Sunday, April 27, 2014

Cayuga Lake Steamboat FRONTENAC -The Model, Rex Stewart

        Profile plan drawing of Cayuga Lake steamboat FRONTENAC as she appeared in 1878.
        Research and drawing by author Rex Stewart.

Simplicity and lines...Lines and simplicity. All the makings of research and design which finally conclude the making of a prolific steamboat model. FRONTENAC had become an inspirational project for research and build as I explored the sidewheel types that operated beyond the Hudson Valley.

As I investigated this vessel, it was apparent that she was a steamer of note. And yet, as such, I pondered my thoughts as to why no model existed. New York had its great fleet of steamboats beyond the Hudson River. To the north, in and around the Adirondacks, walking beam and inclined engined vessels operated on Lake George and Lake Champlain. To the west and northwest of the State, such graced the mighty Saint Lawrence River and the scenic Finger Lakes. They were beautiful, simple in design, and carried a legacy that became notable...even in tragedy. Such a vessel  of note was the steamer FRONTENAC.

               Scene depicts steamer FRONTENAC about to make a commuter run on Cayuga Lake
               late 19th century.

The Industrial Age was the beginning of many inventions large and small in the American culture. It was an era that helped grow and expand the Country toward the 20th century with machine innovation. Steamboats were part of the travel innovation, replacing horse and buggy before the advent of the train and automobile. In the summer of 1820, passengers scheduled to ride stagecoach from Ithaca to Geneva, opted to board a steamboat for the lake's first voyage on the paddlewheeler ENTERPRISE. Fifty years later FRONTENAC became the popular boat.

FRONTENAC was built in 1870 bt T.D. Wilcox of Ithaca, New York at a cost of $50,000. She was a walking-beam sidewheeler with dimensions of 135 feet on the keel and had a hull beam of 22 feet. Her commuter capacity was 350 passengers.

Four years after the passing of T.D. Wilcox, his family heirs sold the business interest to the Cayuga Lake Transportation Company. In 1902, the steamboat and company was sold to Captain Melvin T. Brown of Syracuse. He, inturn, rebuilt parts of the superstructure and replaced the engine with new boilers five years later. It was at that time FRONTENAC encountered her fate after successfully servicing the lake in her 30 year span.

              Model detail showing starboard midship view of FRONTENAC. Colorscheme based
              on the 19th century maritime paintings of Antonio Jacobsen and the Bard Brothers.

On the morning of July 27th, 1907 FRONTENAC raced south to meet the northbound MOHAWK to exchange passengers that would have originally went southbound on MOHAWK. After the exchange the sidewheeler returned back north with her 60 passengers, most being women and children. While heading toward Union Springs, rough waters and gale-like winds prevented the steamer to land at both docks in Aurora and Levanna which were located at the widest part of the lake.

Onboard the vessel certain family members noticed smoke coming from the Captain's pilot house and alerted others onboard. On shore many witnessed the steamer catching fire and men from the shore raced out to rescue the passengers and crew. Captain Brown's quick thinking brought the boat near Farley's Point to beach on a sandbar called Dill's Cove.

                                                                                   Profile closeup of FRONTENAC's portside detail

Heavy waves made it difficult for the men to rescue all. In the final event, seven were loss. The incident spread throughout New York and new laws and regulations were passed. As for steamboat travel on Cayuga Lake, the tragedy brought many to move away from it and the business declined with FRONTENAC never being rebuilt. But in the end, many had fond memories of this prolific steamboat and I'm fortunate to have researched and build the first accurate model of this legend.

                   Finger Lakes steamboat FRONTENAC the completed model, built at 1/8 scale.

This was a good build and a very attractive model of note. The time of this build was a month. This and other period steamboat models can be researched and commissioned by contacting or calling 1-774-757-7137. More information can be obtained by visiting and