Traversing the Marion River Carry-Part II

Alright, now I have a proper vessel to take the day’s journey looping around by water from Blue Mountain Lake to Long Lake.  Here I am with my ultra-light canoe.


My ultra-light canoe on Long Lake. My guideboat is in the background and the Seward Range is up the lake.

If you read my previous blog you might suspect that these boats are vulnerable to a tear in the Dacron fabric covering.  I have never had such a problem but once I lent one to a friend and he somehow found  a sharp object that tore a hole in the hull.  He quickly sank.

To avoid such a mishap I always carry a roll of duct tape with me when in one of these small wonders.  When you are in the middle of a lake in an ultra-light you have the unsettling feeling that you are being levitated and could find yourself swimming for shore at any moment.  These craft are very flexible which adds to that sensation but also gives them an extra degree of resilience.

My plan to paddle from Blue to Long Lake was to leave the public beach at Blue Mountain Lake at about 8:00 am, paddle west through the Ectford Chain, take the Marion River Carry to the Marion River, then into Raquette Lake, then head northeast through Raquette Lake to the carry into Forked Lake (pronounced Fork -ed with emphasis on the ed).  Then go generally east on the southern arm of Forked until it ends at the campground beach,  Now begins a half mile carry and a paddle along the North Point Road.  The Raquette River has a stretch of rapids just after the campground beach, necessitating the carry, but there is a quiet, beautiful paddle down to Buttermilk Falls.   You must carry around Buttermilk Falls and down a stretch avoiding the Raquette River rapids.  The carry takes the North Point Road to the put-in at Long Lake.  Now you are essentially home with a paddle of about 3 miles ahead of you.

The Ice Age has determined my route today.  One of the receding glaciers dumped a moraine of gravel and sand just south of Blue Mountain Lake.  This “dam” stopped any flow of water coming down from the north from reaching the Hudson River.  So the Raquette River flows north until it reaches the St. Lawrence River.

Here is my route on a map of the lakes.

Racqette and Eckford

Route of my paddle from Blue Mountain Lake to Long Lake. The black dot on the right is the starting point and the one at upper middle is the pull-out at the Forked Lake campground beach.

Forked into LL

The end of the journey from Forked Lake to our Camp on Long Lake..

I had one concern when planning this trip.  A strong weather front would come through and cause dangerously high waves.  Both Raquette and Blue are situated such that a strong westerly wind blowing across them can raise some impressively high waves.  Fortunately, that was not the case on the day I chose for my adventure.  The wind was out of the northwest but not overly strong.  I was counting on it to stay out of the northwest.  I would have to paddle against it for the first leg of my trip but then it should be off my stern quarter for most of the trip.

So I set off on a beautiful summer day to make the loop from Blue Mountain Lake to Long Lake.  I tell my Fran and my Mom that I will return home at 6 pm.  I have no idea where I got that prediction but it came very close to reality.  I pack a lunch, water. duct tape, and a rain jacket just in case.

Here is a photo of Blue Mountain Lake taken from the Adirondack Museum.  The opening into Eagle Lake is in the far distance and in line with the middle of the large island in the foreground.

Blue Mt. Lake

I leave the town beach at Blue Mountain Lake and paddle west to the small opening into Eagle Lake.  I pass the place where the grandiose Prospect House once stood and the still very much alive Hedges, a Great Camp still in operation.

Here I am underway.

Cruise with lightweight

Underway in my ultralight canoe.  Notice how the sunlight “splashes'” off the waves and onto the translucent boat covering,

I pass under a bridge into Eagle Lake, the first of the Eckford Chain.  There is a large airplane hangar on the north shore.  That seems a bit incongruous.  But I remind myself that this area has always been moneyed.

On into Utowana Lake.  The western end has what I would call a dead swamp.  There are dead trees and vegetation at that end.  After my research on the Durants I realize that this is the result of William Durant’s scheme that raised the water level of these two lakes to accommodate steam boat traffic.  This evidence of vegetation drowned over 100 years ago is still here.

I pull out at the western end of Utowana which is at the eastern end of the Marion River Carry.  I hadn’t expected to see any evidence of its former use.  But just under water I see the remains of what was once  the steam boat landing.

My light weight canoe is easy to carry.  I throw it over my shoulder and grab a hold of the forward thwart.  I carry the paddle in my other hand and my other stuff in a day pack.

Traversing the Marion River carry doesn’t take long and I am soon in the Marion River headed towards Raquette Lake.  At first the River is full of twists and turns but then it straightens out.  It seems to take much paddling but finally I reach St. Hubert’s Lake, part of Raquette Lake.

W. H. H. Murray (Adirondack Murray) spent many days in Raquette Lake.  It was a favorite of his.  Any of his favorite lakes he called a “beautiful sheet of water”, quite a poetic term.  Indeed Raquette Lake is a beautiful sheet of water in the truest sense.  It is very irregular in shape with many bays that contribute to over ninety miles of shoreline.

I go between Woods Point and Osprey Island.  Adirondack Murray spent many summer days on Osprey Island.

The wind has changed direction and is now out of the northeast.  So my wish that it would stay out of the west and “push” me home was not to be.

I didn’t take a map with me so I am going by “dead reckoning”.  I will head north until I reach North Bay.  Then I’ll head northeast into North Bay and continue to bear northeast until I reach the carry to Forked Lake.

Raquette Lake has few camps with road access so there is lots of boat traffic taking people to their water access only camps..  I’ll need to watch out for them.  I pass Tioga Point.  My son and his new bride camped there soon after they tied the knot.  They each took a lightweight canoe that I had built.  The canoes easily took them and all their gear.  They were expecting a wilderness experience but soon after dark the motor vessel  William Durant with Dean Pohl in command came into view.  They had a band on board who wanted everyone within miles to hear their music.  So much for wilderness experience!

Why is it that things look so different from a canoe than from you think they should from reading a map? You really have to trust your instincts about your heading sometimes.  After almost 5 miles of paddling I reach the pull-out for the carry to Forked Lake.  The carry is not long and I am soon headed to the pull-out at the Forked Lake campground.

We spent many summer vacations at the Forked Lake campground so it is like an old pal to me.  Wildlife takes no heed to humans at the campground and black bears roam freely after dark.  Fran and I had just set up our tent and climbed into our sleeping bags one late twilight evening when there was a noise quite close by.  We had a large triangular window in the tent that was facing out onto the lake which was lit up by the long North Country twilight.  Suddenly the silhouette of a large black bear appeared in the window and slowly ambled away.  Fran levitated over me to get as far away from the bear as possible and commanded that I do something.  Thankfully there was nothing to be done, the bear was only interested in food .and was off to the next campsite.

There are many loons on Forked.  I have found loons to be curious creatures who like to check us out.  One day  I was out on Forked rowing my guideboat toward the campground.   Because I was rowing I was only vaguely aware of what was in front me.  Suddenly a loon, only a few yards away, passed by.  Apparently I was more surprised than he since he could easily have avoided me.  He was just checking me out.

I pull out at the campground and begin a carry around rapids that continue for about a  half mile.  I then put in to the Raquette River  It is a beautiful stretch of smooth water  but that will soon change.  The Raquette River began as it flowed out of Raquette Lake near where the canoed carry is.

The next stop is Buttermilk Falls.  Indeed you had better stop here or its all over but the shout’n.  As you can see Buttermilk Falls is quite impressive.

Buttermilk Falls from bottom

Buttermilk Falls

The pull-out is quite near where the falls begins.  Don’t go exploring here, the consequence could be fatal.  Just pull-out.  Here is what the River at the top of the Falls looks like.

Racquette River above Buttermilk Falls

The Raquette River just above Buttermilk Falls.

The carry around the rapids below Buttermilk Falls is about a half mile long.  You walk along North Point Road and it mostly downhill so it is not so bad as carries go.

I reach the carry into Long Lake and put-in.  Almost home now, only about 3 miles to go.  Here is our dock.  It is is off a bay from the main lake and is about two miles from Town.

our dock view from house

Our dock at Long Lake.

I pull in at about 6 pm, just as promised.  I calculate that I have paddled for 12 miles and carried for about 1 1/2 miles.

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The Guideboat/Steamboat Mystery

I’m calling this post the guideboat/steamboat mystery because I am unsure why guideboats coexisted with steamboats after steamboats made a strong entrance on Adirondack waterway scene.  We know the coexistence was not always without strife from my post on the Buttercup.  But why do we often see guideboats in the presence of steamers?

First I’ll first describe the steam launch Osprey, a vessel typical of steam powered boats of the time.  The description of Osprey on a plaque where it is displayed gives the rich history of these vessels.

The steamboat Osprey is on permanent display at the Adirondack Museum.  During the year I spent in the Adirondacks I had the good fortune of working on her to do some minor face lifting.  She had been restored in 1967 by Johnson Brothers of Tupper Lake in 1967.  I was a member of a team of volunteers led by Josh Swan, a  young fellow who was a professional boat builder.   We added some additional details to this historic craft.  Here I am varnishing the cabin woodwork.

Strella 001

Here I am varnishing steam launch Osprey.

The plaque explaining the Osprey reads as follows:

By the early 1880’s steamboats like this one cruised the major waterways of the Adirondacks.  In 1882 one could depart by steamer from the newly opened Prospect House on Blue Mountain Lake and make connections all the way through to Paul Smith’s Hotel, 60 miles to the northeast.  Steamboats made travel in the Adirondacks civilized and cheap.  No longer did one have to sleep outdoors or pay for the services of a guide to enjoy a holiday in the North Woods.  Hotels sprang up along the major steamboat routes as more and more people toured the region.  This democratizing trend was accelerated with the  completion of railroad routes which connected with the steamboats.

Osprey is typical of the small steamboats which changed the character of tourism in the Adirondacks.  Like most of her sisters, her hull was probably built in the mountains by local boat builders.  The engine and boiler were imported.  Unlike boats such as Buttercup, or Orcosia, Killoquah, and Toowardooda, Osprey was built as a private launch.  Her first owner was Charles W. Durant, who purchased Osprey Island in Racquette Lake in 1881.  Durant named his boat Stella.  She was renamed when she and the island were sold to I. Harvey Ladew in the late 1880’s.

Length: 42′ 7″

Beam:  10′ 5″

Builder of Hull;  Unknown, about 1881

Engine built by:  Clute Brothers, Schnectady, 1881

Here are some photos of Osprey.

Osprey with GB

Steamboat Osprey off her home base, Osprey Island.

Here she is at the Adirondack Museum.


The Osprey at the Adirondack Museum, bow view.


Stern view of steamboat Osprey now at Adirondack Museum.

Because of the advent of steamboats on Adirondack waterways, the use of guideboats was bound to decline.  The advantages of steamer transport were clearly stated in the Osprey plaque.  But old photos of steamers showed that, at least for a time, there was a symbiosis between steamers and guideboats.  The old photos show that guideboats nearly always appear in the photos of steamboats.   Here are some examples:

Adirondack with GB

The steamboat Adirondack with a guideboat along side.

Killoqah with GB

Steamboat Killoquah with guideboat tied to her stern.

Killoqah with guide boat

Another views of Killoquah with a guideboat close by.

steamers at Prospect House

Two steamers at the Prospect House dock on Blue Mountain Lake. The furthest steamboat has a guideboat on its roof. Close examination shows another guideboat in the distance on the left hand side of the photo.


Steamboat at landing. The guideboat on the left is square-ended. Guideboats were made doubled-ended after about 1870.

So what is going on here?  Why the close association of guideboat and steamboat? We will never know for sure but I will take a stab at why this occurred.

First, tourists came to the Adirondacks in the late 1800’s for a variety of reasons, just as they do today.  Adirondack Murray’s book, Adventures in the Wilderness was published in 1879.  It extolled the virtues of camping in the backwoods where fish and game were plentiful and breathing the pine-scented air was a curative for all ills.  The response to his book was overwhelming and the meager tourist services at that time were overwhelmed.

Murray’s book affirmed the use of a guide to venture back off the beaten track to experience what he clearly felt was the ultimate wilderness adventure.  His book even recommended the best guides to hire.  This Seneca Ray Stoddard photo of a guide rowing his guideboat captures the romance of venturing deep into the Adirondack wilderness with one of these fine fellows.

the way it looks-3

Stoddard photo “the way it looks from the stern”.

So Murray’s book caused guides to be revered and sought after.

In the meantime the hotels in some locales became quite grandiose.  Remember, the Prospect House on Blue Mountain Lake was the first hotel in the world to have electric lights in every room.  As a service to their guests, hotels would often have a cadre of guides whom the hotel guests could hire by the hour or for a day’s sojourn.  Unfortunately these guides were not always as honest as those who did wilderness guiding.  Here is a Stoddard photo of hotel guides at Paul Smith’s Hotel.  They appear to be tending to their guideboats, perhaps patching leaks.

Paul Smith's

Hotel guides at Paul Smith’s hotel.

The presence of guideboats alongside steamers is perhaps not surprising.  Steamers brought real, or potential customers, to the guides.  Arrangements to hire a guide would have probably been made well beforehand with a meeting place and time set.  Then too, guides could be hired on the spot.

The wonderful tradition of guiding gradually faded away, doomed by the the automobile, paved roads and the outboard motor.  Strangely, it has been resurrected for an entirely unexpected reason.  Birding has become a popular hobby worldwide and Adirondack birds are ones that are sought after to complete a birder’s “life list”.  My friend Joan Collins of Long Lake operates a guiding service that takes birders to remote parts of the Adirondack Park to find rarely seen birds.  Hers is a skill that has been honed over years exploring and searching out hard to locate and even harder to see species.  So the Adirondack guiding tradition lives on!



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Traversing the Marion River Carry-Part I

Last time I said I would tell about the time I traversed the Marion River Carry.  First I need to tell you about the vessel I used to make the trip.  It is called an Airolite Canoe and was devised by a fellow named Platt Monfort of Westport, ME.  It is basically an assemblage of thin sticks in the shape of a canoe covered with heat-shrinkable Dacron aircraft fabric.  I make his Snowshoe 12 model that is 11′ 8″ long and weighs 13 lbs. Here she is:

An Airolite Ultra-lite Canoe

The impetus behind going lightweight was a canoe trip my son, Stew, and I took  over Labor Day of 1987.  With nothing but a Coleman “Tupperware” canoe, we set out on the three day trip.  The canoe plus our gear probably weighed 90 lbs.  This mass had to be carried, dragged, slid, or however transported over some mighty long carries.   Both Stew and I remember the blow-downs. Here are some smaller ones.  The canoe had to be lifted up and over them.  Some of the downed trunks were at eye level. Blow-downs on a carry. A succession of these carries will wear you down. A long day! Stew reminded me that we often resorted to dragging the canoe by its painters along the carry.  We left an orange trail on the rocks in our wake.  The Coleman hardly noticed. I remember one embarrassing incident. Somewhere around Saranac Lake we lost our bearings on a carry.  That is not too hard to fathom since we were carrying the boat on our shoulders and our vision was limited.  At one point I looked down and saw a manicured pathway.  Something was not right so I told Stew that we needed to have a look around.  The canoe was let down with a crash.  We were left standing, rather dazed, right next to a tee on the Saranac Country Club. Of course, a foursome was just teeing off. Our trip ended at the Saranac Lakes. The are three of them, Upper, Middle, and Lower, are arranged in a horseshoe fashion.  We entered at Upper and spent the night on Norway Island on Middle Saranac Lake.  Here is a view of Norway Island.
Norway Island on Middle Saranac Lake.
More on Monfort’s airolite canoes.  I have build probably a dozen of them.  He makes them easy to build for a novice. That is both good and  bad.  For example, refrigerator-grade cardboard is used for the molds, or stations.  This is to accomodate the stringers, the longitudinal 3/8″ square cross sectional wooden members that are tied to each each rib.  The stringers fit into a notch in each station.  Once each rib is connected to the stringers to complete the hull framework, the cardboard stations are cut away to free the hull. This shows the stringers and ribs.

Ultralite hull with stringers and ribs.

The disadvantage of this scheme is that the cardboard is not very stable but “wanders”.  The stringers sometimes come away from the glue holding them to the stations. I improved upon this scheme by using 1/4″ plywood for the stations and backing them up using heavier stock.  The stations are cut in half and then screwed back together on the backing.  When it comes time to remove the hull framework, the molds are unscrewed and freed from the notches in the mold. For backup I used the stations that I used to build the Sairy Gamp.  Here is one of them.

Back up for the Ultra-light canoe molds.

The stringers are tied down temporally to the mold using heavy rubber bands wrapped around them and hooked around screws on the mold. Here are some other modifications that I made:
  • Ribs are from 3/16″ X 1/2″ flat sawn ash stock soaked in water for at least a week.  When it comes time to attach them to the hull I heat them in hot water until they become like a wet noodle and then clamp them in place.  Let them dry for a few days,  drill a 1/16″ pilot hole centered on the rib and stringer, and secure them with a clinched copper tack.
  • Eliminate the fiberglass roving.  In my opinion, it serves no structural purpose and takes time to do.
  • Put two thwarts in the hull, one forward and one aft.  Otherwise the hull will take on a “pinched” shape.  Make sure the thwarts are securely attached to the hull.  Since you sit on the bottom of the canoe they provide support for your back. Several times I have had them come loose with a loud crack and I end up sprawled on my back in the bottom of the canoe.
The canoe is covered with aircraft heat-shrinkable Dacron.  You can get it from Aircraft Spruce and Specialty.  Order the heaviest grade you can which is 2.95 oz. Covering the hull is a lot easier than I first did it using aircraft fabric adhesive.  Yuck, what a mess.  Now you use something called Heat n’ Bond, a fabric adhesive that is ironed onto the substrate.  Get the heaviest duty you can. Heat n’ Bond comes in strips 1/2″ wide.  You remove the cover sheet on one side and iron it on with an ordinary clothes iron.  Here I apply it to the keelson.

Applying Heat ‘n Bond to the keelson.

You do the same to the inwales and lay the Dacron cloth over the hull.  
Dacron on frame-4

Dacron laid over the hull.

Next you adhere the cloth around the midships using a iron at medium heat. Pull the cloth down so that it is still a little loose fitting and then glue it along about a 12″ to 18″ area.  Do this on both sides.  Now shrink the cloth by slowly passing a steam iron an inch or so above the cloth.  Take your time.  Don’t over shrink the cloth. Now move down along the hull towards the stems gluing the cloth over about a foot or so to the inwale and shrinking the cloth as you go along. As you get to the stems you need to apply the Heat n’ Bond to the stem.  Here we are doing that and gluing the Dacron.

Cutting the overlapping cloth at the stems to fit around the stringers. Heat n’ Bond has been placed under the cloth.


Gluing the cloth around the stem after applying the Heat n” Bond.

Once the cloth is secured to the stems you need to go back over the hull and get the cloth uniformly tight.

Heat shrinking the Dacron over the hull.

Now she is ready for two coats of marine spar varnish to render her water tight. These little boats weigh about 18 lbs. and are easy to carry.  Just  hoist them onto your shoulder and use a thwart as a handle.  They can carry in excess of 200 lbs. They track well even in a stiff breeze.  A surprise was that the hull was translucent so that you can see the wavelets as they pass along the hull,

Guideboat and Ultra-light.

Now we are ready to make the circuit from Blue Mountain Lake to Long Lake.  I’ll tell you about it next time.  
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Marion River Carry-Part II

I said that you would be amazed at how the Marion River Carry was transformed in the late 1800’s.  It began as a mere dirt track used first by Native Americans and then by guides to skirt the Marion River rapids.  Then, with the advent of steam power, steamboats brought a more enjoyable and faster trip across Blue Mountain to Raquette Lake and back again.  Of course, those steam-borne passengers would miss the homespun tales and romance that guides with their boats could provide.

The Carry stayed much the same for about 20 years until the very late 1890’s.  Then the New York Central opened a direct line from Penn Station to Raquette Lake.  Passengers would board the train in early evening, travel overnight, and arrive at the Raquette Lake Terminal at about nine in the morning,

The Adirondack Experience (Adirondack Museum to us old folks) has a superb diorama that depicts the impact of this second direct rail line to Raquette.  Below is a photo of the Museum’s diorama of a view facing east of the Raquette Lake Rail terminal  and the Marion River (upper left).


Diorama at the Adirondack Museum depicting the New York Central Terminal at Raquette Lake. The terminal is below and to the right. The Marion River Carry is across the lake and slightly to the left.

Raquette Lake Station in 1909.  Photo courtesy of Adirondack Experience.

Previous to the New York Central coming on the scene, the flow of new visitors to Raquette was mainly from east to west, from Blue Mountain Lake to Raquette because of the rail line to North Creek.  The NYCRR changed that so that the flow of arriving tourists was now overwhelmingly in the opposite direction.  This must have put great stress on the Marion River Carry.  Apparently it could not handle the upsurge in passenger volume.  Then too, passenger must have included many women who where disdainful of walking three or four miles across the Carry in their best attire.  Also there were very posh hotels on Blue Mountain Lake that would attract tourists to Blue Mountain Lake. One of these was the Prospect House, the first hotel ever to boast electric lights in every room.  So expectations may have run very high so that tourists were looking for much more than walking a dusty dirt track to get to their accommodations.

Regardless, someone dreamed up a solution to the problem, a very small standard gauge railroad.  Never officially named, it became known as the Marion River Carry Railroad.  At a little over 4 miles in length it became the shortest standard gauge railroad in the world. Here is the original locomotive with its open-air cars as they appear in the Marion River Carry Pavilion at the Adirondack Museum.

Marion River Carry Railroad locomotive. It has what is known as saddle-back boiler.

Rear car on the Raquette River Railroad train.  These were obviously surplus rolling stock from Brooklyn.

Here is a view of the locomotive on the carry.

Marion River locomotive on the Marion River carry. The tall smokestack increased the locomotive’s power.  Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Experience.

Several people have produced maps of the carry.  Here is one by S. Berliner III.

Map of the Marion River carry produced by S. Berliner III. He has a very extensive website on the carry at

The Carry was much more elaborate than I expected.  There was a station at each end of the Carry and each had a restaurant.  There was also an Inn.  I imagine that these luxuries were to entertain travelers as they awaited the next steamboat.

S. Berliner III has done a nice job of documenting the history of the Marion River Carry railroad. He says it was commissioned by William West Durant in the summer of 1899,  Durant obtained the passenger cars, which were horse drawn streetcars from Brooklyn for $25 each!  This rolling stock operated for nearly 30 years,  It was retired in September , 1929 and placed in a shed near the carry.  There it remained until its preservation became part of the impetus for the founding of the Adirondack Museum in 1955.  There it has amused and educated thousands of Museum visitors for over 60 years.

Next time I tell how I traversed the Marion River Carry in my ultra light canoe on my way from Blue Mountain Lake to Long Lake.


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The Marion River Carry-Part 1

In the Adirondacks portages are called carries.  The Marion River Carry is particularly well known.  You will find out why from the next post.

If you have been following along you know that William West Durant was the author of the Great Camp Style of Adirondack architecture.  William was sent by his father Dr. Thomas C. to Raquette Lake in the early 1870’s to develop 500,000 acres of Adirondack land he acquired while serving as VP of the Union Pacific railroad.  To facilitate travel to Raquette Lake by those interested in buying land or timber from the Durants, track was laid from Saratoga Springs to North Creek, NY in 1871.  But it was still a day’s travel by stagecoach from North Creek to Blue Mountain Lake.  There a guide and boat could be hired to take you on to Raquette Lake.

Guide carrying his boat in traditional fashion.  Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Experience.

William improved upon this mode of transportation by having two steamboats built, one for Raquette Lake, the Killoquah, and the other for Blue Mountain Lake, the Toowahloondah.

Blue Mountain Lake is connected to Raquette Lake by the Ectford Chain of lakes  (Eagle and Utowandah Lakes) and the Marion River.  William dammed up the Marion River to allow the Toowahloondah to navigate passage through the Ectford Chain to the head of the Marion River.  The passengers would disembark at the dock at the head of the Marion River and walk the 2-3 miles to catch another steamboat that would take them on to their final destination on Raquette.  Presumably baggage handlers would transport their duffel across the carry.

Steamboat at dock.  Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Experience.

Here is a steamboat at dock.  This may be the dock at the Marion River side of the carry although I am not sure.

A fortunate circumstance significantly aided the Durant’s scheme to develop their vast land holdings in the Adirondacks.  William Henry Harrison Murray published his book Adventures in the Wilderness in 1879.  Murray’s book was a sportsman’s guide to the Adirondacks.  It told of a vast wilderness with fish and game just ready to be had with rod and gun.  Just a short visit to this paradise would restore one’s health.  He gave instructions on what gear to buy, where to stay, the best guide to hire, and even a railroad timetable.

Murray’s tale was centered on Raquette Lake so tourism exploded there.  Durant had just finished the first of his Great Camps, Camp Pine Knot, so he was ready to entertain those interested in buying land and timber.

Part I of this post serves to give a background on the Marion River Carry.  The next post will describe the almost unbelievable changes that came to the Marion River Carry as the eighteen hundreds came to a close.

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Fran and I have moved a number of times in our married life, in fact, at least five times.  As the years have crept by the subject of moving to  a retirement community have kept coming up.  After all, two people living in a four bedroom home didn’t make a lot of sense.  My objection was always that I would have to give up my boat shop.  Upon visiting a retirement community about a mile away, they made an offer I couldn’t refuse.  They would convert a garage and some extra space adjacent to it into a boat shop.  It turned out that this space was about equal to the usable space in my present shop.  So we signed up and a moving date was set for May 3.

So here’s how the move of a partially completed guideboat went.  I must say the movers were very conscious about insuring that the boat moved without a scratch.  Here’s the boat waiting to be moved.

Partially completed guideboat ready to go.

Here’s a view of the movers inspecting the boat and deciding how to safely move it to the truck.  They can take it out through a sliding glass door.

Careful inspection of the hull before moving it.

Next step was to remove the hull from the strongback, and start moving it out.

Lifting it off the strongback.

Starting through the door.

Starting out the door.

Here goes the hull through the door.

Here we go!

I’m sure the movers were not sure the hull would go through the door this easily.  They probably uttered a silent sigh of relief.  Now, on to the truck…

The hull goes onto the truck.

Next comes the strongback.  It was given to me by my Uncle Donald, and it is made of Georgia yellow pine, I’m told.  He spotted it in the bottom of a burned out mill in New Hampshire, and asked if he could have it. The powers that be said “Sure, if you can get it out of there, you can have it!”  Now Uncle Don was not a man to be easily deterred, and somehow he got it out.

The strongback is enormous and very heavy.  The movers quickly realized it was going to be quite a job getting it out of the shop and up the hill to the truck.  So here we go…

Oh my…! We need more help…

So it starts moving towards the door.

Strongback on the way.

Four men and up the hill!

Meanwhile, the hull rests safely in a truck entirely devoted to it and the strongback.

Hull safely padded and waiting for its companion strongback.

The strongback arrives and then is strapped in.

Both safe in the truck.

We arrive at the new shop location and start moving in.

Hull goes into its new home.  

Hull is ready to install on the strongback.

Here’s the shop after moving power tools, benches and other equipment are moved into the new space.

Here’s the new shop!

So the move went without a hitch, although as you can imagine there is still some organization to be done.

This boat and its shop are located some four hundred miles south of the town of Long Lake, in the Adirondack mountains of New York.  The completed boat will eventually make its way north there.  Fran and I have been associated with Long Lake for nearly thirty years.  We have grown quite fond of the town and believe that it represents certain special qualities.  We have always lived near large cities, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.  Big cities swallow up their satellite towns by imparting on to them the big city’s culture, overwhelming the character of the smaller entity.  This is not so in the towns in the Adirondacks which are far away from metropolitan areas.  They have their own unique characteristics.  We have begun to realize what special characteristics they show.  So from time to time, we will highlight how Long Lake, a town of nine hundred people, exhibits its own personality.  These essays on Long Lake will be interspersed with the usual boating topics of this blog.  We hope you enjoy them.

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Guideboat Paddles

I had a note from Tom from Wisconsin.  “I have greatly enjoyed your book (Guideboat Paddles An Adirondack Treasure”) I got some time back.  While I have acquired some interesting Penobscot paddles over the years, I have always wanted an original guide paddle.  I was fortunate recently to acquire one.  It appears to be a steering paddle at 56.5″. The grip and motif appear to be A. H. Billings much like the ones in the Clark’s Camp find.  (Paddle in the Adirondack Museum’s collection from the Clark’s Camp on Blue Mountain Lake).  It is made of bird’s eye maple which really makes it a gem.  The initials E K are carved on the motif.  I feel so fortunate to get one.  It came from an auction in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Here is Tom’s paddle.

Grip and motif on Tom’s paddle.

Tom’s guideboat steering paddle-full length.

Here is the grip and motif of the Adirondack Museum’s Clark’s Camp paddle.

Clark’s Camp steering paddle from the Adirondack Museum’s collection.

There is no doubt that these two paddles were made by the same person.  Tom believes the are from the hand of A. H. Billings, a builder of guideboats in the late 1800’s.  Here is a photo of Billings.

A. H. Billings, guideboat builder.

He looks to be an impressive fellow, one I would like to meet.  I couldn’t find any further information on him except the photo below where he is attending some sort of convention promoting outdoor adventure.  I am told these sorts of events occurred yearly in New York City.

A. H. Billings attending some sort of convention promoting outdoor adventure.

Tom and I chatted about the development of the Northern Wisconsin wilderness and how it differed from the Adirondack wilderness.  Whereas rails were first constructed in Northern Wisconsin to bring out timber, the loggers in the Adirondacks used the natural watercourses to funnel their logs to the great metropolitan hubs.  Once they had exploited the timber wealth of Northern Wisconsin the railroads then decided use their rails for a another  purpose.  They enticed the super wealthy of Chicago and Milwaukee to build camps in the northern woods thereby deriving a second income from tourism.

This was opposite from the Adirondacks.  Here the rails were laid down to bring the wealthy and others from a teeming, smoggy, hot summer existence in a big cities to a virtual paradise by comparison.

The fact that the Adirondacks had two major watercourses to transport logs to market gives an interesting sidelight to Adirondack history.  The major water highways where the Raquette and the Hudson Rivers.  The Raquette was less favorable since logs went to Canada where they demanded a much lower price.  Logs bound for the Hudson wound up in Glens Falls where they were sawn into lumber.  Their ultimate destination was the great metropolitan cities of the east.

The economic incentive to get logs from the Racquette drainage to the Hudson was a major one.  Farrand Benedict, professor at the University of Vermont, spent much of his working life trying to connect the Racquette River with the Hudson.  An early  scheme would use the Fulton Chain of Lakes, and others to transport timber and mineral riches out of the Adirondacks and agricultural products into it.

When that scheme failed he decided to try to join the Raquette River at Long Lake with the Hudson at Newcomb, a distance of 14 or 15 miles.  Work was started in the 1870’s somewhere west of Newcomb to build the canal and necessary locks.  It would require damming up Long Lake just below its outlet to raise its height twenty feet!  There was great opposition from the Raquette loggers who didn’t want their logs going to the Hudson.

Obviously Benedict’s plan did not succeed (my camp in Long Lake would be under water if it had).  However his attempt to join the two mighty rivers can still be seen today by bushwacking or flying Helm’s Aero Service in Long Lake.  I suggest the latter.

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