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Schooner replica moves through area for tours on canal

September 21, 2012
By ARTHUR CLEVELAND , The Leader Herald

CANAJOHARIE - A?hundred years ago, the sight of an 88-foot-long canal schooner would have been common along the Erie Canal.

People don't see them today, but on Thursday, they had a rare opportunity.

The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum stopped at Riverfront Park in the village to give tours of the replica 19th-century schooner.

Article Photos

Kerry Batdorf, left, the carpenter on the canal schooner Lois McClure, shows Ronald R. Holcomb and his son Ronald V. Holcomb, both of Ephratah, the vessel’s wheel at the helm while docked at the Canajoharie Waterfront Park in Canajoharie on Thursday. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)

The replica of the Lois McClure, an 88-by-14-foot schooner that used to run up and down the Erie Canal from the 1860s and on, has been on a tour along the Erie Canal since May.

Arthur Cohn, project director and one of the crew members onboard the Lois McClure, said today would be the 100th day of straight sailing as part of the 1812 Bicentennial Tour. The tour remembers the War of 1812 and the effects it had on the nation.

Cohn said the Lois McClure design came from the wreckage of two schooners found at the bottom of Lake Champlain.

Fact Box

The Lois McClure will be in Amsterdam from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Riverlink Park for free tours.

Ian Montgomery, a member of the crew, said schooners originally were designed to carry cargo on the canalways in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The schooners were outfitted with sails to cross lakes. Before this, boats had to wait until a steamship arrived to tow several boats at a time. The schooners allowed for faster and more effective transit on the canals.

"This is exactly the type of boat that would have gone through the center of town, and not just this town, but all these Erie Canal towns, for a hundred years," Cohn said.

The vessels were the equivalent of the semi-trucks that were traveling along the highway near where the boat was docked Thursday, Cohn said.

The Lois McClure had a weight capacity of 100 tons, and the lower deck could be crammed with items such as building materials and food items.

Cohn said the main benefits of these tours were teaching locals about the history and archaeology in their own areas.

Barbara Bartley, a member of the crew, was able to find 29 years' worth of daily journals, totaling 1,500 pages, written by her great-grandfather-in-law, Capt. Theodore Bartley. Bartley worked as a captain of a schooner during the 19th century.

"The design is meant to carry 100,000 pounds of freight easily," Montgomery said, "so we have the advantage of a sturdy boat."

"It's a great story," said Ron V. Holcomb, a guest on the boat.

Along with being a ship captain, Bartley was a renowned gunsmith who had a patent on one of the first breech-loading mechanisms for rifles. Holcomb is actually an owner of one of Bartley's firearms.

Dee Holcomb, a guest onboard, said Bartley was a brother-in-law to her great-grandfather.

"That's how we kind of connect as families," she said.

Rick White, a San Francisco native who has been sailing on canals from Detroit to the Erie Canal, was excited to see the boat.

"It's been great. I've been following the boat [and] finally caught up with it," White said. "Being able to see this just adds to this whole history."

Starting in Burlington, Vt., the Lois McClure went through canals in Canada before coming back into the United States. The schooner will be in Amsterdam on Saturday at Riverlink Park. Tours are free.



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