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Steamboats made way along Sacandaga River

April 7, 2014
By PETER BETZ , The Leader Herald

Under the headline, "The Sacandaga," the June 4, 1874, Saratogian newspaper informed the public, "The steamboat L.E. Wait has resumed its trips to and from the Fish House." Area papers printed many announcements regarding the running schedule of what was probably the first Sacandaga River steamer throughout its 35- year lifespan, also giving notices of when it stopped for winter and restarted in spring, but before the Internet provided quick access to early New York newspapers via the www.fultonhistory.com website, considerably less was known about early Adirondack steamboat activities.

People have often asked me when steam technology first arrived on the Sacandaga, what the first steamboat was named, who captained it, and any other verifiable details. The earliest article I've located regarding Sacandaga River steamboat activity appeared in the Albany Evening Journal Dec. 5, 1848, crediting a correspondent writing "from Edinburg, December 1st," seeming to refer to the E.L. Wait. Excerpts are informative.

"Last Tuesday about 9 o'clock a.m., the inhabitants of our quiet little village [Batchellerville] were saluted with the cry from the hill above, 'The steamboat is coming - the steamboat is coming!' On ascending the hill and looking toward the south, a huge column of smoke was seen rising above the tops of trees: it was evident that something was afloat. Immediately a general rush of men and boys was made for the 'big gun,' which was placed on the bank in battle array, and a 'crow charge' was deposited therein, to be delivered on demand. Every eye was turned to the point some 80 rods up the river, where the 'grand entry' was expected. An instant after, a real live steamer, make no mistake, came gracefully around the point and made toward the shore. The match was applied to the old gun and as the report echoed along the river, three hearty cheers were given by those on board and were responded to with a will from 150 voices on the shore.

"Curiosity to see the 'critter' was now the ruling passion. We found her a nice, trim-built, ship-shape little vessel about seventy feet long and fifteen feet breath of beam with an engine of probably 40 or 50 horse-power and drawing about 30 feet of water. She has been built this season by a gentleman from Albany and is intended to run from the Fish House to 'Barber's Dam' at the head of the rapids at Hadley - a distance of roughly 25 miles - principally for towing immense quantities of lumber to Fish House, where, whence a plank road now under construction is to be completed next season, to intersect the canal and railroad at Amsterdam. The boat's proprietor is now engaged in building an extensive tannery at the dam, which will furnish a large amount of freight. On entering the cabin, we found an abundance of oysters, fruit, cakes, etc. We stood down the river about 3 miles where the passengers for Edinburg were landed and the boat returned. We went our separate ways, highly gratified with the trial trip."

Though overly long, this quotation suggests how thrilling it was to see a steamboat for the first time. "Barber's Dam" isn't a mystery; it was the early name of Conklinville, and there was more industrial activity there than just a tanning factory. The captain, who enjoyed a lengthy tenure with this boat, was William Greenslete, confirmed via many articles, including one in the Gloversville Morning Herald, which on July 6, 1929, reprinted an essay written by Capt. Greenslete's son Joseph, relating, "Captain William Greenslete for thirty-five years ran the boat between Conklinville and Batchellerville pulling scows loaded with bark to the tanneries." Of Conklinville, Joseph recalled, "On the north bank were two large mills, one for making spice boxes; the other made washboards, clothes pins, butter tubs and wooden bowls. On the south bank were the sawmill and the large tannery. For the purpose of bringing bark to the tannery and general commerce, the steamboat plied daily between these locations."

Other announcements confirm Joseph Greenslete's memories, such as one appearing in the June 20, 1878, Saratoga Sentinel. "The steamer L.E. Wait has been put in thorough repair and repainted and is now running regularly between [Conklinville] and [Batchellerville] towing barges of bark and carrying freight and passengers."

Who owned the tannery? Another Saratoga Sentinel article of Feb. 12, 1880, states, "Henry Poor & Son of Boston are owners of the tannery here, of which L.E. Wait is local manager. In 1879, they tanned 40,000 Spanish hides. To tan the above, they used 3,893 cords of hemlock bark. They have another tannery in Crowville (on Sand Creek), which Mr. Wait also manages."

Wait was a busy man, so it's little wonder the Poors named their steamer after him, but Capt. Greenslete wasn't very idle either. The November 1880 Troy Daily Times reports, "Capt. Greenslete has gone into the woods to measure 8,000 cords of bark for Poor & Son."

Other articles confirm Joseph Greenslete's assertion his father ran the L.E. Wait for 35 years, (1848-1883). The Weekly Saratogian of April 19, 1883, announced the L.E. Wait's sad ending when it reported, "The steamboat L.E. Wait sunk last Friday. The passengers and crew were all saved. The woodenware works lost 1,600 logs."

I find no articles suggesting the Wait was refloated. Besides, after 35 years, Capt. Greenslete needed a rest.

Peter Betz, a former Fulton County historian, lives in Fort Johnson.

 
 
 

 

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