By Matthew Dow & Edited by Luke Dow
Lake George Steamboat Co.
In 2008, the one-time steamer Mohican celebrated her 100th birthday, now she is entering her 104th year of continuous service. While this makes her the 4th or 5th oldest passenger vessel in North America (3rd or 4th in America, and the oldest in New York), no other ship in North America can match her track record of 104 continuous years of licensed and inspected operation and passenger service.
In 1809, John and James Winans launched their first steamer, the Vermont, on Lake Champlain. In 1815, this steamer sank. The Lake Champlain Steamboat Company – then their competition – feared that the Winans brothers would build another vessel to further compete with them. So that company contracted the brothers to build a new vessel using the engines and machinery from the Vermont. And in 1816, the Champlain was put into service.
Knowing he was done on Lake Champlain, John Winans began looking elsewhere for opportunities. In 1816, he came to Lake George and began to interest a group of men in steam boating on the lake. These men would get together and become the first directors of the Lake George Steamboat Company, which was officially incorporated on April 15, 1817. From that point, several steamers were put into service. They were the James Caldwell (1817-1821), the Mountaineer (1824-1837), the William Caldwell (1838-1848), the John Jay (1850- 1856), and the Minne Ha Ha (1857-1878).
In 1866, the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad took over the Champlain Steamboat Company and, subsequently, the Lake George Steamboat Company. The railroad would later lease its property and holdings to the larger Delaware and Hudson Canal Company in 1870. Soon after they took control, they decided that one steamer could not provide satisfactory service, and thus the steamer Ganouskie was built and launched in 1869.
The Minne Ha Ha would leave from Caldwell (now called Lake George Village) in the morning, turn around at Ticonderoga, and return to the village. Simultaneously, the Ganouskie would leave Ticonderoga in the morning, travel south to Caldwell, turn around, and return there at night. This is what was known as the Line Run, and that schedule would not be changed until 1961.
By 1895, the Lake George Steamboat Company had grown substantially. It was then operating two large sidewheel steamboats, the 195-foot Horion (1877-1911) and the 172-foot Ticonderoga (1884- 1901), and it had entered an era of great prosperity. The company had purchased Fourteen Mile Island and was using it as a day resort for its passengers. With the added business, the company decided that a third vessel would be needed to supplement the schedule of the other two vessels. At first, the company planned to build a new boat, it was decided that an existing vessel would be bought instead. This steamboat, of the propeller type, had been built by Captain Everett Harrison in 1894 for freight and passenger service (actually built for competition against the Lake George Steamboat Company). It was 93 feet long and 17 feet wide, with a draft of 6½ feet, and had engines that could propel her at the speed of 15 miles an hour. In February 1895, the vessel was purchased for $13,000 and put into the Lake George Steamboat Company’s service. Her name was Mohican, derived from James Fenimore Cooper’s popular novel, The Last of the Mohicans. Her schedule included an early morning trip to the local docks to transfer passengers to the Line Run steamboat. After this run was finished, she would run two paradise Bay trips. This schedule continued throughout her Career.
By 1905, the Mohican, through only eleven years old, was starting to show her age. It was decided that she be replaced by a new steel-hulled steamer. This new vessel would not only have to be small enough to enter Paradise Bay, but also large enough to handle the Line Run in the spring and fall.
J.W. Millard, a fine New York City naval architect of the time, was brought in to design the ship, and in January 1907 the contract for the hull and engines was awarded to the W. and A. Fletcher Company of Hoboken. The company had built the engines on two of the company’s steamers in the past, so the choice seemed natural. The Fletcher people then subcontracted the work on the hull to the T.S. Marvel Company of Newburgh. The hull plates then shipped via the Delaware and Hudson Railroad to Baldwin Landing, the company’s shipyard near Ticonderoga, where they were riveted together. Once the hull was launched in late 1907, the Fletcher engines were installed and the superstructure was built. On May 9, 1908, the boat was commissioned and put into regular service. She was named Mohican (II), in honor of the boat that preceded her.
The new boat was 117 feet long, 26½ feet wide and had a draft of about six feet. Her engines were two inverted, direct-acting, Fletcher-built compound steam engines with a high-pressure cylinder of 10 inches, a low-pressure cylinder of 21½ inches, and a stroke of sixteen inches. These provided about 550 horsepower to her twin screws, giving her a cruising speed of 15 miles per hour while only burning four tons of coal a day to make steam in her two water-tube boilers. She was built at a cost of $65,000. She not only provided the Paradise Bay cruises, she also ran the Line Run when there was not enough business to run the two larger vessels. To this day, she still makes the Line Run during the summer on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The company was enjoying the prosperity of the new century. Not only did it have two modern, steel-hulled boats, but in 1911, the Horicon (II) was introduced, replacing the older vessel of the same name. She was the largest vessel the lake had ever seen. She was 230 feet long, 59 feet wide, and could speed along at an amazing 21 miles per hour. Things were going well, and the future seemed bright. Sadly, that was not to be the case.
The Great Depression, the highway system along the lake (1929-1930), and the growing threat of World War II brought business down dramatically. In 1923, the vessels had carried 110,000 passengers, but by 1932, only 50,000 passengers were carried. Efforts to consolidate several trips into one round trip and make the Horicon (II) into a showboat following prohibition proved to be fruitless, and by 1939, both the Horicon (II) and the Sagamore had been scrapped. The Delaware and Hudson Railroad finally sold the company in the late 1930’s to George Stafford, who then sold off everything he could to keep the business afloat. In the end, all that was left was the steamer landing in Baldwin, the Crandall Marine Railway, the wooden pier in Lake George, and the Mohican. Though she ran on a reduced schedule from July 4 to Labor Day, she was still able to turn a profit and keep the company from going under during World War II. Finally, in 1945, the Staffords were no longer interested, and they sold the entire company to a New York City Admiralty lawyer named Wilbur E. Dow Jr. for the asking price of $35,000. Shortly after he purchased the company, Mr. Dow decided that the Mohican should be converted from steam power to diesel propulsion. At the end of the 1946 season, the Mohican was laid up. It would be the last year of steam on the lake until the debut of the steam-powered Minne Ha Ha (II) in 1969. Under the supervision of Olin Stephens, the boilers and engines were taken out, four General Motors 671 diesel engines were installed, and a new superstructure was built. The cost of the entire renovation was $210,000.
By 1949, business was up again, and the Mohican saw popularity she had not seen in a while. Her renovation had provided her with more deck space, a new snack bar, and a more diverse itinerary. Not only did she do the Line Run, but she also added shorter trips, like her signature Paradise Bay run. Since there was no need for bunkering coal (loading the coal on the ship and carrying the ashes off of her) at night, she was able to do night trips. It was then decided that a second boat be purchased in order to take the passengers that one boat with an already busy schedule could not handle. Thus, the second Ticonderoga, a LCI (L) 1085 (a vessel that had served in the Pacific Theatre), was purchased and was commissioned in 1951. The company then moved the Mohican to Baldwin Landing and ran her on cruises there while the Ticonderoga operated out of Lake George. In 1961, it was decided to break the century-old tradition and run all of the company’s vessels out of Lake George Village, so the Mohican was relocated back to the village.
The Mohican led a trouble-free existence until the night of August 7, 1965. The boat was on a charter with 240 people when it struck Whaleback Rock, just off Hulett’s Landing. It ripped the plating under the engine room, bent the propeller shaft on the starboard side and badly damaged the starboard propeller. Captain Gordon Burleigh, knowing that his vessel was taking on water, swung the boat into the dock where all the passengers were disembarked safely. He then grounded the vessel in the shallow bay nearby. The next morning, the Ticonderoga was alongside her, and with help the Mohican was refloated and taken to Baldwin. Speedy repairs were made and one week after the accident, the boat was back in service.
In 1965 the Coast Guard began insisting that no passenger ship with a wooden superstructure be allowed to sail for fire hazard and safety reasons. While Lake George is not under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard, the New York State inspectors follow the same guidelines and the Mohican was one of their targets. But instead of laying her up, the owners decided that the Mohican be sent back to the shop. Mr. Chiang, a New York City naval architect from M. Rosenblatt and Son, Inc., was contracted to design a new superstructure made of steel, and in the winter of 1966-1967, the superstructure was built on the existing steel hull. The work was completed on June 23, 1967, at a cost of $130,000.
That summer, the Mohican set an unofficial world’s record by becoming the largest boat to pull water-skiers. This feat was done on July 22, 1967, when nine people were towed behind the boat.
The Mohican has continued to make history over the past few years. In 1997, she was the winner of the first annual Queen’s Great Boat Race, and in 2002, she cruised around the whole lake on February 2nd. This was history because 2002 was the first time in almost a century that the lake had not frozen over by February. Seeing an opportunity, Bill Dow, current owner of the Steamboat Company, incited some longtime employees to sail aboard the Mohican for the “ice out cruise.” While the day was very overcast and not much could be seen, everyone enjoyed, themselves. Shortly after the Mohican docked, a champagne toast was given to celebrate another milestone in the Mohican’s history.
During her 104 years on the lake, changes have been required in the Mohican’s configuration in order that she be kept in compliance with the marine safety regulations and thus continue her passenger-carrying certification. In October 2000 she was hauled out of the lake on the company’s 1927 Crandall Marine Railway for work within her hull. The company keeps all of its vessels current with Coast Guard regulations with respect to the safety of its passengers. In keeping with this purpose, it was decided to bring the Mohican up to Coast Guard Subchapter K subdivision and stability standards.
John Gilbert, Sr., a Boston naval architect, determined that stability regulations required seven watertight bulkheads over the length of the vessel’s hull; not the five watertight nulkheads as designed by J.W. Millard almost a century earlier. Following the work, the Mohican would maintain her stability with one compartment entirely flooded.
In 2008 the Mohican was successfully placed on the National Register of Historic Places. She has become the 3rd active passenger vessel in America that is on the registry.
Current Mohican Schedule:
Today, the Mohican sails on after a century of unbroken service, a living testament to the men and women who built her and kept her running all these years. Her cruising schedule starts May 26th, offering her Island Explorer Cruise which departs at 2:30 in the afternoon. She will be later adding her famous Paradise Bay Cruise on June 16th which leaves Friday thru Monday and Wednesday at 10:30AM. During the summer, she adds the Discovery Cruise (the former Line Run) to her schedule on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, leaving the pier at 8:45 in the morning, landing in Bolton Landing at 9:30AM (returning to Bolton Landing at 1:00PM), and returning to Lake George at 2:00 in the afternoon. The Mohican also runs specialty theme cruises. On Tuesday nights throughout the summer, she sails a Taco Tuesday trip in which tacos and other Mexican food is served. The Pizza Cruise sails on Thursday nights and offers slices of pizza and a chance to win monetary prizes to its passengers. On Friday nights, a Pasta Cruise is run. There is live music and a raffle for a luncheon cruise aboard the company’s 190 foot flagship, the Lac du Saint Sacrement. All of these trips leave the pier at 6:30PM and return at 8:00PM, and all have different entertainers playing music on them.
The Mohican Cruise Ship is located at The Lake George Steamboat Co. Steel Pier
57 Beach Road, Lake George, NY 12845
(518) 668-5777, ext. 4
For more information on the Lake George Steamboat, Co – see below under Related Businesses; and to read more about the Minne-Ha-Ha and the Lac Du Saint Sacrement (other cruise ships) – see below under “Related Pages.”