Recently we were able to visit the Lake George Steamboat dry dock on Baldwin Road in Ticonderoga just south of the historic Baldwin Dock. The Lake George dry dock is a Marine Railway on the National Register of Historic Places, and the essential the hub of operations for updates, repair and maintenance on the historic and beloved gentle giants of Lake George: The Minnie-Ha-Ha, the Mohican, and the Lac Du St. Sacrament tour ships. I had the privilege of speaking with dry dock engineers and memory keepers Luke Dow and Hank Overbeek. The two oversee everything from planning to day-to-day operations.
For 47 years Overbeek has been working on the boats, a lifetime career that began with building the Minnie Ha Ha in 1968. Now 80, he talks fondly of his long history with Bill Dow, owner of the Lake George Steamboat Company, and a lifelong friend. Luke Dow started working on the boats at the age of 11, and has been at it ever since. There is a deep current of respect between these two men, a palpable feeling of pride in what they do and a strong commitment to preservation – and progress.
The unpretentious setting belies the incredibly storied past of the Crandall Marine Railway and the Lake George Steamboat Company. Purchased in 1871 by the Delaware and Hudson Railroad, the Lake George Steamboat Company operated a small dry dock in the area that was used to launch its smaller vessels, but over time the ships got larger and larger.
The first metal hulled ship on Lake George was built in 1900, christened the Sagamore and launched in 1902. She was 203′ long and could carry up to 1500 passengers. In 1927 the ship collided with a rock off Anthony’s Nose, split her hull and immediately sank in less than 20 feet of water. Because a great deal of money and publicity had been invested in her, she was refloated 3 weeks later and towed to Baldwin for repair before the lake could freeze. Her huge size made it impossible to pull her out there, so a new marine railway was built by Crandall Marine out of Boston. They completed the entire project in 2-3 months, the Sagamore was hauled out by late September or early October, and was back to work the next season. (You can read the full history of the dry dock here.) The current dry dock was born.
Surprisingly, it is a small building that houses the equipment and apparatus used to pull the giant ships out of the water. The motor and the gears and the chains fill the head house…it seems everything that hauls the giant boats out of the water looks supersized. All the machinery that ran the engine in the old days… the “nuts and bolts”: the valves, pistons, even the crank…are all still in place. In the engine well, the chains used to haul the ships in are clearly visible. Just recently replaced after having been in use since 1928, each link of the chain weighs 45 pounds and is crafted to a specific taper. This engine will haul in an amazing 280 tons. Although the boats are not quite that heavy, the dock itself is good up to 800 tons.
The original engine was steam and required precision, strength and focus to operate successfully. Because there there were 3 separate handles and a lot at stake, it was critical to use an experienced operator who understood exactly how to do it. Said Overbeek, “If you make a mistake once the boat is on there you’re in trouble. Mr. Dow always made sure people were really, really qualified to do it.” The original engine crank still hangs on the wall. “You had to know just how to crank it because it would backfire and break your arm,” Overbeek continued.
The dry dock rotation for the boat maintenance is scheduled and specific. One boat per year is hauled out for maintenance, and remains at dry dock for a period of about one and a half months. Once all the boats have been serviced, it is a 5 or 6 year span before the rotation begins again. When asked what they do on the years when they don’t pull the ships, they chuckled. There is always much to do at the dry dock. Equipment and building maintenance, replacing the decking (much of which was completed in 2015), and their most current project, building a much needed storage facility. This looks to be a particularly big year at the dry dock…the Mohican is scheduled to be pulled out this August and have its entire hull replaced.
The Lake George Steamboat Company is also investing in maintaining and upgrading the neighboring Baldwin Dock landing. At one time there were 14 destinations on the lake, including Baldwin Dock just a short distance north of the dry dock. Known formally as “The Baldwin”, it was an arrival and departure point for visitors to this beautiful and rather remote (at the time) vacation destination.
Over the last few years the company has actively improved the landing, fixing rotting beams, 100-year old concrete walls, completely redoing the face of the dock. Dow’s love of the lake comes out readily in his eagerness to share so much of both past history and plans for the future. Two years ago they cleaned the southern “island” or section of the landing, adding a gazebo and crushed marble stone. Last spring they shored up and supported the northern island and build another, larger gazebo. It is obvious how delighted they are to be refurbishing it…their goal is to “put The Baldwin back the way it was in the old days”.
Check out the photo gallery below for some more photos from our visit!
- Baldwin Dock: Over 150 Years of Serving Tourists to the Adirondack and Lake Champlain Region
- Ticonderoga is “Ship” Shape!