Effingham and the Summer People

Steamboat Effingham

S. R. Stoddard

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Steamboat Effingham underway on Schroon Lake circa 1880. From a S. R. Stoddard original courtesy of the Steamship Historical Society Collection, University of Baltimore Library.

At the turn of the century there must have been hundreds of little steamboats plying the waters of the lakes in the eastern United States. One such vessel was the Effingham which operated on Schroon Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. As near as can be pieced together at this late date she was in operation hauling freight and summer visitors from the city in 1873. And, she continued in that service until she sank in 1919.

Schroon Lake is about ten miles long and two miles wide in the Adirondack Mountains some sixty miles north west of Saratoga Springs, New York. It is one of the 23,000 lakes and ponds scattered over the six million acres which are within the Adirondack Forest Preserve 'blue line' created by the Legislature in 1892. Here also is located that jewel like body of water on the flanks of Mount Marcy called Lake Tear-Of-The-Clouds which is the source of the mighty Hudson River. It was discovered by Verplanck Colvin while surveying the area in 1872 some ten years after the source of the Nile had been found, so remote was the area.

There were and are today a number of summer hotels, (motels) cottages and camps along the shore. With Interstate Highway 87 just a stones throw away, it is an easy matter to get into the area. In 1880 it was a different matter. E. R. Wallace in his Discriptive Guide To The Adirondacks wrote in 1880 that the village was most easily reached: '...from the Adirondack Railroad by stage (coach) from Riverside to Pottersville, (6 miles) pleasantly situated at the foot of the lake; thense by the splendid steamer 'Effingham', (under the command of) Capt. (James) Cheney.' The guide goes on to say:'...which makes two daily round trips each way.'

This brings up an interesting speculation on early travel. The June, 1916 Railway Guide lists two trains each way daily except Sunday. The first 'up' train from Albany and Troy arrived at 12:03 noon which would not be too difficult to meet. However, the first 'down' train was at 6:26 AM! It is likely that the boat was at her Pottersville pier at the south end of the lake at 2:00 pm and 6:00 pm which gives ample time for the two round trips. However, the last 'up' train arrived in Riverside at 8:08 pm. If the Effingham met that train too, she would have to make a night run back on Schroon Lake.

In later years the railroad became a part of the Adirondack Branch of the Delaware & Hudson Railroad. By 1942 there was only one passenger train each way daily except Sunday. By 1977 we find only freight service survived the onslaught of the automobile. The station stop called Riverside at milepost 49.6 continued to be shown in timetables but does not show on touring roadmaps.

This must have been an interesting trip for Marcus E. Granger writes in his A Guide To Schroon Lake (New York, 1880): '...we stop at Lakeside Cottage, whose menu features 'the speckled trout'...at little Sand Point, there is another boarding house. The landlady is 'fully prepared' a few boarders to take...'. He goes on to say: 'Next comes the township of South Schroon...', then adds: '...the traveler continues another three miles to the boat landing on Schroon Lake where the Effingham awaits.'

Steamboat Effingham at the outlet to Schroon Lake circa 1880. Stage Line connections were made to the Adirondack Railroad (D & H) at Riverside. This is a copy of a S. R. Stoddard original from the collection of Allard M. Peterson.

The Effingham was owned by People's Line Steamers, a company formed by Captain Barnett. She probably was built by C & R Poillon in 1873 though the specifics of this are difficult to tie down. The records are somewhat unclear but photo-measurement techniques indicate that this wooden hull vessel was 68 feet long with a 15 foot beam. Visual examination of her lines from the available photographs would suggest a depth of 6 feet which allows for a draft of 3 to 4 feet. She was painted white but her superstructure was varnished in a natural finish. Her main deck was arranged to carry both freight and passengers although her passengers were afforded a much better view of the beautiful scenery from her upper deck. The wheelhouse was located forward on this deck and its roof was adorned with a gilded eagle with outspread wings. She was fitted with a wood burning vertical fire tube boiler to furnish steam to her 75 horsepower (estimated) compound marine engine.

She was not the first steam vessel on the lake. Sandra Murray in her Steamboats Of The Lakes Of The Adirondacks (SUNY-Potsdam, 1977) mentions the Libbie S. Benedict. Even less seems to be known about this boat. However, the coming of steamboats to the lakes of the beautiful Adirondack Mountains was met with mixed emotions. There were those in favor of the improved mode of transportation and those that saw dire results in the offing. There were even editorials written to keep the steamboats out. Forest & Stream magazine in a February, 1877, conservation editorial written as if to the mountains themselves wrote: 'Speak in tones of thunder to the rash of intruders and forbid thy royal domains to suffer as if thy streams were only to turn the mill wheels of manufacturers and thy solitudes only made to coin dollars for some traders with nature.' The article goes on to say:'.. .for when thy realm are traversed by wings of steam thy glory has departed...' Very little has changed in the past hundred years. Placard carrying activists were not throwing themselves in front of the bulldozer then but were equally active. And, probably equally as sincere in their belief. On the other hand the little steamer had its faithful followers, too. And they were given to verse instead of prose as in the poem from the 1880 edition of Marcus Granger's Guide.

...And the Effingham is awaiting you
We've now reached the pier, and all is well,
The boat has steamed and rung her second bell:
We'll mount her decks and northward start again,
To view the prettiest lake on earth's domain
Now I'll introduce you to the Effingham's crew:
Here comes Captain Barnett; 'How do you do?'
He looks genteel and noble in his blue suit
We'll go up and shake hand with our old friend Lute.
To the engine-room next our course we'll steer,
To see our old friend Peter he's the boss engineer.
You ask me who gave the boat the name Effingham?
It was E. H. Nichols, a true born gentleman,
He is the chosen admiral of the Schroon Lake fleet,
And with rod and fly none with him can compete.
The boat has started and I hope and pray
That you enjoy your ride today.

...The boat has started, we'll say adieu
The scene is changing and is ever new;
For meditation deep and pensive thought,
On this small planet there's no better spot
We're here shut out from all the world of sin,
And by tall mountains, we are all shut in:
Primeval grandeur holds its reign supreme
On hoary mountains and on limpid stream
'Tis here you see for two miles or more,
Beautiful farms on either shore:
Here stalwart farmers toil and dig for gold,
By raising corn and 'punkins' I am told.

Schroon Lake Southwest from Leland House. Steamboat Effingham at the Leland House pier on Schroon Lake circa 1880. This is a copy of a S. R. Stoddard original from the collection of Allard M. Peterson, Eland, Wisconsin.

Wiser heads did prevail, however, and steamboat service did exist on the lake for the summer people to get to the various hotels and cottages. The Ondawa House in Schroon Lake Village was among these as covered by Posson's Guide To Lake George, Lake Champlain And Adirondacks, published in 1889. In it the advertisement for the Leland House And Cottages (built in 1872) was most interesting. 'The Leland House is situated on a point at the head of Schroon Lake, and commands a view of the Lake from three sides... The sanitary provisions are very complete.' The rates were said to be $3 per day or from $12.50 to $21 per week. Direct service via the Effingham was available at the hotel's pier. The hotel underwent a major rebuilding in 1915 after a deva stating fire but again featured steam boat service. However, like the steamboat it too has passed into history and on the site now stands the Town Hall.

Today, not far away is the Schroon-North Hudson Historical Society Building. Out front the members have mounted the screw propeller of the Effingham. It had been removed a few years back from its watery grave by some enterprising scuba divers.

Researching little known historical facts such as with the Effingham is both interesting and frustrating. The whole project began by reading a letter from Allard M. Peterson of Eland, Wisconsin, to the 'Soot In The Flues' column of the September/October 1982 edition of The Iron-Men Album magazine. His mother had lived in the area until 1888 and had told him of the lake and its boat and had preserved two photographs of the vessel. Beginning with them as 'bait' the catch grew in size as the search went far a field. Before it was over it had involved my sister-in-law, Vivian and her husband, Sanford Catlin for the field work while I labored with typewriter and telephone. The first stop was the files of the Steamship Historical Society at the University of Baltimore and then the Blunt-White Library of the Marine Historical Museum in Mystic, Connecticut where I was referred to the Adirondack Museum Library and Jerold Pepper in Blue Mountain Lakes, N. Y. These in turn led to the local Historical Society and to Mrs. Clara Franger and Mrs. Ann Treffs. It is organizations and people such as these that are cataloging our heritage. We owe them all a debt of gratitude.

Carl M. Lathrop 108 Garfield Avenue, Madison, New Jersey 07940