History Comes Alive in Essex

by Tom Larsen
August 24, 2011

We left Plattsburgh heading into a strong south wind, slowing our progress considerably.  Traveling with the Lois has given me a greater appreciation for the patience and pace of the 1800s.  Thankfully, we are able to stick to our schedule with the help of the C.L. Churchill.  Essex appeared after a few hours of motoring into the breeze, and blasting through the short chop.  The blunt bow of Lois makes for some impressive spray when a wave hits it just right.

As we pulled into the Essex Shipyard, I was reminded that this is where the General Butler was built.  Bringing the Lois, which is largely a recreation of the Butler, back to Essex has the sense of closing the circle.

A look at the docks of Essex NY, in the late 1800s
A look at the docks of Essex NY, in the late 1800s

In the 1800s, Essex was a massive shipping port.  Stone from the local quarries was the largest export, but there were warehouses lining the waterfront holding many varieties of cargo for canal boats to bring all over the Champlain waterways.

Today, Essex still shows the results of this era of shipping.  Many houses are built with stone from the local quarries, and signs of the shipping companies are still visible throughout the community.

During our visit, despite the threatening weather, we were still visited by many enthusiastic Essex residents who were excited about revisiting the past history of the lake.  Being able to use the port of Essex as an interpretive tool was a wonderful way to connect with people.  The weather built through our visit, and on the afternoon of the first day, we had to move the C.L. Churchill to a different slip, as she started to impersonate a porpoise.


The evening before we left, LCMM Board Chairperson Darcy Hale invited the crew over to her house for dinner.  Darcy lives in Westport, and is currently in the process of organizing the records of a quarry from the 1800s that she and her husband Bruce recently purchased, right across the road from their house.  Over a dinner of perfectly cooked steaks (courtesy of her son Andrew), Darcy shared the latest developments from that as well as chatted with us about our plans for the upcoming hurricane.  It was a nice relaxing evening, capped with delicious German chocolate cake.  Thank you Darcy for a great meal, and thank you Essex for a great visit!

Tom Larsen

Ice Cream Adventures

by Isaac Parker
August 21, 2011

Pete and Melissa
Pete and Melissa, our wonderful chauffeurs

Shortly after arriving at Plattsburgh, a good portion of the crew left to go back to LCMM for the 18th Century Crafts and Trades event.  The rest of us prepared the boat for its weekend open to the public.  After dinner, Ship, Tom and I decided to go find the local place for ice cream.  As we were walking across the parking lot, we stopped to ask a couple where the nearest ice cream parlor was.  They told us that the one most likely to satisfy our cravings was not within walking distance.  However, they quickly offered to clean out their back seat and give us a ride.  The three of us piled into the back seat and found out that our chauffeurs, Pete and Melissa, were avid museum goers and history enthusiasts.  They took us on a nice route, giving us a tour of the city on the way.  Arriving at the ice cream parlor, we found a huge variety of flavors and types, including a flavor titled “Jamaican Reindeer.”  While none of us were brave enough to try that, we still had quite the pick.  After we received our orders of ice cream, Pete and Melissa took us back to the boat.

Ship giving Pete and Melissa a tour
Ship giving Pete and Melissa a tour after we all returned from ice cream

As a thank you for their kindness, we gave them a behind the scenes tour, showing them what life aboard is like for us while on tour.  They were extremely interested, and even came back during our open hours on the weekend.  Thank you so much, Pete and Melissa, for your kindness in helping the crew get their ice cream fix.

Isaac Parker
A sophomore at Mount Abraham Union High School, Isaac returns for his second year of volunteering aboard the Lois McClure.

Get Lost, Asian Clams!

By Sarah L. Tichonuk

Last week, divers from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum again made the trek to beautiful Lake George to assist the FUND for Lake George in their Asian Clam eradication project with funding from the Lake Champlain Basin Program. Our job this time is to recover the rebar and sandbags and mats that have been smothering the little clams for the past couple months.

It’s dirty work.

Asian Clam Mat Retreival
LCMM divers (foreground) pull rebar and mats for loading onto the work boat. Photo by LCMM.

First, we divers clear an area of rebar, which has been holding down the large PVC mats to the bottom, and hand these pieces up to a flat-surfaced work boat. Then we get under a corner of the mat and pull it up, working to break the suction to the sandy/silty bottom. We hand this corner up to the boat where the surface folks proceed to pull the 50-foot-long mat onto the platform. And since it’s been sitting on the bottom of the lake for awhile, it’s a bit dirty. Okay, it’s dripping muddy mucky filthy. You really have to bear-hug the mat out of the water because your fingers slip on the slime.  Hope you weren’t planning to wear that shirt out tonight…

Moving rebar onto the work boat. Photo by FUND for Lake George.

All of this material gets dropped off on shore and sorted into piles. The rebar gets moved to the FUND’s off-site facility. The mats are dragged out, fully extended, and folded neatly and placed in a trailer.  We attempt to take turns, though the surface folks have the worst job.

Okay, let’s look at the numbers. Each mat is a 20mm-thick sheet of PVC (like a pool liner) 50 feet long and 7 feet wide, weighing around 45 pounds. Each mat is held down by 30 5-foot pieces of No. 4 or No. 5 rebar, and sometimes a few sandbags. Each piece of rebar weighs approximately 5 pounds. Each sandbag is around 40 pounds. So to recover each mat, we lift 275 pounds of material at least three times. When we arrived, there were 725 mats at the bottom of Lake George. Good grief.

Pulling a mat out of the water
Pulling a mat out of the water onto the barge. Photo by FUND for Lake George.

And there’s more bad news. This summer, three other infestations of Asian clams were discovered: in Treasure Cove, Boon Bay, and Norowal Marina in Bolton Landing, as far as 9 miles away from the original colony. As more information is gathered – including surveying the lake for additional infestations – planning is underway for treatment options.

We’ll be returning next week to continue this important work.

Want to volunteer? Contact the FUND for Lake George: 518-668-9700, info@fundforlakegeorge.org.

Among the many organizations supporting the FUND for Lake George, we met folks from the Lake Champlain Basin Program, the Darrin Freshwater Institute, Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, and Bateaux Below.

A Visit to Plattsburgh

by Sal Larsen
August 20, 2011

Docked at Plattsburgh
Docked at Plattsburgh

We arrived in Plattsburgh on Thursday, August 18th, and tied up on the North side of town at the Wilcox Dock.  It is a fine landing, sandy with big shade trees and stretches of marshland coming all the way down to the shore.  A bit further south down the lake is a busy marina, and beyond that is the historic section of Plattsburgh. There are some gorgeous buildings throughout the city, and many interesting shops. We were particularly pleased to find a bike shop which was able to provide Ship, our acting mate, with a new tire for his bike.

I was sent out to find fresh vegetables, and was delighted to discover the farmer’s market in what appeared to be the old railway station. There was an abundance of beautiful local produce, as well as many local crafts. The vendors were great about answering my questions, and the organic lettuce and tomatoes have been wonderful additions to our meals.

Wilcox dock proved to be an active place, used by a wide variety of folks – we saw plenty of visitors in RV’s come for the day, folks on personal watercraft as well as in sailboats, power boats, and rowboats – it is always nice to watch a kid being taught how to fish. There were quite a few successful fishermen right on shore as well, and the ducks woke us at “the quack of dawn”.

Foxes on the shore
Foxes playing on the shore near Wilcox dock

I was surprised and thrilled to see a pair of foxes cavorting on the shoreline, not far from where we were tied up. They leapt and frolicked, dashing in and out of the reeds, as if they were putting on a show especially for us.

This, I believe, is the best part of touring with the boat.  The interplay of nature and people really underscores what a priceless treasure this lake we share is. Standing on the deck of the schooner, the workhorse of shipping in days gone by, and seeing all the resources the lake provides today, I am grateful to be a part of this bonding of past and future. The journey this year is titled “Farm, Forest and Fishery Tour,” and all of those elements are joined together here in Plattsburgh. The organic farms and managed forests, the fish restocking and management programs – these are some of the elements that will help preserve the lake for those kids that are enjoying Plattsburgh’s waterfront today – and for their children as well.

Sal Larsen
A graduate of Weslyan University, Sal has been a member of the museum for many years.  This is her second year as a volunteer aboard the Lois.

Flood Update

The chronological timeline of blog posts is being interrupted to bring you this current update on the situation of the Lois McClure and her future plans…

We had planned to visit Fort Edward, NY as part of our Farm, Forest and Fisheries tour; it’s a familiar place with great history and a community in which we have many friends. After riding out Hurricane Irene on the Otter Creek in Vergennes and learning of the devastation in the Mohawk Valley and Upper Hudson, we were even more motivated than ever to visit this part of the waterway and try to provide a message of hope.

Headed to the canal
John Tichonuk stands bow watch, as the Lois heads to the canal system

On our way south we had great visits to Shoreham, VT, and Whitehall, NY, and entered the canal knowing there were storm clouds brewing to the south. Before we had even left a rainy Whitehall we were told that the upper Hudson was back in flood and had already forced a closing of the canal below Fort Edward. However, we were hopeful that with a little luck we would be able to transit south to Waterford by Friday. Waterford had been hard hit in the first flood and was in a state of recovery and the Waterford Farmers Market was planning to reconstitute itself on Sunday and we planned to be there. If that worked and with good weather predicted to be coming, we would continue with visits to Crescent, NY on the Mohawk and Troy’s incredible famers market. From there we would turn north toward home while hosting school programs along the Champlain Canal and Lake Champlain. These best-laid plans were not to be.

It has rained for three days and nights here and the steady rain has put the already stressed system over the top. Places in the Mohawk Valley and Upper Hudson that had been flooded by Irene have now been flooded again. The severity of this prolonged weather event is affecting so many people and infrastructure that in consultation with our friends at the NY Canal Corporation, we have accepted that leaving the Champlain Canal is not possible. Our inconvenience pales to the suffering and losses being experienced by the residents along these waterways that have overflown their banks and exceeded flood stage. Our hearts go out to these communities in New York and Vermont.

Lock 8As we wait just below Lock C8, we have already begun rescheduling the final month of the travels to maximize our presence on the Champlain Canal and Lake Champlain. In the midst of this setback we have a tremendous bright spot to report: our friends on the Canal Corps’ historic Tugboat Urger, also scheduled for an fall educational mission, will join us for the final month of school and community stops. We look forward to visiting communities all along the waterway and sharing the story of Farm, Forest and Fishery along with the history and archaeology that makes our region so special. We also look forward to a return to Waterford, the Mohawk and Hudson River in 2012 and wish these communities every good fortune in their efforts to repair and rebuild.

Art Cohn

It Doesn’t Get Better Than This

by Erick Tichonuk
August 16, 2011

A view of the Lois McClure from a farmstand at the Historic Market
A view of the Lois McClure from a farmstand at the Historic Market

We’ve always had a fantastic reception in St. Albans Bay.  Several of the crew, including myself, have roots in Franklin County so it’s like going home.  This was our fourth visit and I sometimes wonder if communities grow tired of seeing the schooner but as in the past, the community welcomed us with open arms. This year what made it extra special was how they embraced this year’s theme “Farm, Forest and Fishery Tour: Sailing for a Healthy Land and Lake.

Regional partners including the Franklin County Industrial Development Corporation, Workforce Investment Board, Northwest Regional Planning Commission, and the Franklin County Regional Chamber of Commerce teamed up with Denise Smith of Soup to Nuts Logistics to organize an incredible event. They got tremendous support from area sponsors and fantastic participation from regional vendors.

Art Cohn with the first goats aboard the Lois McClure
Art Cohn poses with the first goats aboard the Lois McClure and their caretakers

The essence of “Historic Market Day on the Dock of the Bay” fully embodied everything we had hoped would occur around this tour.  They invited local farmers, food producers, artisans, craftspeople, water quality, and fisheries groups.  There was a pony, calf, and even some baby goats.  I’m pleased to announce that these were the first two goats to have ever boarded the Lois McClure!

The Lois McClure in the background of the Historic Market
The Lois McClure in the background of the Historic Market

The dock was lined with vendors’ tents, and even before the market officially opened it was crowded with people.  In just 3 hours we welcomed aboard over 675 visitors.  It was absolute poetry to those of us who put these plans in motion.  The Historic Market Day exceeded our every expectation, and we believe those of the planners too.  Before the vendors were even packed up talk was flowing about how great the event was and when they’ll do it again.”

Crowds at the dock during the Historic Market
Crowds at the dock during the Historic Market

I want to share one excerpt from a larger thank you we received from Denise Smith regarding the event.  She certainly makes us feel validated in what we do.

Our deepest gratitude goes to the Lois McClure Schooner Crew and Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Staff for coming to our Bay and for sharing this wonderful treasure of historic significance to our region with the people of St. Albans and all of the communities along the Lake.  The work that you do is of great importance and ties us all together thru the interwoven history of our Lake and of our shared use of land, waterways and forests.  Without the telling of this story and of the historic interpretation of your “Floating Museum”, we would not understand the cultural, economic and sociological impact Lake Champlain has and continues to have on our Region and in our community.

Thank you Denise, the regional partners, sponsors, and vendors for coming together to make the perfect visit. It was pure magic, perfect synergy, and a great Farm, Forest and Fishery’s event in a community that made us feel like we were coming home.

Erick Tichonuk

A Visit to Shelburne Shipyard

by Art Cohn
August 6, 2011

We receive so much support from the community that we look for opportunities to acknowledge that assistance. Recently, while traveling the lake at the start of our Farm, Forest and Fishery Tour; Sailing for a Healthy Land and Lake, we had an opportunity to visit the Shelburne Shipyard  and thank a marine sponsor that has helped make this outreach program possible.

An 1836 map of Burlington
An 1836 map of Burlington (click to enlarge)

The Shelburne Shipyard has great history. In 1797 the property was acquired by Nathan White and was actively used for shipbuilding. Nathan’s sons, Andrew, Robert and Lavator, were all involved in the emerging maritime community of boat builders and operators and after their father’s death in 1826 they acquired the property then known as “White’s Bay”. Some of you might recall that more than a decade ago, LCMM acquired and restored the “Captain White Place”, a historic Burlington home on King Street built by the brothers in the first decade of the 19thcentury.

The Captain White Place as the Chickenbone Diner
The Captain White Place as the Chickenbone Diner

Lavator and Robert bought out Andrew’s interest in the Shipyard and remained on Shelburne Point for the rest of their lives. Both were actively engaged in building and operating vessels on Lake Champlain and it was the two brothers who sold a portion of their land to what became the Champlain Transportation Company. For the next five-decades, Lavator White was the master shipwright for the steamboat company and he superintended the construction and repair of many vessels. The last steamboat built under his supervision was the Vermont II, perhaps the finest and most elegant vessel of its kind ever to operate on Lake Champlain.

The Vermont II
The Vermont II

By the early 20th century, the lake was in the midst of a transportation revolution with the palatial steamboats already impacted by railroads now giving way to the internal combustion engine. The steamboat company and the Shelburne Shipyard fell on hard times. In 1937, Horace Corbin of South Hero bought the steamboat company’s assets which included the Shelburne Shipyard and although he had high hopes,  Mr. Corbin almost immediately found himself in financial difficulty.

The Chateaguay
The Chateaugay (click to enlarge)

As fate would have it, a fire on an excursion boat on Lake Winnipesaukee would enable him to sell the steamer Chateaugay to as a replacement vessel.

The Chateaugay stripped down
The Chateaugay stripped down (click to enlarge)

The hull of the Chateaugay was cut into 20-sections and shipped overland by train and reassembled on the shore of the New Hampshire lake.

The Chateaugay as a ferry
The Chateaugay as a ferry (click to enlarge)

Today the ancient hull of the old Lake Champlain steamboat (1888) it still plies the waters as the Mount Washington II. While the sale of the vessel helped the new owner, Mr. Corbin was about to face a new obstacle, World War II.

At the outbreak of the war, Horace Corbin found himself in a classic “Catch 22”; the Shelburne Shipyard was the only facility on Lake Champlain qualified to bid on military contracts but because of its financial situation was prohibited. Corbin sought to get around the prohibition by leasing the Shipyard to the Donavan Construction Co. from Minnesota, which wanted to build wooden subchasers for the war effort.

SC 1029 & 1030
SC 1029 & 1030 being launched (click to enlarge)

The 110-foot wooden warships were the smallest commissioned ships in the Navy and in the summer of 1942 the Donavan Co., under the supervision of Jerry Aske, Sr., launched SC1029 and SC1030, the first two military vessels into the waters of Lake Champlain since the War of 1812. I have been very fortunate to have had the generous assistance Jerry Aske Jr. which has allowed me to research much of the career of SC1029, but that is a story for another day.

After the war, Jerry Aske Sr. and his brother Wendell purchased the shipyard from Horace Corbin and they in turn, sold it some 22-years later to Horace Ransom and Robert Montgomery. The Aske’s retained property on the south side of the harbor and LCT has retained the Crandall Marine Railway, built in 1929 to haul the big steamers in and out of the water. In 1971, Steele and Terry Griswold purchased the Shelburne Shipyard and today Mary Griswold operates the historic shipyard with a dedicated and experienced staff.

C. L. Churchill during its tenure at Shelburned Shipyard
C. L. Churchill during its tenure at Shelburned Shipyard (click to enlarge)

In 2005, we were in desperate need of an efficient towboat and the Griswold’s loaned the tugboat C.L. Churchill to the museum for the Lois McClure’s Inaugural Tour. After that first season, the Griswold’s, hearing how well the tugboat suited the new outreach operations needs, donated this wonderful workboat to the program. Beyond donating the tugboat, the Griswold’s also donated the annual launching, retrieval and storage for the tugboat into the future. I have often written about how well the Churchill is suited for this operation and how our respect for the C.L. Churchill continues to grow. I have communicated to the Griswold family our gratitude for this “gift that keeps on giving” therefore when we learned that the Shipyards annual barbeque was scheduled for a time when we would be in the area, we happily offered to bring the Lois McClure and her tugboat to visit the Shipyard.  For the Lois it was her first time at the Shipyard being open to the public, but for the Churchill it was a homecoming as so many of the visitors and Shipyard crew had such personal and fond memories of the little tug. The visit was fantastic and satisfying and we arrived in time to host several hundred Shipyard folks aboard the vessel and in a small way say thank you to the Griswold family for their generosity, confidence and encouragement. It was a truly glorious evening.

Art Cohn

Vermont Needs Your Help After Irene

By Adam Kane, Archaeological Director

Damage in Vermont - top Northfield Falls Covered Bridge; bottom Damage in Bethel
Damage in Vermont from Irene - (top) Northfield Falls Covered Bridge; (bottom) Damage in Bethel. These photos and others are on "Vermont Flooding 2011" Facebook page.

Want a chance to do the most rewarding work of your life?  Don’t hesitate; the time is now in Vermont.

I spent Thursday helping folks in Richmond, Vermont muck-out, throw-out, and clean-up from flood damage.  It was some of the dirtiest, hardest, most humbling and gratifying work I’ve ever done. 

The house I worked at, a quintessential 1840s brick Federal (that’s the historian in me – can’t turn that off), was flooded to about 2 feet in the first floor.  They pumped 30,000 gallons of water out of the basement.  On scene were the owner, her daughters and sister, two family friends, two staff from Waitsfield/Champlain Valley Telecom and two folks who just showed up.  Being among the latter, I was welcomed with opened arms.  The first floor was a mass of ruined furniture, paperwork, appliances and family heirlooms.   The drill was not complicated: take it all out with the owner giving instructions to keep or toss.  With everything out, we gutted – trying to get every sodden piece of the house out before the mold takes over.  Today, my muscles ache, but no complaints here – I went home my cozy house, while that family is still working hard to put the pieces of their lives back together. 

This is where you come in.  Go help.  Figure out where you are needed, if it’s safe to go, and go help.  If you can’t shovel muck, donate to one of the many agencies helping with the recovery.

Find out where you are wanted by:

  1. Go to http://802rescue.blogspot.com/  There is a spreadsheet that has an updated list of the towns that are ready for volunteers and specific links to town recovery websites.
  2. Also check here for opportunities: http://vtresponse.wordpress.com/
  3. Go to the Town Clerk website where you are interested in volunteering – many towns are coordinating volunteer efforts through the town clerk.
  4. Many towns have specific recovery websites or facebook pages.  Google them to figure out where you’re needed.

Hopefully, I’ll see you out there this weekend.

Adam Kane
Archaeological Director