History of the Lake George Steamboat Company's First Cruise Ships (1817-1836)
The Lake George Steamboat Company has been an iconic part of the Lake George Region for a long time, but can you believe 2017 is its 200th anniversary?
Ever since it was incorporated by the New York State Legislature in 1817, a lot has changed for this historic boating company. 12 steamboats have sailed for them over the years, and each one has played a special role in making the company what it is today.
Come aboard and join us as we tell the story of the Lake George Steamboat Company's early beginnings and ships!
The Rise of Steamboats
The Lake George Steamboat Company was officially incorporated about three decades after the invention of the steamboat in Europe. The first steam-powered boat was made in France in 1783, and in the following years, different inventors began to develop their own steamboat designs.
In 1807, American inventor Robert Fulton built the North River Steamboat (or Clermont) on the Hudson River. Due to its ability to travel long distances, the Clermont paved the way for steamboats as an effective form of commercial water transportation.
Steamboats soon began to pop up all over the U.S., from the New Orleans on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to the Vermont on Lake Champlain. Not long after, steamboats found their way to Lake George.
The Lake George Steamboat Co. & Their First Steamboat
During the early 19th century, Lake George Village was still named Caldwell after its founder James Caldwell. The area was known for its role in past wars, and at the turn of the century, adventurers, hunters, and others began to visit the Lake George Region for the beautiful lake and surrounding wilderness.
As Caldwell grew and reached a population level of 500-600 people, it made sense to try and develop a commercial transportation system on Lake George. As such, the Lake George Steamboat Company was incorporated, and James Caldwell became the first director.
Later that year, the steamboat company launched its first boat on Lake George - the James Caldwell. The steamboat was 80 feet long, 20 feet wide, and had engines that were salvaged from the sunken Vermont on Lake Champlain. The steamboat's max speed was 4mph (as fast as a man-powered rowboat), and it only had one captain in its short lifetime, John Winans.
Although the ship burned down under mysterious circumstances in 1821, the James Caldwell was the beginning of a storied history for the Lake George Steamboat Company.
The Creation of the Mountaineer
After the short success of the James Caldwell, the Lake George Steamboat Company focused on creating its next boat - the Mountaineer. In 1824, the new $12,000 steamboat was built on Pine Point in Caldwell (Lake George Village).
At 100 feet long and 16 feet wide, the Mountaineer was roughly the same size as the James Caldwell, but its stronger engine allowed it to reach up to 6mph.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Mountaineer was its structure. Unlike similar boats, the wooden hull of this steamboat did not have a rib structure. Rather, the hull was constructed out of three layers of oak planking laid in horizontal and vertical directions like plywood.
During its lifetime, the Mountaineer was even more of a success than the James Caldwell. Not only did it make two weekly trips to Ticonderoga, but many people were willing to pay for a sightseeing cruise. Back then, tickets cost just $2 each!
For 13 years, the Mountaineer operated on Lake George until it was retired in 1836. In its stead, the William Caldwell set sail as the Lake George Steamboat's latest cruise ship.
Want to learn more about the Lake George Steamboat Company? Stay tuned, as we will continue telling the story of the company as part of a monthly series in celebration of their bicentennial year.
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