For many years, this steamboat, The Buttercup, was surrounded by mystery and intrigue while it sat in its watery grave at the bottom of Long Lake. If you look closely, you will see a large hole in the bow of this unique ship. The secret of the who, how, and why of that hole stayed a secret for many years.
Owned by the Durants
This steamship was the brainchild of a man who began placing steamboats on the Adirondack lakes during the tourist heyday in the second half of the nineteenth century. Hotels and businesses began to blossom during this time. Soon this tourist boon caught the eyes of some very wealthy investors, one being William Durant, the son of Dr. Thomas Durant, the famous railroad tycoon.
The Durants owned the Adirondack Company Railroad from Saratoga to North Creek. Tourists boarded the train in New York City or Albany area, rode it to Saratoga and North Creek, then traveled overland to Blue Mountain Lake, or took the steamboat up the Eckford Chain of Lakes to the Marion River railroad and again by steamer into Raquette Lake. William Durant’s next step was to connect passengers with steamers on Forked Lake and Long Lake.
It was a well thought out plan; however, when Long Lake guides who earned their living guiding and transporting these passengers heard his plan, they were angry. This plan would replace them, and Durant already had their replacement built and ready to go. It was a steamboat called The Buttercup.
In 1886, William attended a Long Lake town meeting to request permission to launch his steamship on the river. They denied his request. Guides such as Mitchel Sabattis, Jeremiah Plumley, and Farrand Austin met their “Sports” at one of the hotels on the lake and took them on hunting and fishing expeditions along with transporting wealth tourists to the local businesses.
Since William Durant was not used to being told no, he ignored the town vote. During the winter he brought the Buttercup to Long Lake by sled, and that spring, he launched his steamship on Long Lake mooring it at the Sagamore Hotel.
Guides seek revenge
For several months, guides watched in anger as this ship touted their tourists up and down the lake. According to Francis Seaman, local historian, and The History of Hamilton County, the men met and engineered a plan to sink the Buttercup. They executed it in the middle of the night. Through the years, the disappearance of the Buttercup became a mystery, with little information passed on to the whereabouts of the ship. Those who grew up in Long Lake, grew up hearing the stories about the ship but no one knew if they were true. In 1959, George Boudreau, a diver, contacted 15-year-old Frank McIntyre, and asked him to help him find the Buttercup.
First, they talked to Frances Seaman. Her research Indicated that there was a ship, which ended up on the bottom of the lake somewhere in front of the Sagamore Hotel. With this information, the divers began their search three hundred feet from the shore of the Sagamore Hotel. It took many dives, but they found the ship five hundred feet out north of the Sagamore Hotel shoreline.
That weekend, George and Frank with the help of Howard Seaman, Bill Houghton and several other men pulled it out of its watery grave.
The Buttercup’s steam boiler and brass fittings were intact and the tell-tale hole through the side of the boat was clearly visible, evidence of how an ax was used to sink the little ship on that fateful night. The culprits were never prosecuted and no one in the town talked when they were questioned. The result was that no steamships traveled the waters of Long Lake for ten years after that night.
Today, the Buttercup is displayed behind the town office buildings, a testimony to the strength and determination of the men who sank her, and the men who brought her back.
Editor’s note: Gail Huntley has authored the full story of the Buttercup in her books, Conquering the Wild and Long Lake, Adirondack Heartland. They are sold in several local stores and on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble and on the author’s website: www.gailhuntley.com. In addition, the author wrote and directed a play aptly named, “The Mystery of the Buttercup,” which was performed for two summers in Long Lake.
Top photo by Ed Wilcox, black and white photo by Howard Seaman.