There are two pairs of scribe ribs on the Chase guideboat I am reproducing. Scribe ribs, sometimes called stitched ribs, have no feet. The reason they have no feet is that they go way forward and aft in the boat. The bottom board is so narrow there that there is no room for rib feet. They are called scribe after the geometric technique used to precisely define their shape. Here is one ready for mounting,
When I wrote my book Tale of an Adirondack Guideboat and How toBuild One I expected builders would pick up something amiss in the book about my instructions. After all, building a guideboat is not at all straightforward. But so far, after 13 years of being in print and a number of boats built using my book, there have been no complaints.
I did have one fellow say to me “I only had one problem using your book.” On no, I thought, what did I miss? He said, “Oh, it was my omission. You know when you say to install the scribe rib as soon as the garboard strake is hung? Well, I waited too long and it was a devil to install it later on when I had nearly finished planking.
Well this time around I was at round 5 of planking when I suddenly remembered the scribe, or stitched, ribs. So I failed to take my own advice. Fortunately I installed them without much trouble. Here they are after installation.
So what’s the use of scribe ribs anyway? Not all guideboats have them. One reason, I believe, is to shape the hull nearest the stems to present a more a graceful appearance. They are also useful in providing a support for the seat cleats.
By the way, I did finish planking the 5th round. Here it is after round five:
After a perilous journey Dr. Stephen Sulavik’s book on the Adirondack GuideBoat, its Origins, its Builder’s, and their boats is in our hands. And it is a masterpiece! It hits me with a sense of wonder; wonder at how did he pull it off. Every thread of guideboat lore is brought together here. His research is meticulous. Make no mistake; almost a lifetime of devotion to the Adirondack guideboat by Dr. Stephen has gone into producing this remarkable work.
The manuscript was nearly lost forever. Stephen was such an ardent researcher that the prospect of gathering just one more guideboat to his data trove was irresistible. It kept him from calling a halt to research and pulling everything together in a book. When he died suddenly in April, 2015, it looked like all was lost. But two gentlemen stepped forward to give their very best to finish what Stephen had started. They are Edward Comstock, Jr. and Christopher H. Woodward. I think Stephen would be awfully proud of their’s and others hard work.
Dr. Sulavik was an extraordinary fellow by any measure. His son Andrew remembers him as “having an intense desire to teach, an acute mind, an infallible memory, and an effervescent intellectual curiosity.”
Here is the reason the book was written, in Dr. Sulavik’s own words;
“This book has been written not only to tell the story of this unique and admirable boat, but also to recognize and celebrate the inventiveness of its original builders and the singular culture of their time and place.”
I remember once meeting Dr. Stephen at the Adirondack Museum. I was, and still am, a docent in the Museum’s boat shop. He was busy searching files for use in the book. We chatted briefly but he was intent on his search. I had learned from Hallie Bond, then the curator of the museum’s marvelous boat collection, that Stephen wanted to enable anyone with an antique guide boat to determine its builder. That was then a very tall order and next to impossible before Sulavik’s book. The short anecdote below illustrated the challenge facing Dr. Stephen.
Many years ago Dr. Sulavik visited Chris Woodward’s guideboat shop. He told Chris and his workers how he had undertaken a project to identify every major guideboat builder and their boats. According to Chris, the boys in the shop”politely” laughed and wished him good luck”. They as much as said “If the boat doesn’t have a name tag calling out the builder you can forget about it.”
Indeed his book succeeds in all the author wished for it. In the first part, The History of the Adirondack Guideboat, guideboat evolution is told in great detail. This is blended with photos and artist’s renderings of the Adirondacks back then. This section alone justifies having a copy of this book.
In the second part, Guideboats and their Builders, a biographical sketch of each of the major builders is given. This is followed by the characteristics of their boats all richly illustrated by color photos. Here are pages from the Billings biography.
The final part, entitled Guideboat Identification-Who built that Guideboat?, addresses the reason the book was written. An elaborate photographic decision tree presented. Each characteristic of a guideboat is presented and how builders modified it to imprint their own style upon the boat. For example, let’s take the decks. We start with the number of pieces, one or two, then the deck inward shape, straight or deep arc, then the deck cap shape. The builder adopting the particular version is cited.
The book is published by Bauhan Publishing and is 383 pages. It costs under $40. It is a gem and well worth having even if you just love Adirondack history.
Planking an Adirondack guide boat is a challenge that can bring you to your knees. Planks on a guide boat follow a sinuous 3-D shape. Each new plank must fit precisely to the one that went before it. You can’t fake it. Many times I thought that I could just force one end or the other of a plank into fitting its mate and it would be OK. No dice. Its like 3-D wall paper. If you push one end of the plank to make it fit it causes a bulge somewhere else.
So I have now moved into my new shop and the new boat I am building is ready for the 5th round of planking (there are 8 rounds of planks on my boat). The 5th round is where things really get complicated. Just as the planks that went before number 5, this one must match up to the free edge of the preceding plank. But now we have arrived at the curve of the bilge. That is where the hull transitions from being roughly horizontal to being nearly vertical. The ribs are more curved here to accommodate that transition. The new plank must be shaped to fit the curvature of the ribs around the bilge.
The old timers (and some new timers) got around this problem by hollowing out, or as they termed it backing out, the inward facing surface of planks in the bilge region. This requires a special plane with a convex sole. They started with a somewhat thicker plank to allow for the amount they would remove. To add to the complexity, the amount of the bilge curvature changes as one moves from midships to the stems.
Since I feel very challenged to try backing out a plank the old way, I use a method I call flash molding. It is used by instrument makers to shape the sides of the sound box of a guitar, for example. Flash molding involves wetting down the wood being bent, wrapping it in aluminum foil, heating it to around 300 degrees F, and clamping it to the shape you want it to take on. Heating is done using a thermal blanket. During the heating cycle the wood becomes very pliable and will take practically any shape you desire. The new shape remains permanent upon cool-down.
Here is the flash molding set-up used to shape a plank in the turn of the bilge region.
Flash molding worked great on one side of the hull. Those two planks picked up a nice shape that fit their mating ribs exactly. Not so on the other side. One plank just did not respond to flash molding. I even tried flash molding again. No luck. What was going on?
I remembered that flash molding works best when the plank is quarter sawn. When quarter sawn, the grain is parallel to the plank’s side edge edge. Quarter sawn planks bend more easily in a radial bend than in a longitudinal bend. This bend response is just the opposite of flat sawn planks where the grain is more or less parallel to the top and bottom surfaces of the plank.
I hated to give up on this plank. I had put a lot on work into it. I had shaped it to fit the previous plank (I thought) and cut the bevels on both edges. The final straw was when it just would not fit to plank #4. In fact it was nearly 1/2″ off on one end. See below:
This reminded me of a tale Keith Austin told me about a guide boat he was building. Now Keith is the nephew of Bunny Austin. The Austins have been building wooden boats since the 1830’s. The Austin patriarch, William, lived on the north shore of Long Lake and would build about one boat a week and sell them for $15.
While building a guide boat Keith found that one of the planks he recently hung had cracked. He called Uncle Bunny to commiserate. Bunny could emphasize with Keith having experienced these sorts of setbacks more than once. Bunny told him “What you need son is a crying chair. You sit in the crying chair and gather yourself up to go back and try again”. Here is Bunny in his shop in Long Lake.
I learned that Bunny is quite a guy. He was a Marine Corp. pilot during the Cuban missile crisis and flew reconnaissance missions over the island of Cuba during that desperate time. I’m certain he wasn’t always sure he would be coming back from some of those flights, especially the low altitude ones. Bunny is an unsung hero in my mind!
Now I don’t have a crying chair but here I am crying over a plank that just didn’t make it.
So after that set back I thought I would never finish round #5 of planking. Then I discovered I hadn’t installed the stitched ribs. More about that next time.
One of the most famous guideboats ever built was the Virginia. She was built by Lewis and Floyd Grant in 1903 in Boonville , NY. Here she is:
Hallie Bond gives further background on Virginia in her book Boats and Boating in the Adirondacks. Hallie writes:
“Virginia was the first Adirondack guideboat to have her lines published. Small-craft Historian John Gardner measured and drew her in the summer of 1993 and his subsequent articles in Outdoor Maine brought the guideboat to the attention of an international audience.” Here is John drawing Virginia’s lines.
Hallie goes on to say:
“The articles revealed the variation in planking thickness from the 1/4″ garboard to the 3/16″ sheer plank and a 1/2” bottom board.
Virginia has a typical Grant stem profile. Grant learned to build the slightly tumblehome Long Lake stem profile (curved inward towards the midships), but around 1894 he tipped the top of the stem slightly outward, creating the distinctive Brown’s Tract profile. This was done to eliminate the “podgy” look which resulted from increasing the beam in the ends for more buoyancy. It also made bending the sheer plank easier because it eliminated a tight spot near the ends of the boat. Other Grant characteristics include the drain hole in the deck, used when the boat was turned upside down, and the construction of the seats. The steam-bent seat back is lighter than a mortised one, and the stretchers for the seats themselves have been molded to eliminate excess wood.
Virginia was built as a pleasure boat rather than a guide’s boat, the third guideboat from the Grant shop in 1905. She was rarely carried and used mostly on Big Moose Lake. She was always painted in the colors of the University of Virginia , the alma mater of the young man for whom she was built. His monogram appears on the stern.”
John Gardner was acknowledged the “Dean of small craft”. His book Building Classic Small Craft Volume I and More Building Classic Small Craft will always set the highest bar for any work on building small boats.
John had a sweet spot in his heart for the Adirondack guide boat for he wrote “Light, tough and durable, the guide boat is the finest woodsman’s boat ever built…..a work boat with the finish of a violin and the delicacy of a watch….unexcelled by any small craft anywhere” Outdoor Maine, August, 1960,
I wrote a post not long ago about the Sairy Gamp, Nessmuk’s famous lightweight wooden canoe built by Rushton. Nessmuk was George Washington Sear’s pen name and it means wood duck in Native American parlance. Sears was an outdoor’s journalist during the 1860’s and 70’s. His fame became intimately tied to the Sairy Gamp because he used that tiny vessel to paddle all over the Adirondack lakes and ponds and report back on his many adventures.
Not long ago my friend Jon sent me a “look what I found” email. Here is a photo of an original note handwritten by Sears in 1886. It tumbled out of a book Jon was reading entitled Forest Runes. As Jon writes “I am truly amazed that this hidden gem was locked away in the pages of seemingly unread copy of Forest Runes. Was it Reynold’s copy? How did it end up in the city where I live? And even more amazing that I lucked upon it. It could have so easily ended up in the trash, someone not realizing what it was…”
Here is what is written in that letter:
“Friend Reynolds, yours of 13th is before me. The two numbers of Porter’s Spirit which you mention, contain articles from my pen, which were printed in the spring and summer of ’60, commencing Apr. 21st. A serial story entitled “Life Notes of An Old Hunter.” The “Hemlock Sketches” were published previously, and I thought them much better. I still think so. They were written from the shoulder, loose elbow, set trigger, and no hip nest. But I have lost them. If you can pick them up and like them, and they…”
The letter ends here, unfortunately, the other part was lost.
Jon continues, ” I wonder who Reynolds was? The illustrator from Woodcraft I think was named Reynolds but I am not certain…Either way he is talking about a very early part of his writing career (1860) and he was writing for Porter’s Spirit of the Times, a sporting journal of the era. Interesting that he compares two separate pieces of work and his preference of one over the other and why. Fascinating! I must track down the articles themselves.
Jon does some further research about the publications Nessmuk was referencing.
“He contributed to Porter’s Spirit of the Times, a leading journal, published in New York City. I love the title of this old magazine–“Porter’s Spirit of the Times, a Chronicle of of the Turf , Field Sports, Literature and the Stage, and inside the paper, heading the editorials–Porter’s Spirit of the Times, the American Gentleman’s Newspaper.
It has been my privilege to see a bound copy of these papers for the year 1860. They contain a series of articles by Nessmuk called “Hemlock Sketches”. They are very interesting, being descriptive of the country and stories of camping, fishing and hunting trips, told as only Nessmuk could tell them.. I simply must quote from one–
“We come to what looks like a thick brake of low laurel ; it is not, however, but a thick border of laurel encircling an immense rock. I part the laurel and stepping through, bid my companion to follow and admire. We are on ‘Painter Rock’ the most enchanting spot in all the region round about, and, as a specimen of landscape planting, not excelled by anything I have ever seen, at least on so small a scale. The rock is an irregular oblong square about 100 feet in length by 80 feet in breadth, has a gentle descent to the southwest, and is very slightly oval; it is surrounded on every side by a thick mass of laurel, is nearly covered with moss and lichens and would without further addition be exceeding interesting, and even romantic. It happens, however, that the whole surface is divided into little squares and compartments by dense hedges of dwarf hemlock, appearing at first glance, to have no other root than the surface of the rock. On close examination these beautiful little pyramidal evergreens are found to be firmly rooted in fissures and cracks, which cross and intersect each other with considerable regularity, giving an air of romantic beauty”. This rock is on the steep hillside in the vicinity of Texas (Lycoming County). But the growth of hemlocks, laurel, and mosses that made it so interesting has probably greatly changed in the last 82 years. Even so, I wish I could visit the spot.
The Spirit of the Times also printed this same year, a serial story by Nessmuk entitled “Life Notes of an Old Hunter”. Many of Nessmuk’s friends thought this was his own life history , but he says it is the story of an old forest ranger, as he told it to Nessmuk during a long winter hunt in the North. Personally, I do not think it as interesting a the”Hemlock Sketches”. Nessmuk also wrote articles for “Forest and Stream”, “Outing”, “American Angler”, and other sporting journals.
Many thanks Jon, for this window into the past and a sense of just who Nessmuk was.
Alright, now I have a proper vessel to take the day’s journey looping around by water from Blue Mountain Lake to Long Lake. Here I am with my ultra-light canoe.
If you read my previous blog you might suspect that these boats are vulnerable to a tear in the Dacron fabric covering. I have never had such a problem but once I lent one to a friend and he somehow found a sharp object that tore a hole in the hull. He quickly sank.
To avoid such a mishap I always carry a roll of duct tape with me when in one of these small wonders. When you are in the middle of a lake in an ultra-light you have the unsettling feeling that you are being levitated and could find yourself swimming for shore at any moment. These craft are very flexible which adds to that sensation but also gives them an extra degree of resilience.
My plan to paddle from Blue to Long Lake was to leave the public beach at Blue Mountain Lake at about 8:00 am, paddle west through the Ectford Chain, take the Marion River Carry to the Marion River, then into Raquette Lake, then head northeast through Raquette Lake to the carry into Forked Lake (pronounced Fork -ed with emphasis on the ed). Then go generally east on the southern arm of Forked until it ends at the campground beach, Now begins a half mile carry and a paddle along the North Point Road. The Raquette River has a stretch of rapids just after the campground beach, necessitating the carry, but there is a quiet, beautiful paddle down to Buttermilk Falls. You mustcarry around Buttermilk Falls and down a stretch avoiding the Raquette River rapids. The carry takes the North Point Road to the put-in at Long Lake. Now you are essentially home with a paddle of about 3 miles ahead of you.
The Ice Age has determined my route today. One of the receding glaciers dumped a moraine of gravel and sand just south of Blue Mountain Lake. This “dam” stopped any flow of water coming down from the north from reaching the Hudson River. So the Raquette River flows north until it reaches the St. Lawrence River.
Here is my route on a map of the lakes.
I had one concern when planning this trip. A strong weather front would come through and cause dangerously high waves. Both Raquette and Blue are situated such that a strong westerly wind blowing across them can raise some impressively high waves. Fortunately, that was not the case on the day I chose for my adventure. The wind was out of the northwest but not overly strong. I was counting on it to stay out of the northwest. I would have to paddle against it for the first leg of my trip but then it should be off my stern quarter for most of the trip.
So I set off on a beautiful summer day to make the loop from Blue Mountain Lake to Long Lake. I tell my Fran and my Mom that I will return home at 6 pm. I have no idea where I got that prediction but it came very close to reality. I pack a lunch, water. duct tape, and a rain jacket just in case.
Here is a photo of Blue Mountain Lake taken from the Adirondack Museum. The opening into Eagle Lake is in the far distance and in line with the middle of the large island in the foreground.
I leave the town beach at Blue Mountain Lake and paddle west to the small opening into Eagle Lake. I pass the place where the grandiose Prospect House once stood and the still very much alive Hedges, a Great Camp still in operation.
Here I am underway.
I pass under a bridge into Eagle Lake, the first of the Eckford Chain. There is a large airplane hangar on the north shore. That seems a bit incongruous. But I remind myself that this area has always been moneyed.
On into Utowana Lake. The western end has what I would call a dead swamp. There are dead trees and vegetation at that end. After my research on the Durants I realize that this is the result of William Durant’s scheme that raised the water level of these two lakes to accommodate steam boat traffic. This evidence of vegetation drowned over 100 years ago is still here.
I pull out at the western end of Utowana which is at the eastern end of the Marion River Carry. I hadn’t expected to see any evidence of its former use. But just under water I see the remains of what was once the steam boat landing.
My light weight canoe is easy to carry. I throw it over my shoulder and grab a hold of the forward thwart. I carry the paddle in my other hand and my other stuff in a day pack.
Traversing the Marion River carry doesn’t take long and I am soon in the Marion River headed towards Raquette Lake. At first the River is full of twists and turns but then it straightens out. It seems to take much paddling but finally I reach St. Hubert’s Lake, part of Raquette Lake.
W. H. H. Murray (Adirondack Murray) spent many days in Raquette Lake. It was a favorite of his. Any of his favorite lakes he called a “beautiful sheet of water”, quite a poetic term. Indeed Raquette Lake is a beautiful sheet of water in the truest sense. It is very irregular in shape with many bays that contribute to over ninety miles of shoreline.
I go between Woods Point and Osprey Island. Adirondack Murray spent many summer days on Osprey Island.
The wind has changed direction and is now out of the northeast. So my wish that it would stay out of the west and “push” me home was not to be.
I didn’t take a map with me so I am going by “dead reckoning”. I will head north until I reach North Bay. Then I’ll head northeast into North Bay and continue to bear northeast until I reach the carry to Forked Lake.
Raquette Lake has few camps with road access so there is lots of boat traffic taking people to their water access only camps.. I’ll need to watch out for them. I pass Tioga Point. My son and his new bride camped there soon after they tied the knot. They each took a lightweight canoe that I had built. The canoes easily took them and all their gear. They were expecting a wilderness experience but soon after dark the motor vessel William Durantwith Dean Pohl in command came into view. They had a band on board who wanted everyone within miles to hear their music. So much for wilderness experience!
Why is it that things look so different from a canoe than from you think they should from reading a map? You really have to trust your instincts about your heading sometimes. After almost 5 miles of paddling I reach the pull-out for the carry to Forked Lake. The carry is not long and I am soon headed to the pull-out at the Forked Lake campground.
We spent many summer vacations at the Forked Lake campground so it is like an old pal to me. Wildlife takes no heed to humans at the campground and black bears roam freely after dark. Fran and I had just set up our tent and climbed into our sleeping bags one late twilight evening when there was a noise quite close by. We had a large triangular window in the tent that was facing out onto the lake which was lit up by the long North Country twilight. Suddenly the silhouette of a large black bear appeared in the window and slowly ambled away. Fran levitated over me to get as far away from the bear as possible and commanded that I do something. Thankfully there was nothing to be done, the bear was only interested in food .and was off to the next campsite.
There are many loons on Forked. I have found loons to be curious creatures who like to check us out. One day I was out on Forked rowing my guideboat toward the campground. Because I was rowing I was only vaguely aware of what was in front me. Suddenly a loon, only a few yards away, passed by. Apparently I was more surprised than he since he could easily have avoided me. He was just checking me out.
I pull out at the campground and begin a carry around rapids that continue for about a half mile. I then put in to the Raquette River It is a beautiful stretch of smooth water but that will soon change. The Raquette River began as it flowed out of Raquette Lake near where the canoed carry is.
The next stop is Buttermilk Falls. Indeed you had better stop here or its all over but the shout’n. As you can see Buttermilk Falls is quite impressive.
The pull-out is quite near where the falls begins. Don’t go exploring here, the consequence could be fatal. Just pull-out. Here is what the River at the top of the Falls looks like.
The carry around the rapids below Buttermilk Falls is about a half mile long. You walk along North Point Road and it mostly downhill so it is not so bad as carries go.
I reach the carry into Long Lake and put-in. Almost home now, only about 3 miles to go. Here is our dock. It is is off a bay from the main lake and is about two miles from Town.
I pull in at about 6 pm, just as promised. I calculate that I have paddled for 12 miles and carried for about 1 1/2 miles.
I’m calling this post the guideboat/steamboat mystery because I am unsure why guideboats coexisted with steamboats after steamboats made a strong entrance on Adirondack waterway scene. We know the coexistence was not always without strife from my post on the Buttercup. But why do we often see guideboats in the presence of steamers?
First I’ll first describe the steam launch Osprey, a vessel typical of steam powered boats of the time. The description of Ospreyon a plaque where it is displayed gives the rich history of these vessels.
The steamboat Ospreyis on permanent display at the Adirondack Museum. During the year I spent in the Adirondacks I had the good fortune of working on her to do some minor face lifting. She had been restored in 1967 by Johnson Brothers of Tupper Lake in 1967. I was a member of a team of volunteers led by Josh Swan, a young fellow who was a professional boat builder. We added some additional details to this historic craft. Here I am varnishing the cabin woodwork.
The plaque explaining the Ospreyreads as follows:
By the early 1880’s steamboats like this one cruised the major waterways of the Adirondacks. In 1882 one could depart by steamer from the newly opened Prospect House on Blue Mountain Lake and make connections all the way through to Paul Smith’s Hotel, 60 miles to the northeast. Steamboats made travel in the Adirondacks civilized and cheap. No longer did one have to sleep outdoors or pay for the services of a guide to enjoy a holiday in the North Woods. Hotels sprang up along the major steamboat routes as more and more people toured the region. This democratizing trend was accelerated with the completion of railroad routes which connected with the steamboats.
Ospreyis typical of the small steamboats which changed the character of tourism in the Adirondacks. Like most of her sisters, her hull was probably built in the mountains by local boat builders. The engine and boiler were imported. Unlike boats such as Buttercup, or Orcosia, Killoquah, and Toowardooda, Ospreywas built as a private launch. Her first owner was Charles W. Durant, who purchased Osprey Island in Racquette Lake in 1881. Durant named his boat Stella. She was renamed when she and the island were sold to I. Harvey Ladew in the late 1880’s.
Length: 42′ 7″
Beam: 10′ 5″
Builder of Hull; Unknown, about 1881
Engine built by: Clute Brothers, Schnectady, 1881
Here are some photos of Osprey.
Here she is at the Adirondack Museum.
Because of the advent of steamboats on Adirondack waterways, the use of guideboats was bound to decline. The advantages of steamer transport were clearly stated in the Osprey plaque. But old photos of steamers showed that, at least for a time, there was a symbiosis between steamers and guideboats. The old photos show that guideboats nearly always appear in the photos of steamboats. Here are some examples:
So what is going on here? Why the close association of guideboat and steamboat? We will never know for sure but I will take a stab at why this occurred.
First, tourists came to the Adirondacks in the late 1800’s for a variety of reasons, just as they do today. Adirondack Murray’s book, Adventures in the Wildernesswas published in 1879. It extolled the virtues of camping in the backwoods where fish and game were plentiful and breathing the pine-scented air was a curative for all ills. The response to his book was overwhelming and the meager tourist services at that time were overwhelmed.
Murray’s book affirmed the use of a guide to venture back off the beaten track to experience what he clearly felt was the ultimate wilderness adventure. His book even recommended the best guides to hire. This Seneca Ray Stoddard photo of a guide rowing his guideboat captures the romance of venturing deep into the Adirondack wilderness with one of these fine fellows.
So Murray’s book caused guides to be revered and sought after.
In the meantime the hotels in some locales became quite grandiose. Remember, the Prospect House on Blue Mountain Lake was the first hotel in the world to have electric lights in every room. As a service to their guests, hotels would often have a cadre of guides whom the hotel guests could hire by the hour or for a day’s sojourn. Unfortunately these guides were not always as honest as those who did wilderness guiding. Here is a Stoddard photo of hotel guides at Paul Smith’s Hotel. They appear to be tending to their guideboats, perhaps patching leaks.
The presence of guideboats alongside steamers is perhaps not surprising. Steamers brought real, or potential customers, to the guides. Arrangements to hire a guide would have probably been made well beforehand with a meeting place and time set. Then too, guides could be hired on the spot.
The wonderful tradition of guiding gradually faded away, doomed by the the automobile, paved roads and the outboard motor. Strangely, it has been resurrected for an entirely unexpected reason. Birding has become a popular hobby worldwide and Adirondack birds are ones that are sought after to complete a birder’s “life list”. My friend Joan Collins of Long Lake operates a guiding service that takes birders to remote parts of the Adirondack Park to find rarely seen birds. Hers is a skill that has been honed over years exploring and searching out hard to locate and even harder to see species. So the Adirondack guiding tradition lives on!
Last time I said I would tell about the time I traversed the Marion River Carry. First I need to tell you about the vessel I used to make the trip. It is called an Airolite Canoe and was devised by a fellow named Platt Monfort of Westport, ME. It is basically an assemblage of thin sticks in the shape of a canoe covered with heat-shrinkable Dacron aircraft fabric. I make his Snowshoe 12 model that is 11′ 8″ long and weighs 13 lbs.
Here she is:
An Airolite Ultra-lite Canoe
The impetus behind going lightweight was a canoe trip my son, Stew, and I took over Labor Day of 1987. With nothing but a Coleman “Tupperware” canoe, we set out on the three day trip. The canoe plus our gear probably weighed 90 lbs. This mass had to be carried, dragged, slid, or however transported over some mighty long carries. Both Stew and I remember the blow-downs. Here are some smaller ones. The canoe had to be lifted up and over them. Some of the downed trunks were at eye level.
Blow-downs on a carry.
A succession of these carries will wear you down.
A long day!
Stew reminded me that we often resorted to dragging the canoe by its painters along the carry. We left an orange trail on the rocks in our wake. The Coleman hardly noticed.
I remember one embarrassing incident. Somewhere around Saranac Lake we lost our bearings on a carry. That is not too hard to fathom since we were carrying the boat on our shoulders and our vision was limited. At one point I looked down and saw a manicured pathway. Something was not right so I told Stew that we needed to have a look around. The canoe was let down with a crash. We were left standing, rather dazed, right next to a tee on the Saranac Country Club. Of course, a foursome was just teeing off.
Our trip ended at the Saranac Lakes. The are three of them, Upper, Middle, and Lower, are arranged in a horseshoe fashion. We entered at Upper and spent the night on Norway Island on Middle Saranac Lake. Here is a view of Norway Island.
I said that you would be amazed at how the Marion River Carry was transformed in the late 1800’s. It began as a mere dirt track used first by Native Americans and then by guides to skirt the Marion River rapids. Then, with the advent of steam power, steamboats brought a more enjoyable and faster trip across Blue Mountain to Raquette Lake and back again. Of course, those steam-borne passengers would miss the homespun tales and romance that guides with their boats could provide.
The Carry stayed much the same for about 20 years until the very late 1890’s. Then the New York Central opened a direct line from Penn Station to Raquette Lake. Passengers would board the train in early evening, travel overnight, and arrive at the Raquette Lake Terminal at about nine in the morning,
The Adirondack Experience (Adirondack Museum to us old folks) has a superb diorama that depicts the impact of this second direct rail line to Raquette. Below is a photo of the Museum’s diorama of a view facing east of the Raquette Lake Rail terminal and the Marion River (upper left).
Previous to the New York Central coming on the scene, the flow of new visitors to Raquette was mainly from east to west, from Blue Mountain Lake to Raquette because of the rail line to North Creek. The NYCRR changed that so that the flow of arriving tourists was now overwhelmingly in the opposite direction. This must have put great stress on the Marion River Carry. Apparently it could not handle the upsurge in passenger volume. Then too, passenger must have included many women who where disdainful of walking three or four miles across the Carry in their best attire. Also there were very posh hotels on Blue Mountain Lake that would attract tourists to Blue Mountain Lake. One of these was the Prospect House, the first hotel ever to boast electric lights in every room. So expectations may have run very high so that tourists were looking for much more than walking a dusty dirt track to get to their accommodations.
Regardless, someone dreamed up a solution to the problem, a very small standard gauge railroad. Never officially named, it became known as the Marion River Carry Railroad. At a little over 4 miles in length it became the shortest standard gauge railroad in the world. Here is the original locomotive with its open-air cars as they appear in the Marion River Carry Pavilion at the Adirondack Museum.
Here is a view of the locomotive on the carry.
Several people have produced maps of the carry. Here is one by S. Berliner III.
The Carry was much more elaborate than I expected. There was a station at each end of the Carry and each had a restaurant. There was also an Inn. I imagine that these luxuries were to entertain travelers as they awaited the next steamboat.
S. Berliner III has done a nice job of documenting the history of the Marion River Carry railroad. He says it was commissioned by William West Durant in the summer of 1899, Durant obtained the passenger cars, which were horse drawn streetcars from Brooklyn for $25 each! This rolling stock operated for nearly 30 years, It was retired in September , 1929 and placed in a shed near the carry. There it remained until its preservation became part of the impetus for the founding of the Adirondack Museum in 1955. There it has amused and educated thousands of Museum visitors for over 60 years.
Next time I tell how I traversed the Marion River Carry in my ultra light canoe on my way from Blue Mountain Lake to Long Lake.
In the Adirondacks portages are called carries. The Marion River Carry is particularly well known. You will find out why from the next post.
If you have been following along you know that William West Durant was the author of the Great Camp Style of Adirondack architecture. William was sent by his father Dr. Thomas C. to Raquette Lake in the early 1870’s to develop 500,000 acres of Adirondack land he acquired while serving as VP of the Union Pacific railroad. To facilitate travel to Raquette Lake by those interested in buying land or timber from the Durants, track was laid from Saratoga Springs to North Creek, NY in 1871. But it was still a day’s travel by stagecoach from North Creek to Blue Mountain Lake. There a guide and boat could be hired to take you on to Raquette Lake.
William improved upon this mode of transportation by having two steamboats built, one for Raquette Lake, the Killoquah, and the other for Blue Mountain Lake, the Toowahloondah.
Blue Mountain Lake is connected to Raquette Lake by the Ectford Chain of lakes (Eagle and Utowandah Lakes) and the Marion River. William dammed up the Marion River to allow the Toowahloondah to navigate passage through the Ectford Chain to the head of the Marion River. The passengers would disembark at the dock at the head of the Marion River and walk the 2-3 miles to catch another steamboat that would take them on to their final destination on Raquette. Presumably baggage handlers would transport their duffel across the carry.
Here is a steamboat at dock. This may be the dock at the Marion River side of the carry although I am not sure.
A fortunate circumstance significantly aided the Durant’s scheme to develop their vast land holdings in the Adirondacks. William Henry Harrison Murray published his book Adventures in the Wildernessin 1879. Murray’s book was a sportsman’s guide to the Adirondacks. It told of a vast wilderness with fish and game just ready to be had with rod and gun. Just a short visit to this paradise would restore one’s health. He gave instructions on what gear to buy, where to stay, the best guide to hire, and even a railroad timetable.
Murray’s tale was centered on Raquette Lake so tourism exploded there. Durant had just finished the first of his Great Camps, Camp Pine Knot, so he was ready to entertain those interested in buying land and timber.
Part I of this post serves to give a background on the Marion River Carry. The next post will describe the almost unbelievable changes that came to the Marion River Carry as the eighteen hundreds came to a close.