The Adirondack Guideboat-Merlie Austin’s Guideboat

Last time we visited Bunny Austin’s guideboat shop.  Bunny’s family has been in Long Lake for six generations and many of his forebears have been boat builders.  Bunny is especially fond of his grandfather Merlie.  It is said that Merlie could build a guideboat in 300 hours, which is a torrid pace as far as I am concerned.  Bunny said Merlie put in long hours during the winter months and that he could build a guideboat in about a month’s time.  Merlie’s rib and stem patterns were passed down to Bunny.  Here they are:

Merlie Austin's rib and stem guideboat patterrns
Merlie Austin’s rib and stem guideboat patterns

One of Merlie’s guideboats resides not far away in Blue Mountain Lake in a place called the Hedges.  The Hedges is an Adirondack resort built about 1880.  It has been placed on the National Registry of Historic places by the US Department of the Interior.

A visit to the Hedges is stepping back in time to the 1880’s.  Here is a view of Blue Mountain Lake from the Hedges lawn.

A view of Blue Mountain Lake from the Hedges lawn.
A view of Blue Mountain Lake from the Hedges lawn.

In a recent post I talked about the Marion River Carry and the little railroad that took tourists from one end of the Carry to the other.  The steamer Killoqah would pick them up at the Raquette Lake railroad station and take them up the Marion River to the Carry.  Before the railroad was built in 1901, passengers would walk the 3/4 of a mile to the opposite end of the Carry.  Their baggage was most likely transported by carts.  At the eastern of the Carry they were met by the steamer Tuscarora.  Here she is in a photo from that period.

Steamer Tuscarora
Steamer Tuscarora

Once everyone was on board she steamed through Utowana and Eagle Lakes into Blue Mountain Lake passing through a swing bridge on the way.  She made a number of stops in Blue Mountain including a large hotel called the Prospect House.  She no doubt stopped at the Hedges too.

The Tuscarora was still around about 10 years ago.  She had been dry docked and used as a guest house by her owner.  There was talk of donating her to the Adirondack Museum but she was in such poor shape that it was decided it would cost too much to restore her.

Before we have dinner we stroll around the lawn and gardens at the Hedges.

Landscape at the Hedges
Landscape at the Hedges
One of the buildings at the Hedges.
One of the buildings at the Hedges.

The Game Room seems especially Victorian as do the interiors of other buildings at the resort.

The Game Room at the Hedges.
The Game Room at the Hedges.

It is time to head for the dining room and have dinner and to see Merlie’s guideboat.  It is hung from the ceiling in the Dining Hall.

Merlie Austin's guideboat.
Merlie Austin’s guideboat.

A plaque on the wall gives some history of the boat.  It is clear from the author, who is unknown, that the boat was cherished by its owners who went to great lengths to keep it in the family.  Here is what the plaque has to say:

Adirondack Guide Boat

Built by Merlin Austin Long Lake, NY

Circa 1900

History as I know it:

The cedar guide boat was built by Merlin Austin of Long lake, NY in the late 1800’s or in the early 1900’s.  It is 14′ 10″ long and I estimate the weight at between 45 and 50 lbs.  Harold Austin, Merlin’s grandson, says it probably cost $150 when new.

My family had a camp on Raquette Lake which they acquired in 1896. My grandfather, C. W. Anderson, gave the guide boat to my mother in probably 1903 or 1905.  Mother’s Wells College friends began to visit Raquette in 1903 and 1905 seems to be a particularly festive year.  I was told it was a second hand boat so Grandpa probably bought it from someone other than Austin himself.

During my days at Camp Anderson the boat was handled very carefully.  There was a painted guide boat which didn’t need much careful handling and was used for fishing and other chores.  Sometime in the 30’s an older cousin took the other boat to Sucker Brook and punched a hole in the side on a root.  The damage was repaired, probably by John Blanchard, a guide boat builder on Raquette Lake.

After Camp Anderson was sold in 1948 Mother and I started to go to North Point (on Raquette Lake) and we stored the boat there over the winter.  Our month-long stays started in 1948 and lasted through 1953.  Herbert Burrell, the owner, changed the operation of North Point in 1954 turning the main building into his private residence  and converting the surrounding buildings into housekeeping cabins.

With no place to go we started traveling. Then friends found a place on Blue Mountain Lake called “Crane Point”and in 1960 the family started going there.  Since I wanted the boat I approached Mr. Burrell about picking it up.  He told me he loaned to an executive of AT&T who rented Camp Uncas from him.  I held my breath wondering if I would ever see the boat again.  It was a great relief when he did go and get the boat.

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