The canal schooner was the tractor trailer of the Erie Canal, according to historian and tugboat captain Art Cohn. Cohn visited Amsterdam and Canajoharie this month as part of the legacy tour of the replica canal schooner Lois McClure and its companion tugboat.
The Lois McClure, built for the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, was launched in 2004 and named in honor of a major contributor to the project.
The original canal schooners were constructed to take advantage of the first widening on the Erie Canal that took place in 1862 during the Civil War,
Cohn said, “The boat that you’re on is a replica of a boat that would have been built literally that year to accommodate more freight to go through the system. And we know this because we’ve located two of these boats, exact examples, both built in 1862, intact and on the bottom of Lake Champlain.”
The shipwrecks were found in Burlington Harbor, Vermont in 1980. The boats were equipped for sailing.
Cohn said it took some time to convince established historians that these canal boats were actually used as sailing vessels. There is a 1900 postcard photo showing a canal schooner sailing on Lake Champlain.
The boats sailed when traveling on Lake Champlain and wide rivers such as the Hudson and St. Lawrence. The schooners did not sail on the canals.
The boats sailed from lake ports to the entrance to the Champlain Canal. There the masts were lowered, sails either stowed on board or on shore and teams of horses began pulling the schooners through the canal system.
Cohn said, “These boats…
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