Ticonderoga | Lake Champlain’s Steamboat
Launched in 1906, the Ticonderoga (or the Ti, for those who knew it well) was a state-of-the-art side-wheel steamer that transported passengers, freight, and cars—even an elephant once—on Lake Champlain, cruising at 23 miles per hour; only trains could outpace the Ti in its day.
Though luxurious in its appointments, the vessel wasn’t intended for overnight travel. Staterooms were available to provide comfort on daytrips or long days in port. Rates ranged from $1.50 to $3 per day.
By the 1940s, entertainment cruises had become popular. The Ti’s dining room was transformed into a dance hall, and neon signs were fitted atop the deck and paddleboxes, announcing Showboat and Ticonderoga. The Coast Guard considered the signs a nighttime navigation hazard and ordered them removed.
Postwar-era struggles plagued the Ti, as it competed with the public’s growing preference for car travel, and diesel-powered ferries began providing faster service on Lake Champlain.
By the 1950s, the owners were thinking of scrapping the Ti to pay off creditors when Vermont historian Ralph Nading Hill suggested a campaign to spare it. “Save the Ti” needed to raise $10,000 to cover the debt; the goal fell short by $1,500. With the Ti’s future looking dire, Hill approached preservationist Electra H. Webb, founder of the Shelburne Museum. Webb and her husband bought the Ti for $20,000.
On September 29, 1953, the Ti returned to Vermont’s Shelburne Harbor for the last time, ending the 144-year history of steamboat travel on New England’s largest lake. The Ti would be pulled overland two miles to rest on the beautiful grounds of the Shelburne Museum.
How’d they move it? An enormous basin was dug at the base of the harbor. In that basin, an equally enormous cradle was built. A tug pushed the Ti into the basin, the basin was filled with water, winches and cables pulled the Ti toward the cradle, and then the basin was drained, so that the boat remained resting within the cradle. The overland travel was done in winter, when the ground was hard enough to withstand the weight of the 892-ton boat. Crews laid railroad track in 300-foot sections, quickly removing it and relaying it so that the Ti could advance, braced by 16 freight-car trucks. The caravan never did better than 250 feet per day; the journey took 65 days. (A film of the relocation process can be seen at the Shelburne Museum.)
Mr. & Mrs. J. Warren McLure donated $1.7 million in the 1980s to refurbish the steamer and establish an endowment for its care in perpetuity. Restored to its 1920s glory, the Ti continues to welcome patrons aboard from May through October. shelburnemuseum.org