with Thankful.

And off goes Thankful and her new owner.  She will stay in the Adirondacks in a camp among the Fulton Chain of lakes.

Thankful and Jon leave for her new home.

Next time; Thankful is re-launched.

 

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