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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