The Adirondack Guideboat-Seneca Ray Stoddard

As mentioned in the last post, Long Lake cherishes its history.  The town makes sure that its history is preserved and passed on.  For as long as I can remember Long Lake has had a town historian.  The present historian is Jeanne Plumley.  Her husband, Lew, is a descendant of Honest John Plumley.  Honest John was Adirondack Murray’s guide in the 1870’s.  Now Murray was the wacky Boston preacher who managed to convince his parishioners that he needed to spend his summers in Raquette Lake.  He wrote Adventures in the Wilderness, a book that awakened a great many to the wonders of the Adirondacks.  Murray was apt to overstate his case saying that even the smell of the pines and balsam firs in the North Country could cure many ills.  In his book Murray recommends that one would be wise to hire Honest John as a guide.

Sometime before Jeanne, Frances Seaman was the town historian.  As you might remember Howard, her husband, was a famous guideboat racer.  They lived on the lake in the home below which is now owned by our friends Sara and Kenwyn.

The Seaman's home on Long Lake.
The Seaman’s home on Long Lake.

I am told that the Seaman’s kitchen was located in the basement.  That worked fine most of the year except for springtime.  Most springs the lake rises ten feet or more which flooded their kitchen.  Rather than abandon the kitchen the Seamans put on boots and went about their normal routine.

According to Mary Beth, Frances kept the town archives on long tables upstairs in their living area.  These are now kept in the town Archive building.  It contains Town Board minutes beginning in 1837, an extensive collection of Adirondack books including Township 34, diaries, writings, and newspaper articles dating back to the early 1800’s and many other important documents and records.

Abbie Verner is responsible for preserving the town’s archives and seeing that they are kept up to date.  I knew that Abbie was a veritable fountain of information about Long Lake history.  So I went to her when I was seeking information about guideboat history.  When I said to her “Abbie, where can I find more about the history of guideboats?” she replied with one word “Stoddard”.

Abbie Verner heads up Long Lakes archive effort.
Abbie Verner heads up Long Lakes archive effort.

Of course, I thought.  I had seen Seneca Ray Stoddard’s photo below many times while at the Adirondack Museum.

Stoddard's photo entitled "the way it looks from the stern."
Stoddard’s photo entitled “the way it looks from the stern.”

Seneca Ray was a truly gifted man.  Best know for his photographs of the Adirondacks, he was also a cartographer, poet, artist and lecturer.  His sketches of the the devastation of Adirondack waterways caused by logging interests helped persuade the new York State legislature to enact the forever wild amendment to the state constitution in 1895.  This amendment insures that any state land in the Adirondack Park be kept free of any commercial exploitation.

To follow up on Abbie’s cue, the next step was to ask Angie, Adirondack Museum curator, to search the Museum’s collection of Stoddard photos for any that contained a guideboat.  When I viewed those photos  it was as if I was slipping back in time to around  1890.  Stoddard captured the lives of people of all sorts who happened to come to the Adirondacks at that time.  The photo above is one example.  It captures the essence of an Adirondack guide back then.

As I mulled over these photos they began to fall into specific categories.  Each category captures an activity involving guideboats that was common back then.  The categories I discovered are:

  • Guideboat evolution
  • Hunting by guideboat
  • Raiders
  • The rise of Adirondack hotels and hotel guides
  • The symbiosis of steamers and guideboats

We will explore each of these in future posts.

Next time- guideboat raiders.

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