A group of Adirondack residents and boat experts is outlining a future for the 123-year-old steamboat. In 1900 William West Durant—known for great camps and grand schemes— commissioned A. C. Brown, of Staten Island, to build a coal-fired passenger steamboat on the shore of Blue Mountain Lake. Beginning that June the Tuscarora traveled from Marion River Carry through Utowana, Eagle and Blue Mountain Lakes, delivering visitors to Gilded Age hotels and lakefront estates. For nearly three decades it operated much like the other excursion boats on the Fulton Chain, the Saranacs and across the Adirondacks.
Plan underway to preserve 123-year-old Tuscarora steamboat
When better roads were available, those vessels—their useful lives over—were deliberately burned or scuttled. The Tuscarora escaped that fate and took on a new life in 1934, when it became the Graham family’s camp, with bedrooms, a lounge, a kitchen and bathrooms. As cozy as the cottage was, to all appearances it retained the essence of the Tuscarora.
This 75-foot-long double-decker steamer is a rare relic of the heydays of Adirondack tourism and a glimpse of how a summer family repurposed a unique structure. Tuscarora is an important part of the history of Blue Mountain Lake, bridging the Victorian era and modern times.
Tuscarora owners Donna Gingell and Peter Halsch plus a committee of boat experts and historic preservation advocates have been discussing just what the future may hold for the boat. It is on shore in a quiet cove, not accessible for viewing. There is much work needed to document and stabilize the watercraft and develop interpretation that will bring this unique story to life. Plans are to move the boat to a site where visitors can see the restored steamer and learn about its key role in Adirondack transportation long before motor vehicles.
The first step in the next chapter for the Tuscarora was made possible by a grant from the Connecticut-based 1772 Foundation that will facilitate creation of a feasibility study and high-tech documentation of the structure. This historic preservation grant is administered by Adirondack Architectural Heritage, Keeseville, NY, an organization that sees the value of saving this unique artifact as part of its overall mission recognizing the importance of the region’s built environment.
In early November, a team from Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), which is a program of the National Park Service based in Washington, D.C., used large-format photos and laser plotting to make images that show the Tuscarora from all directions. The HAER documents will provide digital measured drawings of the vessel, which will be enormously important for the preservation project and engineering studies to enable moving the vessel to a new location.
This winter, the task is to determine how best to relocate the Tuscarora. Cranes and trucks like a house mover would use over land may be unfeasible due to the location; building a cradle to support the hull as it is hauled over the lake is an option to explore. There are grant opportunities to facilitate this work, though matching funds are required for federal and state proposals.
As plans emerge the Friends of the Tuscarora intend to offer progress updates via social media, press releases and other venues. Funding for the Tuscarora is currently managed by Adirondack Architectural Heritage, which can accept tax-deductible donations on behalf of the project. Becoming an independent non-profit organization is a goal of the Tuscarora group in 2024.
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Photo at top: With passengers filling both decks, the Tuscarora steams into the channel between Blue Mountain and Eagle Lakes on a summer day. Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Experience, Blue Mountain Lake.
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