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Ticonderoga | Lake Champlain’s Steamboat

Ticonderoga | Lake Champlain’s Steamboat
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The Ticonderoga

Photo/Art by Julie Bidwell
The Ticonderoga

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.

Preservationist Electra H. Webb, founder of the  Shelburne Museum.

Photo/Art by Courtesy of Shelburne Museum
Preservationist Electra H. Webb, founder of the
Shelburne Museum.

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

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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Debbie Despres

Author:

Debbie Despres

Biography:

Debbie Despres is an associate editor for the magazine. Deb is the primary fact checker for Yankee Magazine and also contributes content to each issue. A member of YPI’s corporate staff since 2000, Deb joined Yankee’s editorial team in 2011. A native of New Hampshire, with a work history that includes several years in the travel industry, she enjoys discovering new destinations, and the myriad of road trip opportunities unique to New England.
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