Men have dominated the craft of building guideboats ever since the middle of the nineteenth century, when the first guideboats were made. The only known female builder is Allison Warner from Lake Clear.
Warner’s interest in wooden boats dates back to when she paddled wooden canoes while growing up in southern Texas. As a young adult, she moved to the Adirondacks and began working with AmeriCorps as a carpenter’s helper at Great Camp Santanoni under Tupper Lake carpenter Michael Frenette, who introduced her to boat restoration and guideboats in 1999.
“That was my first exposure, and I was just blown away,” said Warner. She also attended the No Octane Regatta, a wooden-boat festival in the Adirondacks that showcased many guideboat builders.
Warner later learned the craft from Michael Frenettte’s brother, Robbie, who owns Raquette River Outfitters in Tupper Lake. “He’s just a really particular guy and really cares how things come out,” Warner said. “He’ll go through extraordinary efforts to make the slightest things just right in his eyes, and he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, whether it’s a waste of time or not.”
In 2003, the Adirondack Museum hired her to build guideboats in a workshop while visitors watch. She continues to build boats for the museum in the summer. In the off-season, she teaches math at North Country Community College. Warner also shares a shop with her partner, Rob Davidson, a carpenter whom she introduced to guideboat building.
Warner is now working on her ninth boat. Many of the boats she builds are exact replicas. Her own designs are influenced by a variety of boat builders, but one of her favorites is John Blanchard, an early-twentieth-century builder from Raquette Lake.
Ultimately, Warner attributes her love of guideboats to a “romantic notion,” comparing the movements of the watercraft to a symphony. All the parts of a guideboat fit together, without adhesives, and flex in unison when the boat is rowed.
“They are just alive,” Warner said. “The snapping of the oars, the flexing of the hull when you’re really moving, that makes a guideboat, and that’s available because of how it’s constructed.”
Photo: Allison Warner and Rob Davidso take a new boat for a test drive o Moose Pond near Saranac Lake, courtesy Susan Bibeau.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here.