Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spencer Boatworks Fire Recalls 1919 Blaze

The fire that claimed Spencer Boatworks’ storage building on the Bloomingdale Road north of Saranac Lake early Saturday morning destroyed an untold number of antique boats from around the Tri-Lakes region.

The monetary loss at a storage facility renowned for its restoration of and care for rare wooden motor boats—Fay & Bowen, GarWood, Hacker Craft, Chris-Craft, as well as their own designs—could be incalculable.

Generally, many seasonal camp owners bring their boats out of winter storage in preparation for the Memorial Day Weekend. However, historic high water on Adirondack lakes, and consequent damage to docks and boathouses may have persuaded many boat owners to keep their craft in dry dock a little longer this spring. For those who overwintered their boats at Spencer, the delay may have been devastating.

The Spencer fire could well go down as one of the more significant boat shop fires in the Adirondacks. It will certainly join the ranks of disastrous blazes that claimed expensive watercraft. David Ackerman, in his book Placid Lake: A Centennial History 1893-1993, recounts one blaze at George and Bliss ninety-two years ago: “A second fire broke out on the night of February 18, 1919. This one swept away all the buildings on the southerly shore of the East Lake. No less than thirty-five motor boats, including the SOA’s first fireboat, were consumed in the conflagration.”

The 1919 list of boats belonging to financial titans, captains of industry and luminaries of stage and screen included L.H. Treadway’s Peter Pan, Flo Ziegfeld’s Kathleen, stock arbitrageur Jesse Livermore’s Cyclone and Firefly, and coal baron Calvin Pardee’s Hike-yu.

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Mark Wilson's editorial cartoons - under the pen name MARQUIL - appear in newspapers and online across New York State. He also provides editorial illustrations and occasional commentary pieces for The Sunday Gazette of Schenectady and regularly chimes in here at the Almanack, particularly at election time and during the annual Adirondack Bracket. Mark lives in Saranac Lake.

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