I write as the last light of day is fading to the west and we are temporarily forced to stop in Lock E10 on the Erie Canal. Today has seemed so significant in its adventures, trials, and rewards, that I wanted to share it with you in “real time” (or as close as we can get).
That is, until two hours ago, when I put the Churchill into reverse… and nothing happened.
Our little flotilla got underway from Little Falls, New York, this morning at first light and traveled for ten hours—a much longer day for us than usual—because the weather forecast is for heavy rains and possible flooding beginning at midnight tonight. We wanted to get to the upper side of Lock E9, stop for the night, and get underway again at the crack of dawn Thursday to run to the top of the “Waterford Flight,” (five locks close together on the Waterford end of the Erie Canal). This would take us out of the Mohawk River and behind a Guard Gate that would protect us from any flooding. That was the plan…
We had made it all the way to Lock E10, one short of our goal, and were fortunately already in the lock, almost completely stopped, when this misfortune struck. We looked over the stern to make sure that nothing was lodged in the propeller (we’d been dodging floating debris all day). No problem there. We just had the transmission rebuilt this spring—could it be that something within the transmission case gave way? That would be catastrophic. Andy, Kerry, Erick, and I checked the transmission and found everything okay.
Finally, we found the culprit: a coupling in the drive shaft that is held by a soft brass “key” had worked loose and given way, allowing the shaft to slide aft and out of the drive position. Erick phoned our great friend, John Callaghan, who then phoned another great friend, Canal Corporation Director Carmella Montello, and within minutes, the Canal Corp was gearing up to provide us with extraordinary assistance. The lock tenders, who have always been helpful, are going out of their way to assist us now. Despite our unexpected stay, they have been extremely gracious and left the facilities at the lockhouse available to us.
Erick has been taken to a Canal Corp machine shop, with the broken parts in hand, to meet a machinist to fabricate a replacement key and two set screws. We are standing by in the lock, and, presuming he is successful, I soon will be diving in the lock and under the Churchill to push the shaft forward and back into position with its new parts installed. If that operation goes well, we will continue on our way in the morning—probably in the rain—to get into the Waterford Flight so that we can continue our journey, come heck or high water.
Thursday, September 16
We are docked along the wall on the waterfront of Rochester’s Historic District at Corn Hill Landing. This morning at 6 am, a crane arrived and the Lois McClure‘s crew, with Erick Tichonuk (our first mate) having the additional duty of directing the crane operator, began stepping the two masts.
I was especially interested and fascinated watching the whole procedure, which took roughly three hours of hard work. This included the ascent to the top of the foremast by Erick to attach the spring stay (the cable that holds the two masts together) and then his safe descent to the deck. We all were then able to breathe comfortably once again. After the crane left there was another couple hours or so of work to fasten lines down, bowsing the shrouds, and generally make sure everything was secure. By this time, the predicted rain had commenced, so the wet and cold-handed crew was more than happy to come below deck and enjoy hearty bowls of the delicious broccoli-cheddar soup that Kathleen Carney, our Commissary Officer, had prepared.
It is amazing how different passers by have reacted since the masts have been stepped. Before, they would glance at the Lois and then continue walking, thinking it an oddly shaped green and white boat no doubt. Now that the masts are up, people stop and and stare at the impressive majestic sight the Lois has become. Many of those who walk by also question any crewmember on deck about the schooner, how it got here, and what the story behind it is. Photographs have also become a lot more common with the masts rising above the buildings surrounding us.
For me, watching the change take place was a joy! As many times as I have been a volunteer crew member since the Lois was launched in 2004, I have never witnessed this transformation. It certainly made me stop and think of what it must have been like for my great grandfather-in-law, Captain Theodore Bartley, to step the mast aboard his 1862 class canal boat with no diesel powered crane to help – only his brother-in-law [John] Henry Chubb to help, with block and tackle to provide a bit extra power. It is mind boggling.
Saturday, September 18th
This morning at 7:30, the crew set the sails on the Lois McClure. There are no words to describe the awesome sight that emerged as the sun shone through and on the sails. It sent an appreciative shiver down my spine. Anyone who was watching stood in awe, then grabbed their camera and started snapping pictures. Sadly, we could not leave the sails up but had to lower and furl them before 10am, when the public visitation hours began.
Sailing canal boats, with the mast up and the sails up or down, were not an uncommon sight in the 1860s. However, today it is an experience not to be missed.
Barbara Bartley Barbara Bartley is retired from her various employs, including bank secretary, newspaper typist, deputy sheriff, and jail matron. She enjoys camping, hiking, and visits with her grandchildren, and is actively studying her family’s genealogy. She joins the crew of Lois McClure as a volunteer.
Well, we did get to go sailing on Seneca Lake on August 19th. When the tug C. L. Churchill pulled the schooner off the dock in Geneva at 9:15 in the morning, the lake was a mirror; not a breath of air stirred. Keeping the faith, we set full sail, the big mainsail , the foresail amidships, and the little jib, up forward, and cast off the tug.
Visitors often ask us about crew size. We explain that because canal schooners were family affairs, the crew was the family. “Well,” we add, “if there were no children, or the children were too young to work, they might hire one man to help out.” And then we say that we have a crew of up to a dozen, not so much to handle the McClure, Churchill, and Oocher (our outboard-powered, inflatable boat), but more to provide enough interpreters to translate our vessel of 1862 to people of 2010. But I have to say that our big crew makes setting sail relatively easy. Still, it’s a half hour of strenuous hauling on the halyards, rigged with slow-but-sure block-and-tackle, to get our sails set, with the main and fore gaffs peaked up at just the right angle.
On this day, our sailsetting efforts were rewarded by a breeze that could only be described as light and variable. We used all the wind there was to tack and reach back and forth for a few miles in the north end of the Lake. At times we had bare steerageway, moving just enough so that the rudder could make the schooner respond and turn. I think we may have gone at the breathtaking speed of four knots for one ten-minute period.
It is only human nature for sailors to wish for more wind when it’s light (and less when a gale is blowing). We were satisfied with our tiny breeze, however, because the feeling of the schooner moving quietly under sail at any speed is always delightful. And once again, we could marvel at the canal boat’s amazing maneuverability at slow speed. Few traditional schooners can match the Lois McClure’s ability to turn through the wind from one tack to the other in such conditions. The Seneca Lake pleasure boats that approached for photos carried folks who called over their great appreciation of the chance to see the McClure under sail.
We needed to be back on the dock by mid-afternoon to disembark crew traveling to Basin Harbor to conduct this year’s “Rabble In Arms” spectacular back at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. So of course, no sooner did we round up and shake the wind out of our sails to stop and take the tug alongside, than a fine breeze sprang up from the West, making a perfect reach up and down the lake. Aeolus, the wind god, was certainly being perverse. Never mind; we furled up and towed back to our Geneva dock.
And the citizens of Geneva swarmed on board for the next three days, August 20th through the 22nd. Well, they didn’t exactly swarm on the 22nd; it was more like swimming through that day’s deluge. In the three days, we counted 1,700 visitors!
August 23rd was a lay day. We had bowsed down the shrouds before sailing, tightening the wires that support the masts by pulling hard with a “come-along” (today’s version of the block-and-tackle) on each part of each lanyard in turn, the lanyards being the heavy lines led through the round, wooden deadeyes, the combination connecting the shrouds to the deck. In spite of the light breeze, the lanyards had stretched remarkably during our sail, so on our lay day, we bowsed them all down again, because we were to sail again on the 24th.
One of the reasons sailing is so interesting is that no two sails are alike. There is always a different breeze, in direction and strength and character. Well, almost always. For our second sail on Seneca Lake, my log recorded the breeze as “light and variable.” I’ve never known two days of sailing to be more alike. We got to enjoy the schooner under sail all over again.
August 25th found us back at Stivers Seneca Marine, where we struck the rig, stowing the masts, booms, gaffs, and sails back in their horizontal position atop the T-braces.
Late that afternoon, we towed through the Cayuga-Seneca Canal to Seneca Falls for a repeat visit. We had called at Seneca Falls in 2007, but you’d never have guessed it on August 27th by the great turnout we had this year.
On August 28th, we re-entered the Erie Canal and headed west. When we traversed this section of the Canal in 2007, we had found ourselves, early one evening when it was time to stop for the night, approaching a village called Clyde. There was a wall at which to moor, so we did. We could see a few houses, but the main part of the village was out of sight. We settled in for a quiet night. Or, were just about to, when at least two dozen excited citizens materialized and began exclaiming over our vessel and asking all sorts of questions about her. When these Clyde folks learned what we were about, it took them but little time to extract a promise from us that when next we came out the Erie Canal, we would schedule a stop in Clyde and open the Lois McClure to them. On August 29th, we fulfilled this promise. From this small village, 350 visitors came on board to see at firsthand the sort of life ancestors of many of them had led along the Canal 150 years ago.
We towed on west to Newark on August 30th. This was a town we’d had to bypass in 2007, so it was good to make it a port-of-call this year. Realizing what an asset the Canal can be to a community, Newark has installed a first-rate mooring wall, with fine facilities for the crews of boats. We were treated to a concert and a good crowd of visitors to the McClure, eager to learn her history lessons.
On September 1st, we were getting into Charlie Copeland territory. Charlie loves to ride his bicycle along the Erie towpath, and in 2007, he had followed us for many miles. When he arrived in Newark on this day, we shanghaied him, bike and all, and he “rode” with us to Palmyra, first agreeing that these miles would not count on his yearly total of miles pedaled. In 2007, the citizens of Palmyra had outdone themselves in providing all sorts of hospitality for our crew. I guess that’s just the way they are; in 2010 we couldn’t lift a finger to cook a meal and only had to hint at the need for a ride to get ice to find a vehicle honking, ready to go. Steve and Bonnie Hays, in particular, are indefatigable, and once again, we took Steve “off the streets of Palmyra” to volunteer in our crew.
The trip from Palmyra to Fairport on September 4th challenged us with a headwind out of the West that gusted to 30 knots at times. (Charlie Copeland was with us again; I’m sure he can ride faster into such a wind than we could carry him, but we did save him effort.) The challenge comes mostly when leaving a lock. Once we get good headway, we can steer into a strong breeze okay, but when we start slowly out of a lock, the wind can take charge of the bow and blow it off to whichever side it pleases. We have been reluctant when exiting a lock to have the Oocher tied onto the bow to push or pull it sideways for fear the inflatable, with its two crewmembers, could get squashed between the schooner’s bow and the lock wall. But after having the bow blow off and nearly ashore exiting Lock 29 before we could get the Oocher tied on to pull us safely away, we decided to risk keeping the Oocher right on the bow as we went out of the next lock. In Lock 30, this technique worked beautifully; the Oocher kept the schooner heading where we wanted her to head, by pulling the bow up against the wind as we went slowly ahead on the Churchill’s propeller.
The fine mooring in Fairport is right in the center of town. It’s a 100-foot walk to good ice cream. Mercy. We’d had a good visit here in 2007; this year was another, with nearly 1,000 people tramping up our gangway ramp!
It was on to Spencerport on September 6th. This was our first visit, and the citizens proved their enthusiasm by coming on board that evening and the next day to the tune of 1,100 souls.
On September 8th, on the trip from Spencerport to Middleport, we passed under eleven lift bridges. These handsome structures are original to the nearly-century-old New York State Barge Canal. The span of a lift bridge clears the water of the canal by only a couple of feet when the bridge is lowered. Vehicles cross the bridge right at street level. When we approach a lift bridge, the drill is to wait for the bridge to come in sight and then radio the operator on Channel 13, just to be sure he or she sees us coming. He or she always does and says, “Just keep on coming. I’ll have the bridge out of your way by the time you get here.” We thank him or her and press on toward the bridge. Our majestic five knots seems to get faster and faster the closer we get to the bridge. Just when we’re about to chicken out and slow down, we hear the bells ringing and the bridge lifts horizontally with time to spare.
These bridges are beautifully designed and engineered. At each end of the lifting span is a heavy counterweight in a tower, so that the electric motor that does the lifting need not be powerful. The bridge span has sidewalks on each side, and pedestrians can mount the towers on stairs and cross the canal with a nice, high view as long as the bridge remains up.
The schools of Middleport are right on the ball. They sent 240 fifth and sixth graders on board the Lois McClure on September 9th, which was the day after their classes started! Erick Tichonuk, the schooner’s First Mate, a man of many hats, is in charge of our school programs. He arranges student visits, coaches our crew of amateur teachers, and organizes a smooth flow of students among six teaching stations on board the Lois McClure. His shoreside introduction to each class, as it arrives, is a marvel. In less than ten minutes, he can transform an excited, noisy mob, jumping out of a yellow bus, into a quiet group of youngsters with an appreciation of just how, and how much, the 19th century canal transformed the region of the country that they call home. With chalk, Erick draws a big map on the pavement, and, before they know it, the students are caught up in an exciting story of canal building, water transport of raw materials and finished products, and the growth of cities and towns from New York to Buffalo. Then they troop on board the schooner to learn details of canal boat operation, specific cargoes carried, and life on board, and also about the historical research, particularly including nautical archaeology, that has made it possible to build a reproduction of a canal schooner of 1862. To Erick and the crew, an immensely satisfying byproduct of our teaching is to witness students bringing their parents and grandparents back on board the schooner and giving them a knowing tour. The Middleport kids came back in dozens. Thank you to the school department of Middleport.
On September 11th, we towed the Lois McClure on to Lockport, our westernmost port-of-call for this year’s Erie trip. We found that the town had just finished celebrating its annual Old Home Week. Well, the Lockporters had had so much fun that they just kept right on celebrating when we arrived. As the Churchill eased the schooner slowly into her berth on the canal wall, a wonderful band welcomed us with a ringing Sousa march. As Museum Director Art Cohn climbed from his pilothouse on the tug over the schooner’s rail, I said to him, “Art, we just have to get our own band!” There’s just something about a band playing as a vessel arrives to tie up. (And we have a good start: our able seaman Tom Larsen is a tuba player!)
Turning the schooner around in the narrow canal at Lockport to start our homeward- bound trip on September 13th presented something of a problem. We could move ahead to a basin at the foot of Lockport’s famous high double locks. Or, we could back down the canal a hundred yards or so to where it widened out a little. Choosing the latter, we went ahead gently against a bow line to swing the stern out into the canal, and backed away from the wall and got the schooner lined up in mid-stream. That seems a funny term to use in a canal, but here there was a knot or so of current caused by the overflow coming down past the high locks. We used the current as well as occasional backing by the tug to work slowly along to where the canal looked wide enough for us to turn around in. Then we used the Oocher to push the schooner’s bow around so that she was heading east. Well, the canal was just barely wide enough for this maneuver. As we turned crosswise, the schooner’s rudder missed one wall by a foot and the bow cleared the other wall by three feet. Mercy.
We were off for Rochester to attend (and be a centerpiece for) the 2010 World Canals Conference. On the way, we made overnight stops at Albion and Spencerport. On September 15th, we turned north from the Erie Canal and went down the twisting Genesee River to moor on the long wall at Corn Hill Landing in the Flour City: Rochester.
Yesterday, the 16th, we stepped the masts and set up the rigging. It’s true that there is a scant quarter mile of open water for us in the river between bridges, but we just couldn’t resist showing off the schooner for the assemblage of canal experts from around the world.
Lockport, “one of the creations of the Erie Canal” [from H.G. Spafford, A Gazetteer of the State of New York, 1824], is dominated in its history and the present time by the “Flight of Five” – a series of five locks which were designed and built to lift boats over the Niagara Escarpment. The construction of the “Flight” and the “Deep Cut” just west of the locks were two of the many wonders of engineering that made the original Erie Canal possible. During the canal’s first expansion, the original flight of five was replaced by two sets of enlarged, side-by-side masonry locks able to accommodate boats of Lois McClure’s size and larger. One set of these five combined locks is still preserved next to the two modern locks, E 34 and E35, which are in service today.
Approaching Lockport from the east is like stepping back in time. Historic buildings speak to the wealth and commerce that the early canal generated, lift bridges rise vertically to allow you to pass under and the New York State Canal Corporations operations center and dry dock reminds you that the system is still vibrant, alive and being maintained by a new generation of caretakers. We stopped at Upson Park just west of the Canal Corps facility where we were greeted by a band and speeches of welcome and appreciation. That evening and all the next day the music and visitors continued as the Lois McClure was presented as one of Lockport’s “Old Home Week” events.
The docking site at Upson Park was the perfect place to greet the public and also to explore Lockport’s canal and industrial history. The mountainside on the north-side of the canal was filled with archaeological remnants of the industrial buildings that once utilized the abundant power of falling water. Today, guided tours and even a boat ride into the inner workings of the facility offer a view at the many ways water was harnessed to create power. On top of Flight of Five is the Erie Canal Discovery Center, run by Douglas Farley (who was the organizer behind our visit to Lockport and did a fantastic job), a modern visitor’s center, museum shop and wonderful multi-media presentation about the origins of Lockport and the canal engineers and creative engineering that made it famous.
On my walk back to the schooner I took the path past the old “Flight of Five” and the new canal locks where I remembered that there was an old power station building which had been converted into a historical presentation. As I made my way through the collection of objects, photographs and canal memorabilia I was drawn to an object I had never seen before.It was a long pole with an iron strap wrapped around the blunt end and I was immediately excited. Having been a devoted reader and re-reader of Captain Theodore Bartley’s Journals, I have been struck by how often he indicates that he is poling his boat. He even describes making a pole, using it to travel from place to place within a harbor or up some creek that a tug can’t go. But Captain Bartley fails to provide any detailed information about what the pole looked like. He must have thought anybody interested enough to read his journal would certainly know what a pole was. I have enclosed a photo of the “pole” like object and would appreciate any thoughts or suggestions about whether this might be the elusive pole that all canaler’s used for short distance moving or something else.
This year’s voyage has been divided into ten parts. Volunteers have requested/been granted a specific slot on the voyage. It’s my job to make sure they know when to be at the main campus of LCMM, what they should pack, let them know how much space they will get for all the stuff they bring (including sleeping bags), and to get them directions as to where to meet with the schooner. In addition, I get requests for restocking the retail store and a shopping list of bulk items to go shopping for to keep the crew fed. There are also the requests from the crew of items they have forgotten, need replaced, or didn’t originally think they would need.
The actual vehicle used for the rotation has changed throughout the years. Space is definitely a consideration, and the Grand Journey in 2005 included the purchase of a full size van as a chase vehicle. However, after dealing with many breakdowns, the decision was made to rent a vehicle instead and Grand Canal Journey of 2007 saw a minivan as the volunteer chariot. This year, we are renting a small SUV from Enterprise Rental, and while the cargo capacity isn’t as massive as a full size van, it has done well hauling batches of volunteers and all of their gear back and forth from the schooner.
At least one day before the van leaves, I get everything together and go to the museum to pack it all all into the van. Chris McClain helps out by making sure the van is gassed up and ready for its trip across New York state. There’s an art to getting all the supplies packed into a small SUV, while still leaving room for 4 people and all of their gear that they bring for a week on the Lois. So far, there’s still been room for them to breathe on the trip out!
Elisa has been with the schooner from the beginning in 2001. She worked throughout the construction of Lois McClure in Burlington as lead interpreter and volunteer coordinator. She resides with her husband, who is also involved with the schooner as a volunteer, in Burlington, VT. She rejoins the Lois again this year as Volunteer Coordinator and Home Port Logistics Officer.
We are firmly situated at Middleport on the western section of the Erie Canal. We had 240 school children aboard yesterday and it was a particularly gratifying experience. It was only their second day of school but their principal felt it was such an important opportunity for the students and so they walked to the boat in their historic harbor in groups of 60 and our crew engaged them in groups of 10 at 3 stations on deck and 3 stations below deck. In the above deck midships area each student heard about research, primary documents, journals, letters, photographs and nautical archaeology; up forward, the anchor and the windlass introduced the concept of simple and complex machines; in the stern, the students got to handle the steering mechanism, see the rudder move and hear stories about the General Butler’s sinking and nautical archaeology. Down below, the fo’c’sle area showed the construction of the boat, the midships area led to a discussion about the many types of cargos carried and in the stern cabin stories of the family-operators were brought to life.
This was our first school program of the season and it was with some modest concern that the crew gathered to review the learning goals of each station and to coach each other with particular past storylines that seemed to work. We wondered out loud whether the students, with just one day of school behind them, would be unruly and wild. To Middleport’s, parents and schools great credit the students came prepared to learn. They were cooperative, attentive, raised their hands to ask questions and generally showed a great enthusiasm for the opportunity to experience the boat. When the last group finally left several hours later, we all felt worn out, hoarse of voice but very satisfied with the result. What happened next surprised us even more.
We were scheduled for public open hours from 3 until 7 but with the wind blowing and a cloudy, cool fall weekday we expected a very modest turnout in the afternoon. Then, shortly after school was out, we began to see kids from the morning program return and bring their parents, siblings and friends. They enthusiastically played the role of the tour guide and showed their friends and family through the boat demonstrating a great deal of knowledge about the history and archaeology of the boat and the period. By the end of the afternoon session we had hosted 300 more people aboard in this small community on a mid-week school day and all of us in the crew felt gratified by the experience.
Fairport was a wonderful stop on many levels; we had a great outpouring of folks visiting the boat, two ice cream shops in close proximity, and it was the first community we visited where the original alignment of the old and new Erie Canal was the same. The community literally developed on both sides of the historic canal. In exploring the community’s canal history, we learned that the modern Box Factory complex where we moored was situated on the site of the DeLand Chemical Company, destroyed by fire in the late nineteenth century. We also learned from our host, Scott Winner, that the Fairport Village Partnership had recently worked with the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor to erect a number of outdoor interpretive signs in the downtown. One of these signs was on the canal just across from where the Lois was secured to the dock and the Deland Company had been. A picture can be worth ten thousand words. One of the things we say to our visitors in each community is “…if you went back to the 1860s, canal boats like the Lois McClure would be tied up at these walls.”
The photograph from the Fairport interpretive panel illustrates our observation and helps connect the Lois McClure to the town’s history. Here we see an Erie Canal boat, so designated because it has a cabin at both ends, a rear cabin for the family that operates the boat, and a forward cabin for the horses or mules that tow the boat on the canal. A careful look at the photograph also reveals a “Derrick,” invented by Mr. J. Y. Parce of Fairport, patented (#24912) in 1859, and eventually built for the DeLand Company. We have not yet determined whether this heavily laden canal boat is loading or unloading.
We then traveled west to Spencerport, where we’ve had an incredible reception from over 1000 enthusiastic visitors. We arrived on Monday afternoon and were greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd, who formed lines waiting to get on board. I have finally experienced what it feels like to be a “rock star for history.” We saw many kids, who despite being just a day away from starting school, had an interest in history that was truly gratifying. In the park and gazebo next to the boat, music and dancers, artists, and food vendors made it feel like a festival. Mayor Joyce Lobene made us feel very welcome indeed. One of the visitors in Spencerport on Tuesday was Town Historian, Carol Coburn, and I enquired if she had any images of canal boats here during the towpath era. Before the day was out, Carol had made copies of a number of wonderful photographs, including the photo below. It is another great example of canal boats like the Lois McClure in a community we are visiting today. It appears to be a posed photograph, with canal families and crews on deck for the camera. The boats appear to be without cargo and it looks like the canal is closed for some reason, perhaps a break in the towpath ahead. Carol is doing some research to help us better understand the story.
Today it is on to Middleport…37 miles…no locks. But.. 11 lift bridges. We have dubbed this day, “the day of the lift bridge.”
When a community is so kind as to provide a meal for the crew of the Lois McClure, no one is happier than I, the “Commissary Officer.” The folks in Palmyra invited us to dinner at the Alling Coverlet Museum on the night we arrived in town, and although we left satisfied—no, stuffed—there was so much food left over from the heaping potluck they provided that we were invited back to finish up the leftovers the following night. I could have jumped for joy!
Steve and Bonnie Hays and their compatriots from Historic Palmyra, Irene Unterborn of the Liberty House B&B, and a host of scary-looking, black-shirted buccaneers from the town’s annual Palmyra Pirate Weekend set out a buffet of staggering proportions: baked ham (with Bonnie Hays’ patented raisin sauce); just-off-the-vine-and-stalk tomatoes and corn from Mayor Vicky Daly’s cousin’s farm; a colorful, crunchy, and delicious Italian veggie salad; scalloped potatoes AND homemade potato salad; cinnamon-carrot jello salad—sounds funny, tasted great; and, of course, dessert: chocolate-chocolate cake and Palmyra’s patented Pirate Cupcakes.
There were, of course, speeches after the meal, but I can’t say anything about those because I snuck off to show volunteer Sally Larsen the exhibits in the Alling Museum—really beautiful, even striking, examples of hand-woven wool and cotton coverlets. After dinner, while the rest of the crew went “home” to the schooner, Sally and I went on a three-hour ghost hunt courtesy of Historic Palmyra. We trooped through the dark Phelps Store, spooky enough even in daytime, and sought to make contact with its resident spirits. Did we succeed? I’ll never tell.
When I look back at our stay in Palmyra, I realize that I didn’t have to prepare a single meal! Talk about happy! A wonderful citizen of Palmyra met us on our arrival, and as we were tying up the schooner, she handed two huge trays of baked ziti over the lifelines. On our “public” day, the Muddy Waters café treated the crew to breakfast; Les Thomas of the Candy Corner brought his hot dog-hamburger-root-beer-float wagon down to the dock and provided tasty treats to all who came to visit; and, of course, at the end of the day, we headed back to the Alling Coverlet Museum and heaps of delicious leftovers.
So, thank you Palmyra, on behalf of all the crew, but also from the bottom of MY heart.
The trip from Newark to Palmyra was serene. We left the dock shortly after 9:30, and the day was already shaping up to be a real scorcher. The trip was smooth – no locks to go through – so we were able to enjoy the flocks of mallards and schools of flashing silver fish. The great blue herons notice the fish too – they were plentiful in this section of the canal.
Lulled by the relaxed tempo and interesting wildlife, I was surprised when Palmyra appeared quite suddenly on the port side. Roger skillfully threaded the Lois through the shallow and narrow entrance to the Port of Palmyra and gently guided her to the dock.
After all was secured, Tom and I explored the town, passing many beautiful buildings dating back to the early 1800’s. An open door caught our eye, and we stepped inside Experience Press. We were greeted by Mark Burris, who welcomed us and explained the workings of the print shop.
There were two huge hand operated presses, both typical of presses made in the 19th century. One was made in Palmyra; the town used to manufacture printing presses which were shipped via canal boat to various parts of the country.
The print shop is unusual because all of the type is hand-set. This is an exacting and time-consuming process in which each letter is picked out individually. The actual printing is an arduous multi-step process, involving inking, pressing what is called a proof to check for errors, and then moving everything to a different press, re-inking, and pressing it out. Once all the pages are pressed, they are sewn together and then trimmed.
The books printed here are bound in the shop as well, using period correct vegetable tanned leather, with gold leaf detailing. The entire place was a step back in time – particularly interesting because Experience Press is a working print shop, using techniques and machining that could have been in use at the time the canal was booming, to create replica first edition books that were printed around the same time.
A graduate of Weslyan University, Sal has been a member of the museum for many years. This is her first time as a volunteer aboard the Lois, and she has fulfilled a lifelong dream of helping crew on a tugboat.
While in Geneva I had an opportunity to talk with a number of people about the community’s maritime heritage and Charles Bauder, a Geneva historian gave me a wonderful gift of the out-of-print book, Geneva’s Changing Waterfront 1778-1989, by Kathryn Grover. Published by the Geneva Historical Society in 1989 to support an exhibition by the same name, I examined this well illustrated gift and felt that in this one publication I had been provided a window into Geneva’s maritime past.
What I was most struck with as I explored the illustrations of early sailboats, steamboats, canal boats, railroads and breakwaters that led to the ongoing recreational transition of the Geneva waterfront was how similar it was to the images and evolution of our Burlington waterfront story.
One of our overarching themes for these Lois McClure journeys is to reflect the amount of common history we share with communities all along the region’s interconnected waterways. In Geneva’s Changing Waterfront the presentation in this wonderful book illustrates this point so well. While of course there are many unique features to the history of Geneva and Burlington’s particular history, each lake-port has much in common with the other. As I pondered the similarities and differences between each communities rise from a sleepy harbor to bustling 19th century commercial center and the influence of canals, railroads and maritime technology, a question about another point of connection could not be avoided.
If Burlington and Lake Champlain contains a collection of intact wooden shipwrecks on its cold, deep (430-foot) freshwater bottom, shouldn’t Seneca Lake? Seneca is about 1/6th the size of Champlain, but in its cold, fresh, deep (600+feet) waters, the model suggests, should also contain a collection of shipwrecks that reflect on Seneca Lake and Geneva’s maritime past.
What about Cayuga Lake and the other bodies of water that make up the Finger Lakes? If our experience holds true then all these waterways should contain a representative sample of the large and small watercraft that once plied their waters. It’s an exciting prospect for the Finger Lakes, important for the study and preservation of the collection and I am excited about learning more.