Fort Plain was when I first discovered the joy of sleeping on deck, and I continued my sleeping habits in Ilion. The plus side of staying on deck is that it is actually cool enough to sleep in a sleeping bag, while the downside comes in the form of mosquitoes and trains. In the end, I got used to watching the dome of light appear across the canal from Ilion Marina and RV Park in the night just before the train lights blinked by between the trees, and then the roar of it going on after the light had vanished into the trees again.
Weather and mosquitoes were a lot tougher to get used to. The attempt to get mosquito-less wireless access led to some rather interesting photos.
In the morning, as I was taking advantage of the laundry service offered by the marina, I looked out and saw that our run of great weather had seemingly come to a very wet end – it was pouring! Thankfully it cleared up for our public hours, but at about 1 in the morning, it began to rain again, necessitating a rather quick move to the hold to stay dry. Thankfully the weather cleared off, and I’ve got high hopes for being back on deck tonight!
Blake Grindon Blake is a conservation lab intern at LCMM. She will be a senior at Bard College this fall, where she is studying Colonial American history.
We pulled into Ilion and were greeted with open arms by the Ilion Marina and RV Park. We quickly were tied up and had our display panels out and water tanks being filled in record time. When the question of dinner was raised, we decided to head to the Joe’s Dockside Cafe and were greeted with a buffet of spaghetti and meatballs made especially for us by the owners. Once we had eaten our fill, our waitress, Lill, came out and told us about the dessert menu – deep fried Oreos and Twinkies.
There was some quick consulting, and Kent and I decided to split an order of the Oreos. I did a double take when they came out and were set on the table, dripping with grease. However, after seeing Kent take a bit and not be any worse for wear, I dove in and was treated to a surprise! While rather greasy, the sugar and oil was a pretty tasty combination. Upon seeing us demolishing the cookies, Art decided to spring for one of the deep fried Twinkies and was soon singing its praise as well (he got a few others to try a piece of it). It was a memorable experience.
When we stopped at the Schenctady Yacht Club, John Jermano (director of the New York State Canal Corporation from 1984-1995) gave us information and descriptions about how the canal was originally built, where it ran, and showed us photos of how it was laid out. He mentioned that he had another photo in his collection of a view of the canal from Rexford, looking east. Showing true generosity, he went back through his collection, found the photo, scanned it and emailed it to us!
Looking at the photo, it’s a clear view of how the canal paralleled the river, towpath dividing them. Remnants of this are still visible, as tiny islands along side the Barge Canal, which now runs in the river.
Thank you again John, for your generosity and wealth of knowledge!
We overnighted in Amsterdam on our way to Ilion, right above lock 11. Right next to the lock was a limestone house with two large wings. The house looked directly onto the canal, though it did seem to have two fronts. Intrigued by this, once we had docked I headed over to find out more. There were a few panels on the canal side of the house, including one with a Benjamin West painting (I’ve always been a big fan of his, once convincing my parents to take me to see a painting of his that was in Ottawa). The painting was of Guy Johnson, the nephew of Sir William Johnson. William Johnson, who was Superintendent of Indian Affairs on the New York Frontier in the mid 18th century, was a frontier character. He structured his household retinue to resemble a European court and was attended by Natives and Europeans alike. My studies in school have led me to learn more about the Johnson family, so I was pretty excited to see the house that they lived in. After expounding to Tom about the Johnsons, he and I went in to Amsterdam on a quest to find a post office. In this world of instant messaging, email, and constant communication, people are still thrilled to receive a handwritten postcard.
Though the days of New York’s frontier are gone, Amsterdam is a visual collection of the layers of immigration. The steep streets leading up from the canal are lined with spectacular houses, striking examples of the prosperity the canal once brought to this area. Churches were also plentiful, their architecture augmenting that of the 19th century buildings still standing.
In the distance we were willing to walk, the post office never made an appearance. We returned to the Lois with our pockets still full of unsent mail, ready to go on another quest in a different town to find a post office.
Blake is a conservation lab intern at LCMM. She will be a senior at Bard College this fall, where she is studying Colonial American history.
As I bent down to peer into the tidy cabin of the vintage wooden cruiser, with the long and graceful arched cabin top, I heard a voice from up on the bank of the canal – “I’ll be right down.”
It was Sunday, August 1st, and my third day aboard the Lois, having joined the crew at Waterford (the eastern terminus of the canal). We had come around the bend in the Mohawk River at Rexford and eased in very gently to the dock at the Schenectady Yacht Club. Our stay was courtesy of our very generous host, John Jermano, former director of the New York State Canal Corporation from 1984-1995. After we docked, I got off and started wandering down the long line of boats, when I spotted the wooden classic among the many modern fiberglass vessels.
I was about to make the acquaintance of the owner of the old boat Clarede, Mr. Clark Farnsworth. He arrived at the boat, and we soon settled into the cozy cockpit area where he began to tell his story and that of the boat. Clark is eighty nine and the boat is ninety eight. Both seem to be holding up well, even though in the not too distant past, during maintenance on the bottom, Clark fell and broke his neck. He has not let that slow him down, but is now much more willing to let others give him a hand during maintenance.
Clark was a Chief Petty Officer aboard an aircraft carrier beginning the year after World War II ended. He was an aviation metalsmith, who after leaving the service six years later, worked for General Electric as a ship fitter. In the 1980s, he was instrumental in forming and leading an alumni group of those had served aboard the carrier he did.
In answer to my obvious interest in the boat, he told me it had been built in 1912 by the Albany Boat Company, in Albany, New York. He and his wife Edith had purchased it from it’s fifth owner in 1957. That year when they were cruising the canal near Waterford, they encountered a guard gate in the down position. After half an hour wait, he went to shore to see about the delay. The gate keeper stepped out and said to him “I used to own your boat.” He told Clark that he had purchased it from the canal system and that it had been a canal inspectors boat. That fact caught my attention as I own a photo that my father took in 1951 of an even longer, more elegant yacht which was also a canal inspectors boat. Now I was wondering if it too was built by the same company. I have some research to do when I get home.
By the end of our conversation, and a further exploration of the Clarede, Clark said that he was going to drive home and make photo copies of material that had been given to him about the Albany Boat Company. He said he would bring it right over, which was a great favor of him to do for someone he had just met. I guess we bonded well as fellow wooden boat and canal enthusiasts.
Time and again I have found great generosity and camaraderie amongst those who love to mess about in boats. This meeting with Clark Farnsworth was to be the first of several of the voyage, I’m sure. True to his word, he returned a few hours later with copies of his material on Albany Boat Company.
As we parted, I felt truly grateful for the opportunity to meet this gentleman, who seems to be savoring each day to its fullest. We shall be sure to do the same.
Born in the Mohawk Valley of New York State and a resident of Fort Plain, NY until age 9, Kent now lives in Stowe, VT and winters in The Villages in Central Florida. As a veteran of the US Army (1966-1970), a graduate of Johnson State College (1977), he and his wife Annie operated Goldbrook Video Productions in Stowe in the 1990’s and retired from that in ’99. He is an avid photographer and has enjoyed documenting their travels around the world. He first joined the Lois as a volunteer in 2009, and is back for more!
We often talk about being embraced by the communities we visit, well in Fort Plain we were adopted. Our hosts provided us a room at Sweet’s Garden Place B&B and every meal for the crew while we were there. The breakfasts at Sweet’s are possibly the best in the world and our Tom became a living legend for his capacity to enjoy large amounts of flap-jacks. I was delighted to be asked to provide a talk for the Fort Plain Free Library and spoke to a capacity crowd about the Lois McClure and Lake Champlain shipwrecks. Fort Plain has connections to many of the storylines which flow from Lake Champlain with a rich menu of Native Peoples, Colonial, Revolutionary War and canal history. This was really brought home to me as I viewed the excellent exhibits at the Fort Plain Museum. The museum is housed on the site of the original European settlers just below the expansive hill that was the site of the fortifications established at Fort Plain prior to and during the American Revolution. The quality of the exhibits, reflecting on Native Peoples, early European settlement, archaeology and particularly the collection of artwork created by Rufus Grider makes this splendid museum reason enough to visit Fort Plain. Down on the waterfront we were treated to a huge and enthusiastic flow of visitors that once again consisted of all generations of families gathering to enjoy a day by the water and a perspective that reflects on their community history. Our crew enthusiastically rose to the occasion and working aboard our proven time-machine, provided a warm and thoughtful reflection of canal history, its relationship to their place and the shipwrecks that inspire and add to the story. Our final breakfast at Sweets was an unexpected opportunity to talk with our hosts from the library, museum and Friends group joined Mayor Guy Barton, the regional Economic Development planner and their Congressman Paul Tonko about our impressions of the visit and to offer any suggestions we might have for enhancing maritime themes. Congressman Tonko is spearheading a major Waterways initiative to tie together the communities along the upper Hudson and Mohawk Valley which resonated perfectly with one of the tours central messages; “Our shared heritage along the waterways”.
We have no food issues! The folks in Fort Plain have fed us so well that the Lois is riding at least an inch lower in the canal!
On Monday evening, we were led on a short walking tour of the town that ended at Sweet’s Garden Place, a fantastic bed and breakfast in downtown Fort Plain. There, we were greeted by a host of smiling faces and an incredible buffet. There was pulled pork, cooked with love and care for hours and hours, sweet corn from a local farm, the famous Fort Plain Museum Militia Beans, and not-your-ordinary cole slaw. For dessert—incredible, warm, peach cobbler. We made our way back to the schooner along Fort Plains’ bike trail, already feeling awfully good about this town.
At 7:30 Tuesday morning, we followed the bike trail back to Canal Street and Sweet’s. Lindy and Larry, the owners, had invited us for breakfast. Little did we know that we had another huge treat in store. French toast, eggs (Barb says Larry makes the best scrambled eggs she’s ever had), bacon, sausage, homemade coffee cakes, and flapjacks—the Sweets insist that they not be called pancakes—but whichever, they’re the best I’ve ever eaten.
Next… Can you believe it? The Canal Street Pub brought a picnic lunch to the boat for the crew at noon. Just a simple meal: ranch chicken wraps, shrimp ‘n’ crab wraps, overloaded pasta salad, chocolate chip cookies. As our Captain would say, “Mercy!”
Come late afternoon, the crew was invited to the town barbecue in the park next to our mooring place. Let’s see: hot dogs, cheeseburgers, grilled veggies, watermelon, homemade cookies, and giant plates of fudge ripple ice cream.
It was very hot during our stay in Fort Plain, and the demand for cold water, cold juice, cold soda, cold seltzer (seltzer donated by Hannaford) was unceasing. Thanks to VFW Post 3275, we had bags and bags of ice to keep those drinks—and us—cool.
So, that’s it, right? Nope. The Sweet’s hosted yet another breakfast, and our Tom, having heard all the praise of the flapjacks the day before, dug in for ten, yes, 10—!!!
What made all of these meals special, in addition to the great food, was that we were joined at table by the townsfolk who were are hosts. There was good conversation and more than a few good laughs. We made many new friends in Fort Plain, and we left this morning feeling not just fed, but nurtured. Thank you all!
In 2007, during our Grand Canal Journey, we observed that the Schenectady Yacht Club was located just east of the old Rexford aqueduct. The opportunity to get a better look at this historic canal feature and learn more about it was very exciting to the crew and to me. One of the key observations we are making while on the canal is just how much it has changed during its more than 180-years of continual operation. Expanded locks, prisms and canal boats and new alignments for the locks and canal have left a rich legacy of canal features scattered around the canal corridor landscape. Rexford is one of the great places to view the past canal and having John as our guide was a chance to learn from a true expert.
The portion of the stone aqueduct that was still standing was part of the Erie expansion of the 1840’s. From John we learned that this aqueduct was built just east of the original aqueduct which was converted to a bridge after the new one was opened. The aqueduct brought the Erie canal from the south to the north side of the Mohawk River if you were heading from Rome to the east. Just west of the new aqueduct were two sets of double locks, still visible in the ground today, with one lock chamber ingeniously adapted to serve as the bay for the marina’s travel-lift. John also described the remnants of the dam and feeder canal we would see when we began our trip west.
John’s explanations and the features still visible were so clear that when I returned to my computer to work on the lecture I was giving at the Fort Plain Free Library, I admit I was struck for the first time to realize that I had a map of the Rexford expansion showing all these features “as built” which had been provided to me by historian Duncan Hay of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, also one of our principle sponsors. Now because of John’s good lessons and our observations, I could understand exactly how this important Rexford crossing looked in its day.
Thank you John for your gift of knowledge and hospitality.
Anyone who has been following the adventures of the Lois McClure knows that Erick Tichonuk is the schooner’s First Mate, or Chief Mate, as he would be called in the Merchant Marine. Captain Theodore Bartley had no such luxury in 1862; canal boat captains had to be their own first mate (and boatswain and ship’s carpenter and deckhand, etc.) But on the Lois McClure, I can devote myself primarily to the safe operation of the vessel and leave a lot of duties (including helping with the safe operation of the vessel) to Erick.
The other day, as I was steering down the Hudson River, between locks, I glanced over onto the Churchill’s stern deck (she was towing alongside, on the hip), and there was Erick, hard at work with a paintbrush. He was applying brilliant, glossy, red paint to the business end of a fine fire axe!
Now, every tugboat should have a fire axe, mounted in its sheath on the side of the deckhouse. This tool is just expected on a boat that is used for towing. It’s not that we expect to have to cut our way through a bulkhead to get at a fire, but rather that we want to be able to cut the towing hawser fast in an emergency. And it looks, well, cool.
So, when Kerry Batdorf, Ship’s Carpenter (another luxury that we have on the Lois McClure) found a sound fire axe in an antique store in Whitehall, he and Erick had a brief conference, the axe appeared on board the Churchill, and now it is painted to perfection. A perfect precaution.
Waterford, at the confluence of the Hudson and Mowhawk rivers and the Erie and Champlain canals, is a town rich with history. A couple of our crew members took advantage of a chance to experience some of this history first hand by bunking aboard the tug Chancellor. The Chancellor, built in 1938, is a canal tug owned by the Waterford Maritime Historical Society and is currently being restored.
Thank you to John Callaghan for hosting us for dinner, and making our brief stay in Waterford fantastic as always!