The Adirondack guideboat-guideboats and Steamers

Whenever I view old photos of steamboats in the Adirondacks I almost always see guideboats in the photo.  Why is that?  What is the connection between the two?  Well let’s see what role steamboats played in the the history of the region and see where that leads us.

Steam power caused a revolution in the development of our nation.  Travel by train opened large areas of previously inaccessible territory.  Now, many could afford to travel to wilderness areas like the Adirondacks.  Railroad tycoons like the Durants seized on the opportunity to capture this new source of revenue by expanding their network of rail lines.

There is a fascinating diorama at the Adirondack Museum that cleverly depicts how the steam revolution shaped the history of the Adirondacks.  To travel to Raquette Lake from New York City, travelers boarded the New York Central train at Grand Central Terminal in the evening.  Sleeping cars were provided since the train would not arrive at the destination until the next morning.  The New York Central train arrived at Old Forge, NY in early morning when it was switched to the Raquette River Railroad which went on to Raquette Lake.  The heavily loaded train pulled these cars over steep grades until they arrived at the Raquette Lake terminus.  On weekends the arrival was delayed some three or four hours because of the extra sleeping cars required to carry all who had bought tickets.  The photo below is taken of the diorama.  It shows two steamboats waiting to take travelers to their lodging after they have had breakfast in the terminal.

View of the diorama’s depiction of a portion of Raquette Lake with the railroad terminal in the foreground.

The two steamboats waiting at the terminal are the Kiloquah and the Sagamore.  The Sagamore has a green guideboat on its upper deck.  In the diorama, the Kiloquah steams off to the Antlers Hotel on the point and then east up the Marion River which is almost directly across from the terminal.  When it reaches the source of the Marion River passengers disembark and take a very short ride on a narrow gauge train that traverses Marion River Carry.  Here is a depiction of the carry by the diorama.

Diorama depiction of the Marion River Carry.

Fortunately, the narrow gauge train used on the carry was rescued after years of use and is now in the Marion River Pavilion at The Adirondack Museum.  Here are some photos of her.

Narrow Gauge locomotive used on the Marion River Carry.

An open car on the Marion River Carry
Rear of the Marion River Carry train.

Before we leave the Kiloquah, here are some old photos of her.

Steamboat Kiloquah with a guideboat on her upper deck and one in tow.  Photo courtesy of The Adirondack Museum.
Kiloquah at a pier. A guideboat is at the ready. Photo courtesy of The Adirondack Museum

On the far end of the Marion River Carry another steamboat, the Tuscarora, boards the travelers.  This steamer will traverse the Eckford Chain of lakes (Utowana and Eagle)  before entering Blue Mountain Lake, its final destination.  It will stop at several hosteleries including the Prospect House, the first hotel in America to have electric lights in every room.  Below is an old photo of the Tuscarora.

The steamboat Tuscarora at the east end of the Marion river Carry.

The Tuscarora was bought by by a camp owner on Blue Mountain Lake.  She was dry docked there and converted into a guest house.  There was talk of restoring her and bringing her to the Adirondack Museum.  However, it was felt that the expense to restore her was too great to justify doing so.  As far as I know she is still in dry dock on Blue Mountain Lake.

Here are two other steamers stopping at the Prospect House on Blue Mountain Lake.  Note they both have guideboats on their upper decks.

Steamers at the Prospect House on Blue Mountain Lake.

We left the steamboat Sagamore at the train terminal at Raquette Lake.  Remember, it had a green guideboat on its upper deck.  The Sagamore steams up into the north end of Raquette Lake.  It must have stopped at various lodging places as well as the carry between Raquette Lake and its northern sister, Forked Lake (pronounced Fork Ed).  Here is a clue as to why guideboats hung around with the steamboats.  They must have been used as water taxis. Forked Lake provided access to Long Lake but there were no steamboats operating on Forked Lake.

But a guide and his boat could row you down Forked to the carry around Buttermilk Falls and thence into Long Lake.

So early on guides welcomed the advent of steamboats because it brought a new clientele.  These travelers were more of the sightseeing type rather than sportsmen. But the relentless thrust of technology always causes disruption of old patterns and ways of making a living.  We will see how this played out in an uprising by the guides as the steamboat encroached on the their livelihood.

Next, the steamboat Buttercup.



Building an Adirondack Guideboat-Paddles and Changes at the Museum

This summer the Adirondack Museum celebrates its 60th year of being a vast reservoir of Adirondack history.  Many have told me what a fine Museum it is, one of the best they have ever visited.

It is fitting that the Museum is changing in response to our ever changing world.  The Adirondack Museum will no longer go by that name but will now be called “the Adirondack Experience, the Museum on Blue Mountain Lake.  Coincident with the change in name is a new exhibition entitled Life in the Adirondacks.  As explained in the press release, this exhibition will feature “wonderful artifacts, media and digital technology, hands-on interactive experiences, and stories of work, life, and play in the Adirondacks.”  Planning for the exhibition has been underway for several years.  Last year the Roads and Rails building was closed while the new exhibition was created in 19,000 square-feet of space.

It is an exciting time for the Museum and I am honored to play a small part in the official opening of the new exhibition on Saturday, July 1st.  I have been asked to display my collection of guideboat paddles along with their history while I demonstrate guideboat paddle making.  With our departure for the North Country coming right up I started to scurry about to finish long forgotten projects.  I discovered two reproductions of Caleb Chase guideboat paddles done last summer that needed varnishing.  Here they are:

Chase paddles being varnished.

Here they are being varnished.  I lay them flat and do one side at a time to avoid runs.  It takes longer but avoids the hassle of having to rework paddles wherever the varnish has run.  Here are the finished paddles.

Finished guideboat paddles.
Close up of two Chase guideboat paddles.

The paddle on the left is a steering paddle and is made of figured cherry.  The one on the right is a hunting paddle and is made of Spanish cedar.  Both exhibit chatoyancy, or the “cats eye” effect found in gem stones and certain species of wood.

You can see the original steering paddle being used at Great Camp Santanoni somewhere around 1895 in the photo below,  The women are out for guideboat ride.  The oarsman is being assisted by her friend who is using the original of the paddle above.

A Chase steering paddle in use at Great Camp Santanoni.

Hunting paddles were used when a guideboat was used to hunt deer at night.  The guide would propel the boat from the stern using a paddle like the one above.  The so-called “sport” would be in the bow with a rifle and candle lantern.  The guide would silently glide the boat along the lake shoreline.  Upon the sound of a feeding deer the sport would quietly light the lantern and take a shot at the dazed deer.  Jacking deer was outlawed in 1905 in New York State.

If you are in the Blue Mountain Lake area on July 1st drop in and say hi.  The paddles will be for sale as well as one of my guideboats.