The Adirondack Guideboat-Guideboat Oars

The choice of oars for guideboats has always puzzled me.  It is somewhat an enigma.  It is really the choice of how to connect the oar to the hull that seems odd to me, not that the oars themselves are odd in any way.  The very earliest Adirondack boats used thole pins to direct the force generated by the sweep of the oar through the water to propel the hull.  Thole pins are nothing more than wooden pegs mounted upright on the gunwale.  The loom of the oar fits between them.  The main advantage is that they allow the oar to be feathered, that is the blade is turned parallel to the water as the oar is being retrieved to begin the next power stroke.

Here is a photo of the very earliest Adirondack wooden craft.  I call it the bookcase boat because it was made into a bookcase once its useful life had ended.  It resides in Brandreth Park in a compound owned by the Brandreth family.  Franklin Brandreth, the patriarch, collected Adirondack boats and this is one of his most precious acquisitions.  On the deck of the bookcase boat is this inscription “1848” so this is a very old boat.  It would have rotted away out of sight somewhere had it not been made into a piece of furniture.

The bookcase boat.  Holes to provide for insertion of thole pins are found on each side of the hull about midway down from the bow.  

Thole pins had the advantage of being cheap, lightweight, and allowed the oars to be feathered.  The disadvantage was that one could never take their hands off the oars or they would likely go overboard.

This disadvantage was overcome by using pinned oars.  Here the oar has a pin connected to it via a “horn”.  The oarlock, attached to the gunwale,  accepts the pin and is called a “strap”.  Here is an example of a horn and strap.

Horn and strap arrangement for guideboat oars.

Horns and straps eliminated a major concern of guides.  They had to take their hands off the oars from time to time, either to cast a line or take a shot.  Thole pins wouldn’t do for that, the oars would be overboard in a flash if you took your hands off them when hole pins were in play.

To get that advantage by using pinned oars you gave up feathering.  During days when the wind kicks up with gusts to 20 to 30 miles per hour it is next to impossible to row upwind with pinned oars.  It becomes a real struggle to make any progress at all.

A secondary advantage of pinned oars is that they maintain the proper distance from the oarlock to the grip.  Because guideboats have such a narrow beam the oars must overlap in order to get enough leverage.  Pinned oars automatically set this distance.

Another disadvantage of pinned oars is that they do not cushion any collision with something like a dock or bank.  If you try to fend off either one using these oars you will likely capsize or damage your boat.  John found that out in the Ninety Miler race when his oar go stuck in a bank.  The momentum of his boat moving forward split the gunwale and necessitated emergency repairs.

John’s guideboat damaged in the Ninety Miler race when his oar lodged in a bank causing the gunwale to split.  Quick repairs were made with a C clamp to allow him to continue the race.

There is an alternative arrangement, called “buttons and leathers”, that solves just about all these drawbacks.  In this case the pin is joined to a ring that can slide up and down the loom of the oar.  The ring is prevented from sliding off the end of the oar by a “button”, or ring made of leather.  The oar is protected from wear from the ring by a leather sheath called the “leather”.  Buttons and leathers allow you to feather your oars and the oars won’t go overboard if you let go of them.  However, they do not set the proper distance between the oarlock and the oar grip.  But I have used buttons and leathers ever since I built my first guideboat and setting the proper distance has not been a problem.  It becomes an automatic sort of thing.

I don’t know why guides did not switch to the buttons and leathers arrangement.  It is probably the same reason that every guideboat builder (and there were over 70 at one time) kept scrupulously to the same basic guideboat design.  They were so precise in copying the basic design that even experts find it difficult to identify who the builder of a certain hull was.

These thoughts on guideboat oars came about because I just finished a set of oars for the latest boat I am building.  They are made of figured cherry and are a beautiful example of it.  Some have called it “quilted” cherry while others “flame” cherry.  Here it is.

Oar blades of quilted cherry.

Upper end of oars made of quilted cherry.

Long view of guideboat oars made of quilted cherry.

Finally, I wish you all the joy of the Holidays and a great New Year!  Thanks for following my posts.

Happy Holidays!

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The Adirondack Guideboat-Adirondack Murray

I said that I would tell you how William West Durant affected the characteristics of the Adirondack guideboat.  Then I realized that another larger-than-life character also had an impact on guideboat design.  His name was William Henry Harrison Murray.  Neither Durant or Murray had a direct influence on what became the quintessental Adirondack guideboat, but they surely had an influence.

Adirondack Murray as a young man.

Durant drew the absurdly rich to the Adirondacks by building his Great Camps.  Murray was a preacher in Boston who was drawn to camp in the Adirondacks every summer.  He became convinced that everyone, regardless of their social or economic status, should experience the wonders of the wilderness.  He felt that through such a journey one was brought closer to his Maker.

In 1869 Murray published  Adventures in the Wilderness, a book rich with tales of his experiences while being guided down Long Lake and into Raquette Lake.  His writing is clear and direct.  It neither talks over the reader’s head or talks down to him.  Humor, suspense, and mystery are sprinkled throughout the book.

But the book carries through on his wish that the common man have the spiritual  experience of being immersed in the natural world.  The first part of his book reads like a Fodors of the Adirondack wilderness.  It tells how to get there, what clothes to wear, who are the best guides, the best hunting and fishing gear, and so on.  The railroads, anticipating a rush to the Adirondacks, began giving the book away.

Adirondack Murray’s book Adventures in the Wilderness, published in 1869.

The public’s response to the book was overwhelming.  Tourists, sportsmen, and all manner of humanity flocked to the Adirondack wilderness during the summer of 1869.  You can imagine the chaos when several thousand people descended on a wilderness where there was little of everything; food, lodging, and guides.

To make matters worse the summer of 1869 was miserable, rainy and chilly.  Those who heeded Murray’s call to follow him became known as “Murray’s Fools”.

So how did these two very imposing figures, W. W. Durant and William H. H. Murray have an effect on the Adirondack guideboat?  Before they came on the scene guideboats were a work boat, created by each guide over the winter months.  A guide might sometimes make more than one boat to sell to another guide but the demand for these boats was not great enough to make a living building them.  Guides built their boats to meet their own needs.  First of all they had to be lightweight and rugged.  They kept things simple.  Their boats were painted and they used planks for seats.

The  owners of vast wealth brought to the Adirondacks by Durant and the stable tourist trade encouraged by Murray changed that.  The Great Camps owners became enamored by the sleek design of these boats and decided just one or two wouldn’t do.  The Pryuns of Camp Santanoni  had a boat house on Lake Newcomb, home of their Great Camp, a boat house on near-by Moose Pond, and one at their gatehouse in Newcomb.   They had at least eight guideboats scattered about these locations, all built by Caleb Chase.  Hotels hired guides by the day to row their clientele about their lakes.  My friend Tom Bissell remembers that builder Wallace Emerson would tow a fleet of guideboats each spring up Long Lake to the long gone Sagamore Hotel there.  Private clubs, like the Adirondack League Club, took many of the boats.

The increased demand for guideboats meant that shops devoted to building these handsome, but not easily built, craft began to spring up and prosper.  Towards the end of the 1800’s there were 72 guideboat builders in the Adirondacks.

With the increase in number of builders came competition.  Though easier to plank, lapstrake construction was replaced on these boats by smooth skinned planking. Simple plank seats gave way to caned ones.  The middle seat got a hinged back rest that would fold down when not in use.  Now can you see any self respecting guide using a back rest?  The ultimate in catering to the changes that tourism brought was a grate-like affair that conformed to the inside of the hull.  It was meant to protect the thin skinned hull from ladies in high heeled boots.  Decks were not immune to being gussied up.  Fancy woods were used and each builder had his own idea for a unique design.  And that bare hole in the bow deck used to hold the lantern for jacking deer; now adorned with a fancy brass feed thru.

Brass feed thru that goes into the bow deck to hold the lantern for jacking deer.

Varnish replaced paint as the preferred finish.  Varnish showed off the light honey color of the pine planking.  It also showed the vast array of copper tacks used to seal the hull and the lines of brass screws  used to secure planks to ribs.  Applying varnish to get a mirror-like, run-free finish is tricky business and far more time consuming than brushing on a few coats of paint.

Shops like the Grants, Chase, Parson Brothers, Warren Cole, and others hired perhaps six or more skilled carpenters and soon gained a reputation for excellence.  The Grants, father Dwight and son Lewis, built 358 boats, all from their shop in Boonville, NY.  The Parson Brothers, Ben and Ira, inherited their boat building business from their father.  Here they are in their later years.

The Parson Brothers, Ben and Ira, with one of their guideboats.

Here is one of their boats, a Raider, at 14 feet 3 inches.

A Raider built by the Parson Brothers.

I found fascinating a view of their shop taken around the turn of the century.

The Parson Brother boat shop, about 1900.

There are actually six men in this photo.  You probably missed the fellow outside the rear doorway.  He is carrying a guideboat on his shoulders in true Adirondack guide fashion using a yoke.

So would the Adirondack guideboat have evolved into such an extraordinarily beautiful craft without the upheaval wrought by Durant and Murray?  Who knows?  I think not,

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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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