The Guideboat/Steamboat Mystery

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.

Strella 001
Here I am varnishing steam launch Osprey.

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.

Osprey with GB
Steamboat Ospreyoff her home base, Osprey Island.

Here she is at the Adirondack Museum.

The Ospreyat the Adirondack Museum, bow view.
Stern view of steamboat Ospreynow at 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:

Adirondack with GB
The steamboat Adirondackwith a guideboat along side.
Killoqah with GB
Steamboat Killoquahwith guideboat tied to her stern.
Killoqah with guide boat
Another views of Killoquahwith a guideboat close by.
steamers at Prospect House
Two steamers at the Prospect House dock on Blue Mountain Lake. The furthest steamboat has a guideboat on its roof. Close examination shows another guideboat in the distance on the left hand side of the photo.
Steamboat at landing. The guideboat on the left is square-ended. Guideboats were made doubled-ended after about 1870.

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.

the way it looks-3
Stoddard photo “the way it looks from the stern”.

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.

Paul Smith's
Hotel guides at Paul Smith’s hotel.

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!



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