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March 14, 2017     Post 84
freshwater boating

Though it doesn't feel like it spring the boating season is approaching. And even as the maple sap rises to the tap, so too do boat memories and feelings stir. Recently, two boating friends met us at the Finger Lakes Boating Museum in Hammondsport New York.

Though it's not on Lake Ontario, it is in our watershed, and a lot of the boats there have Lake Ontario connections. In fact, at the museum I ran into an old acquaintance from my earliest days of sailing on the lake when I walked into the restoration shop. There before me, sitting on the floor, was Johanna. I had followed this kit built 1940 Lightning around the club race course off Pultneyville many times fifty years ago, so I recognized her transom immediately.

She is one of more than a hundred boats in the museum collection all of which were built in New York State. A number of them sailed on Lake Ontario before coming to rest here. The museum was founded twenty years ago, however it was a nomadic endeavor with no permanent anchorage or display space until 2014. Today it's housed in a fascinating building, that once housed the Taylor Wine Company.

The massive stone structure is a museum piece in its own right and stands beside the 1860 Great Western Wine Company visitor's center located in another stone structure identified by a sign over the door as U.S. bonded winery number one. The boat museum's old wine cellars and basement reception area remain intact and used for museum and private events. The vaulted stone cellars complete with their rows of huge old oak wine casks and are open to the public.We fancied the wooden casks were inverse boats-designed to keep liquid in rather than outside.(see the wall mural behind the canoes below).

A maritime museum's collection inevitably is shaped by the unique geography and ecology of its area. Some museums on saltwater coasts feature historic ships or working craft of various sorts. This one reflects the history of recreation with small boats on the inland waters of central New York State.

However, this area of lakes forests and vineyards was also home to a vibrant and innovative manufacturing scene between 1870 and 1970. That, in turn, fueled both boat shop production and the rise of local middle class leisure markets for canoes, runabouts, rowing skiffs, and fishing boats.

When the age of the auto arrived, hotels shoreline camps and cottages sprang up along the shores of the finger lakes as well as along Lake Ontario at places like Sodus Point, Holland's Cove and the Little Salmon River, and dozens of boat shops flourished throughout the region. Some of those boat builders stayed in business for several generations serving markets well beyond the Finger Lakes. Penn Yan Boats endured into the era of fiberglass while the Skaneateles Boat and Canoe Company (founded by two employees of the 1876 Bowdish Manufacturing Co, builders of sailing canoes row boats and steam launches) stayed afloat for fifty years as builders of rowing boats and several popular one design sailing dinghies including the Lightning, Comet and Rhodes Bantam.

I like the stream lined 7 horse outboard! Actually, on a little home built hydroplane it probably did skip along.

The Finger Lakes museum collection contrasts with that of another upstate New York boating museum in our watershed, the Clayton Antique Boat Museum on the St. Lawrence River. Here vacationing began considerably earlier during the “gilded age” after the Civil War and involved generally more wealthy people than that of the Finger Lakes area's later middle class boaters. In Hammondsport most of the museum boats are under 20 feet in length. It's a widely varied fleet, though, with canoes, hydroplanes, early trailerables, and composite aluminum or canvas skinned raceboats, along with small sailing and rowing craft.

One notable exception to the generally unpretentious boats on display is a glorious Fay and Bowen's launch the 27 foot Elizabeth Ellen. Built in 1910, she has been immaculately restored and is one of the few survivors of the Geneva based engine company. A similar boat was recently advertised for sale on line for 160,000 dollars.

Fay and Bowen built small stationary engines for use on farms and factories. Very early in the history of motorized boating, they started building power launches. The museum has a 1905 single cylinder engine with reversible prop on display. Fay and Bowen survived into the 1920s, and a testimonial from the owner of one of their four cylinder gasoline engines praised its reliability on a trip to Florida writing that “it never missed an explosion all the way down...”

The museum continues to add to its exhibits and classes. Plans are in place to open the nearby storage area where more than a hundred boats are available for examination. The volunteers are also rebuilding the one time mail boat of Skaneateles Lake, launched in 1937 on the St. Lawrence River as a tour boat. They will seek certification to carry passengers and put her back into service, this time on Keuka Lake, hopefully in a couple of years.

We found the museum and the general energy level of its staff and volunteers to be a delight. Though it's a ways south of the big lake, it is well worth a visit.

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