Essex, NY | August 2
by Barbara Batdorf
I awoke at home in Essex, VT to the sound of steady rain, an entirely too familiar sound this summer. Today is the day we leave LCMM at Basin Harbor, where we have been for the last ten days, to continue our Discover 1609 Tour. We left our car in Burlington and caught a ride south with Elisa Nelson who does a great job of helping staff and volunteers get to and depart from the schooner at various places around the lake. Yesterday Elisa and I had helped Kathleen shop to re-provision the boat prior to leaving and many willing hands helped to carry the last of the food and retail supplies on board to be safely stowed below.
After our usual meeting on deck we safely departed North Harbor and headed across the lake to historic Essex, NY. I was feeling a great sense of history as we headed to Essex, which had been a great shipbuilding town and port throughout the 19th century and where the General Butler, one of the canal boats ours was modeled after, had been constructed. We would soon be docking right near where she had been built in 1862.
We arrived at Essex Shipyard shortly after lunch and went about the usual activities of putting out the gangway and setting up the exhibits. It was decided that our Ship's Store would be set up tomorrow up on Main Street along with all the others participating in the annual Essex Day Celebration.
Friday evening the crew was treated to both a delicious dinner and great chance to learn more about the history of the area courtesy of the Darcey & Bruce Hale, at their home on the property of an historic quarry in Willsboro. They are helping to preserve the rich history of the area in a wonderful collection of historical documents, artifacts and pictures that Darcey is tirelessly archiving. Seeing these documents helped to tie the stories we tell to people visiting the boat to real events and people who were shipping product on boats like the Lois McClure back in the 1800's.
The Lois docked at the busy Essex Shipyard. Photo by Kerry Batdorf.
I was up early and took a walk through town. As I walked through the quiet streets and looked at the wonderful buildings it was easy to imagine how the town must have been back in the 19th Century when it was a bustling commercial community. I noticed a colorful poster drawn by Steven Kellog, informing folks about the Essex Day celebration that was going to begin in just a few short hours. It was my clue that it was time to rejoin the crew, eat a great breakfast at the Rudder Club, and continue getting ready to join this welcoming community in today's event.
While the boat was being readied for the public, our retail boxes were hauled off the dock and the LCMM Ship's Store was set up in our small tent up on Main Street. Thankfully the rain of yesterday had ended and it was a beautiful sunny day. The street was closed to traffic and as many people browsed up and down Main Street visiting different storefronts and booths they stopped to chat on their way to or from the boat. Everyone seemed excited about visiting a boat that had such an historical connection to their town. Later, after festivities had ended on Main Street, folks joined together for an Ecumenical Church service held aboard the Lois. After that it was time to break down the tent and carry everything back aboard before joining together with the Hale's for a delicious dinner in the Rudder Room, where we were dwarfed by the huge wooden rudder salvaged from the wreck of the steamboat Champlain II which ran aground near Barn Rock in 1875.
Essex Day ended with Movie Night in Beggs Park sponsored by Champlain Valley Film Society. It was a showing of Operation Spitfire, a recently completed documentary exploring the gunboat Spitfire and the ongoing research and discussion about how to best preserve this important shipwreck. LCMM Executive Director Art Cohn introduced the movie and later answered many questions relating to shipwrecks and how to manage them.
The downpours have returned, yet the weather didn't keep folks away and many visited the boat throughout the day. It is always fun to talk to people about the Lois McClure and to share history with the people that come aboard. Rainy days can be good story days. As many of our visitors tell their stories, I'm learning something new about the people and communities in every port we visit!
And all the other community members that welcomed us so warmly into Essex and worked so hard to make our visit successful.
The Essex Shipyard & Rudder Club (especially Randy!)
Darcey and Bruce Hale