Monday, October 21, 2013

Fulton Chain Steamers 101: The Pickle Boats

Fulton Chain Pickle BoatDuring the first half of the 20th century,  campers along the Fulton Chain welcomed the whistle of the steamer “Mohawk”, signaled to the pilot and knew that their meat and grocery provisions would soon be replenished by the Marks & Wilcox “floating supermarket”, known as the “Pickle Boat”.  Today few people realize this name was borrowed from an earlier steamer built by Fred Kirch in Inlet.  There were also other supply boats.

At an “Old Timers’ Banquet” held at Louis Sperry’s Riverside Inn in July 1934, pioneer guides and businessmen with names like Thistlethwaite, Sperry, Parsons, Rivett and Christy spoke of the good old days.  At that gathering, a man named John McConnell “told of operating a supply boat for his father, a row boat he used for trips around the lakes.”

In the 1890s, Jack Sheppard’s popularity was already well established.  He was possibly the most popular guide and had a few years earlier launched the first locally built steamer on the Fulton Chain, the “Fulton”, in May 1888.  In addition to carrying families and freight to the growing number of camps on the lakes, by 1890 he took orders and delivered “every commission from a paper of pins to paper canoe”.  A year later, he built scows to be towed by the “Fulton” for the purpose of ferrying horses, cattle and other heavy materials.  The highway to Eagle Bay Lake was not constructed until 1899.

In 1895, William McConnell of Glendale acquired the “Minnie H.”, a steamer brought to the Fulton Chain two years earlier by John H. House, also of Glendale.  McConnell continued to transport people and cargo.  The growing number of new camps probably resulted in increased business for the grocery trade carried on by the boat rowed by his son John.  Also, competition for passengers from Dr. Webb’s railroad resulted in more and larger steamers being launched which would nose out smaller boats such as the “Minnie H.”.  In 1897, William McConnell ran it as the first grocery steamer on the lakes.  McConnell built a barn on one of the deCamp lots to house eight cows for a dairy and established a creamery.  He would add these products to the supply of fresh fruits from his home farm in Glendale.  He and his son John occupied one of the deCamp Fulton Chain cottages.

John McConnell would live in Utica, marry, and after his wife died a few years afterward, move to Old Forge and pilot other boats for the Fulton Navigation Company.  I lost track of the “Minnie H.” after this year of service. In July 1899, a storm swelled in the waves that rolled passenger steamers and “a provision” boat.  This latter boat could have been the “Minnie H.”.  But maybe it was the newly built “pickle boat”.

Fred Kirch of Inlet was an experienced guide, camp builder and businessman.  He had been the general manager for Inlet’s Fulton Chain & Raquette Lake Steamboat Company that was taken over by Hess Inn’s William Moshier in 1899.  In late July 1899, Fred Kirch launched his newly built steamer.  Apparently, this steamer was leased to Charles O’Hara who operated a general supply store.  O’Hara also had been operating the Inlet Inn, formerly Inlet Cottage, since 1895.  The steamer ran between Old Forge and Inlet, stopping “at any hotel or private dock upon signal” and supplied “necessities of life at current city prices”.  Charles O’Hara leased the Kirch boat for two years.

Charles B. and Carrie Wilson Morris of Herkimer leased Fred Kirch’s provisions boat for the 1901 season, overhauled the boat and began weekly runs in June.  In April 1902, Fred Kirch decided to sell his “market and grocery boat” and the buyer was Charles Morris who named it the “Maynard” after their 3-year-old son.  A New York Times article that year mentioned that two supply boats operated on the Chain.  Was the other the “Minnie H.”?

One advantage of working on the “Maynard” was noted in a 1903 report that Carl Witherstine, son of attorney William Witherstine, gained 27 pounds working on Morris’s boat that summer.  When the “Maynard” was sold in June 1906 to David W. Codling, the Utica Herald Dispatch noted that the supply boat had “become popular to tourists during the past six years as the ‘Pickle Boat’ ”. Campers would miss being awakened by Capt. Morris’s bugle announcing the boat, the first “pickle boat” on the Fulton Chain, the “Maynard” built by Fred Kirch.

When O’Hara launched Kirch’s boat in 1899, Codling had already been operating a successful market in Old Forge for five years that stocked meats, canned goods and other provisions, and was a wholesaler for the Armour Company.  In April 1901, Codling moved his market near the navigation dock and built a large adjoining ice house to store the meats delivered twice weekly on the Fulton Chain Railway cars.  Codling’s assistant was Walter Marks.  In 1902, Charles Wilcox moved his family to Old Forge and soon began working at Codling’s dock market.

At the end of May 1906, David W. Codling launched the “Mohawk” which would begin its regular runs on June 12 of that year. There would now be a grocery boat that also supplied fresh, iced meat. Initially running the “Mohawk”, a larger boat, in opposition to the “Maynard”, a faster, smaller boat, Codling soon purchased the “pickle boat” from Morris and ran both boats in tandem. But in the first week of July, a fire on the “Mohawk” burned the floor around its gasoline engine.  Codling discarded the engine and decided to convert it to a steamer.  In the meantime, the “Maynard” returned to its familiar role as the “pickle boat” for the rest of the season.  But the “Maynard” broke down at the end of August and had to be towed back to Codling’s dock.

The work on the steamer “Mohawk” was finished and would begin its long period of service in 1907.  The new “Pickle Boat” was discussed in a substantial article by the Utica Daily Press in July 1907.  The “floating grocery”, the steamer “Mohawk”, contained the food and department store supplies of a mini-Wal-Mart.  Codling’s boat crew was clerk Nick Powers, “musical” engineer Griff Owen and pilot John H. McConnell, experienced as a “pilot, engineer and fisherman on the lakes 13 years”.  The article also reported that Codling’s dock market employed 8 store and boat workers.  The market’s manager was Walter Marks.

At the end of the 1907 season, Codling sold the “Mohawk” to Charles Wilcox.  In 1908, Wilcox and Marks would start the Marks & Wilcox grocery store in addition to the supply boat.  In June 1908, Codling sold the “Maynard” to Clarence W. Parkinson of the Bridgewater Farm Dairy and a man named A. B. Barnes.

Parkinson partnered with an immigrant from Norway, Andrew Grindland, and started the Fourth Lake Supply Company.  They planned to run the “Maynard” in competition with Codling.  According to Armour’s Burnap memoir “Heartwood”, Grindland was a guide at Antlers Hotel on Raquette Lake who met a well educated, multilingual London governess named Lucy Robinson who lodged at the hotel in 1908.  The unlikely pair married in March 1909 and moved to a camp between Ramona’s and Lawrence Point.  The supply company went into receivership in 1912 and the property was divided between the partners.  Clarence’s father, Thomas W. Parkinson, purchased the original “pickle boat”, the “Maynard”, and the steamer is not mentioned again.  The Grindlands later moved to a camp near St. Peter’s and operated a boat livery and housekeeping cottages at this site for many years.

With Charles Wilcox now operating the “Mohawk”, John McConnell worked for the Fulton Navigation Company, piloting the “Uncas” and “Nehasane”.  He had been a fireman on the “Uncas” in 1906 and testified at the Chester Gillette trial.  A 1921 article complimented him for pointing out landmarks to passengers during his “Nehasane” trip, information he learned from piloting 27 years on the Fulton Chain.  John lived in Old Forge until his death in 1955.

The “Mohawk” now became the popular “Pickle Boat” described in regional histories. Lyman Appleton was the steamer’s engineer from 1912 to 1918.  When he worked on the boat, the steamer crew would stay overnight at Alonzo Wood’s Hotel in Inlet, replenish the ice in the meat locker and then return to Old Forge in the morning. Joseph Rivett also served as an engineer.  Later on, the crew would dock the “Mohawk” at The Wood hotel and a truck would bring them back to Old Forge.  The next day, the truck returned to The Wood with more supplies and ice for the boat’s return trip.

But the steamer’s career was not without incident.  An August 1921 fire on the steamer’s roof caused the signal whistle to sound peculiar to Charlie Wilcox at Third Lake.  Capt. Wilcox went to the upper deck and found the area around the stack on fire.  With ten kerosene barrels stored nearby, the captain and crew scrambled up the steps with hose, extinguishers and pails.  Wilcox tossed any obstacles in his path into the lake.  Afterwards, Wilcox asked why a crate of chickens and a barrel of potatoes were not left on a dock later on their route.  His engineer Cummings, who manned the pump during the fire, replied that he had peeked up the stairs during the crisis and had to duck when Wilcox tossed the potatoes, then the chickens, past his head into the lake.

In February 1925, the “Mohawk” sank in the ice at her dock when lake ice sprung the planking in the hull.  Nick Ginther was hired to raise her from the water and leave her in that position until the “ice goes out”.  This was the only incident noted in the life of the “Pickle Boat” until low water levels in the Fulton Chain prevented its operation during the 1941 season.  Shortage of help in 1942 during wartime settled its fate.  In October 1942, the Marks & Wilcox store donated the steamer to the “Uncle Sam Victory Scrap” pile.  The boat’s iron fittings, boiler and engine were removed and contributed to the war effort.  Nick Ginther removed the boat he had rescued from the water seventeen years earlier.  Harry Ball was the pilot for the boat’s final season of 1940.

There was another supply boat run during the life of the “Mohawk”.  Edward J. A. Lenhardt operated a bakery boat providing goods to campers from his bakery in Old Forge.  Lenhardt moved to Old Forge in 1908 and started a bakery the next year and would later become Village President.

With the Fulton Chain being a region not conducive to agriculture, hotels, campers and residents will always rely on the delivery of life’s necessities from outside the region.  We don’t have ‘pickle boats’ anymore, but we do have wood trucks, ice trucks, lumber company, Schwann’s  and SYSCO food trucks bringing homes and businesses that which allows us to stay longer and enjoy what brought us to the Adirondacks.  Today’s provision trucks carry on the tradition of Jack Sheppard, William McConnell, his son John McConnell, Charles O’Hara, Charles and Carrie Morris, David Codling, Walter Marks and Charlie Wilcox and the builder of the first “Pickle Boat”, Fred Kirch.



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Since the early 1980s when Charles Herr purchased a camp in Inlet he has been interested in the history of the Fulton Chain region of the Adirondacks. He has been contributing history articles about the times and people of the Fulton Chain, covering transportation, steamboats, hotels and most importantly, the people to the Weekly Adirondack of Old Forge since November 2006. His ambition is to uncover local and regional Fulton Chain history about people and events prior to 1930 and little covered in the histories of the region. He is the president of the Inlet Historical Society and presents summer programs on Inlet history at the Town Hall in Arrowhead Park in Inlet, NY. His book, The Fulton Chain-Early Settlement, Roads, Steamboats, Railroads and Hotels, was published in May 2017. More information is available at . During 2023, Herr was appointed Inlet Town Historian.

One Response

  1. Mark Sherwood says:

    Very nice article! I heard many times how the”pickle boat” was the most anticipated water craft on the lakes. My grandfather was Louis Sperry and he married the daughter of Walter Marks to make him my great-grandfather and thusly my first name.

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