Content Tools

Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont 05482

The Ticonderoga is the last remaining example of the type of North America side wheel steamboat that carried our westward expansion in the decades before the railroads. Except for her enclosed wheel-houses, an early 20th century development, the Ticonderoga is identical in design and propulsion system to the vessels that served every seaboard and inland port in the United States (except on the Mississippi River system) from the late 1830s to World War II. Her motive power is a vertical beam engine, an American marine adaptation of the Newcomen engine first used for pumping water out of English coal mines. This type of propulsion system led to a distinctly American development in marine architecture: the engine rose several decks through an ellipse, allowing commodious passenger accommodations and substantial freight capacities. At the same time, great ease of handling and navigation in shallow waters was made possible by the side paddlewheels. In their heyday in the 19th century, side-wheelers were ubiquitous. The paddlewheel era is one of the most exuberant and colorful in American history.

The S.S. Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain in the 1950s.

The Ticonderoga's engine was hand-built in Hoboken, New Jersey, by Andrew Fletcher and Sons, the most famous of the vertical engine builders. Her steel hull was designed and built by T. S. Marvel on the Hudson River and shipped to Lake Champlain through the Champlain Canal. Her joiner work was completed in 1905 at the Shelburne Harbor Shipyard of the Champlain Transportation Company, the oldest steamboat company in the world when it ceased operations in 1932. The company traced its origins to 1809 when the Vermont I, licensed by Fulton and Livingston, became the first steamboat in regular service on any lake in the world. The Ti was launched in 1906

Powered by two boilers which consumed a ton of coal an hour, the Ti was capable of speeds from 18 to 23 miles per hour. Paddlewheels on either side of the boat were driven by the unencased engine which rises through all three decks. Firemen in the boiler-room shoveled coal to heat two enormous boilers containing thousands of gallons of water. The steam pressure thus generated rose into the steam chest from which it could be released by the engineer into the 53-inch piston cylinder. The piston's upward motion pushed on the walking beam connected to the Pitman arm which in turn rotated the shaft holding the two wheels. The wheels themselves are of the 'feather wheel' type and were designed so that the ten buckets on each wheel entered and left the water straight. Thus engine power was not wasted lifting the tons of water displaced.

The paddlewheel design was perfectly suited for inland water ways, as it enabled very large boats to navigate in shallow water. The Ticonderoga weighs 892 tons and yet drew only six feet of water when standing still and ten feet when underway, enabling her to travel nearly anywhere on Lake Champlain.

Designed for the luxury tourist lake trade, and used mainly for excursions, the Ticonderoga also carried freight such as apples, cars, and livestock and had roomy overnight passenger accommodations. She once carried an elephant across Lake Champlain. The Ti's interior shows the elegance of the grand tradition of American steamship building in the butternut and cherry paneling of its dining room and stateroom hall, its gold stenciled ceilings and its wide and lushly carpeted staircases.

The last vessel built by the Champlain Transportation Company, the 220 foot Ticonderoga had served 43 years when, in 1950 she was about to be scrapped. A public fund-raising campaign enabled her to return to operation that year. Early in 1951 she was purchased by the Shelburne Museum which, through a subsidiary, the Shelburne Steamboat Company, kept her in operation through 1953, when trouble with her aging coal-fired, Scotch-type boilers and lack of qualified licensed personnel forced her retirement.

In 1954 the Museum decided that the best means for her preservation was her removal to the Shelburne Museum. During the winter of 1955 she was hauled two miles from the foot of Shelburne Bay through swamps and across meadows and a railroad right of way to the Museum grounds. The move demanded careful planning and unique procedures. The Ti was floated into a specially dug basin which was filled with water to enable the Ti to be floated over a railroad carriage. The water was then let out of the basin, and the Ti settled onto her carriage. Tracks were laid in front of the boat, and two months later she arrived at her final destination near the Colchester Lighthouse at the Shelburne Museum.

The journey of such a large vessel overland was without precedent, and the Ticonderoga was featured around the world in newspaper and magazine articles (including a feature story in Life) and on radio and television. In 1964 she was declared a National Historic Landmark. To move the Ti to the Museum and provide ongoing maintenance has required great and sustained effort, not to mention the commitment of a substantial portion of the Museum's annual operating budget.

In 1977 it was becoming apparent that if the vessel was to survive at all, much less be accessible to future generations, more than annual housekeeping and maintenance was required. Accordingly, planning began, first to renew the most seriously deteriorated parts of the boat, then to proceed with a complete restoration of her exterior, interior and utilities. The Museum trustees determined to restore her as closely as possible to her condition when she was launched. This program began in 1978 when the National Trust awarded a matching $10,500 grant for sandblasting and painting the iron hull and paddle-wheels. The work was completed on schedule and within the budget in September 1978.

In 1979 the Ti received a $117,500 matching grant from a special fund for maritime preservation administered by the Department of the Interior and the National Trust. The Ticonderoga award is the largest preservation grant ever made in Vermont.

The Museum plans to raise $60,000 in each of the next two years to match the federal money; $13,000 has been raised so far in 1980 from foundations, local businesses and individuals. Part of the funds from a new season membership program will also go toward the match. Other special fund raising efforts are underway. A group of 48 fifth graders from Springfield, Vermont, is organizing a public service advertising campaign for the Ti as part of a school project. This is by far the largest fundraising campaign in Shelburne Museum history.

1. Coal bin
2. Steam chest
3. Cylinder
4. Walking beam
5. Connecting rod
6. Paddle shaft

The schedule of renovations for the Ti is staged according to priority of work and the Vermont weather. The hurricane deck, forecastle and quarterdecks are rotted in many places and will be replaced. This work will make the vessel watertight and prevent further damage. Ribs, exterior sheathing and guard rails will be replaced and, at the same time, all exterior surfaces will be painted. The 40-year-old sprinklers and fire hoses will be replaced and all wiring will be examined and replaced where necessary. Refurbishing of the interior is scheduled for the summer of 1981. All interior surfaces will be painted; all chairs and sofas will be reupholstered; all rugs will be replaced; broken windows in the saloon will be replaced with reproduction etched and frosted glass; and the linoleum floors will be replaced with reproduction rubber tile. The Museum staff, under the direction of Robert Francis, will undertake all repairs. The Benjamin Moore Paint Company will offer technical assistance in the extensive painting work. The Museum has also received a commitment from Dr. Waldo C. M. Johnston, ex-director of Mystic Seaport, to help assemble and serve on a Ticonderoga advisory committee of maritime experts.

Since she has berthed at the Shelburne Museum, more people have boarded the Ti each summer than in any season she operated on Lake Champlain. Her annual visitation averages well over 130,000 people from every state in the Union and many foreign countries. Since her boiler, dynamo, steering engine room, galley and foc'sle are now available for inspection, along with the main and hurricane decks and Stateroom Hall, she has become a unique educational resource. In addition, her dining room serves as an auditorium and a lecture hall, with frequent daily screenings of a film describing the moving of the boat from the harbor. The Museum library holds her plans and records for researchers as well as general information on the history of the Champlain waterway. In 1979 the Museum and the National Trust cosponsored an intern to develop this important maritime archive.

The Ticonderoga will remain open to visitors at the Shelburne Museum during the regular season, mid-May-mid-October each year and to researchers throughout the year. The Shelburne Museum is a non-profit organization founded in 1947 by Mr. and Mrs. J. Watson Webb.