Editor’s note: The Author, Bonnie Wilkinson Marks supplied extensive footnotes for this article. They can be accessed by clicking the underscored text. Also each photograph can be enlarged.
One of the best known and longest operating boat building businesses on the St. Lawrence River is Hutchinson Boat Works, Inc. Originally established as Hutchinson Brothers Boat Works, the business was started ca 19021 by George and James Herbert (Bert) Hutchinson, in rented facilities on Sisson Street, in Alexandria Bay, New York.
The business was family oriented, employing at one point, all four brothers – James Herbert, George, Thomas, and Joseph Hutchinson. James Herbert3, or Bert as he was known, was born in July 7, 1880 on Wolfe Island, while George, born September 10, 1882; Thomas4, born September 28, 1889; and Joseph5, born April 4, 1893 were all born on Wellesley Island. While growing up on their parent’s farm near Browns Bay, Wellesley Island, the boys attended the local island school. When their father died in 1893, the family moved to Thousand Island Park, Wellesley Island. When he was 12 years old, Bert left school to work with local boat builders in Alexandria Bay and on steam ships traveling the Great Lakes. In 1898, at the age of 18, he joined the Coast Guard and fought in Cuba in the Spanish-American War, a war he referred to as "Hooligan's Navy".6
When Bert returned to the River in 1901, he and George worked at Andrew and Charles Duclon’s boat shop on Walton Street in Alexandria Bay, learning the finer points of boat construction7. They helped the Duclon's8 construct the 65’ Mascot that was being built for G. T. Rafferty. That next spring they started their own business on Mill Point in Alexandria Bay, building boats in the winter and chartering them in the summer9.
From 1902 to 1964, Hutchinson’s constructed well over 250 boats10. They were known for their craftsmanship and quality, often constructing one-of-a-kind hulls in addition to their stock boats, which were constructed from the 1920s to the 1962. The number of men in the shop varied depending on the amount of work, but usually there were 15 to 20 men11. Most of the boats they constructed were built of mahogany with oak keels and either carvel or lapstrake planking. The decks were usually stained with king planks (in the bow decks) having a contrasting color. The bottoms were painted with red lead after the last trim was applied. However, the lapstrake utility boats usually had mahogany decks and detailing of pine, cedar, or mahogany planking (the pine and cedar were usually painted). These craft ranged in size from 19 feet (utility) to 48 feet (runabout), with 28 foot runabouts being the most common size in the earlier years and 22 foot and 26 foot stock, utility boats being the most common size in the later years.
Initially, plans were not used for the design or construction of these boats. Instead, a half hull was assembled to determine the boat’s shape and molds were then laid out on the second floor of the Wood Shop on Crossmon Street. Any variation from one boat to another resulted from varying the position of the molds and the placement of the engine. Hardware came from the local hardware store while engines came from the various manufacturers throughout the country.
Hutchinson’s used a number of different engines types, depending on engine technology at the time. From 1909 to 1914 they used a variety of engines that included Buffalo, Barber, Pierce, Simplex, Trebbert, and Sterling. Then from 1914 to 1920 they used Sterling and Redwing engines. After the1920s they became manufacturer’s representative for the Redwing Motor Company and Hall Scott. In the 1930s they began using Chrysler Marine engines.
Hutchinson’s constructed many different types of boats over the next fifty years, including houseboats, launches, racing boats, cruisers, runabouts, sedans, utilities, and boats for the war effort. Their first large contract was for a 94’ houseboat12 for Commodore Lawrence of Cleveland, Ohio. When completed, the boat would cost between $12,000 and $15,000. It was to be ...built of the best pine and cedar. The cabin of the boat will be 78 feet long and 18 feet wide and will be finished in white enamel ... The work on the boat will be commenced in the near future or the contract calls for the completion by the opening of navigation next season.
One of Hutchinson’s next commissions was a high-speed launch. In this long slender craft, the engine was located below the long bow deck, leaving the aft portion of the boat open for passengers. This area was often covered with a canvas cloth covering such as a Kenyon top over the stern of the craft. Seating was either built-in or wicker chairs were used. Linoleum or an occasional rug (or oriental carpet) was placed over the floor boards. This style was best described in 1909 by the Thousand Islands Sun:
The Hutchinson Brothers have also been busy the past winter and have built several very fine launches. The first to be completed was one they will either sell or use for charter purposes the coming year. She is 35 feet 5 inches over all and 6 foot beam, planked with pine and mahogany decks and trimmings and will have installed a 15 hp Buffalo engine which is expected to give her a speed of 16 mph. She is filled with the R.L. Kenyon Top and curtains which make her have a fine appearance and the engine is controlled from a dash board automobile control. She has a mahogany hood over her engine.
They continued to build custom boats for individual owners, moving into their current location on Crossmon Street in December 1913. The new shop was used for constructing new boats while the old Sisson Street shop was used to repair boats13.
Although there was an economic downturn from 1914 to 1915, Hutchinson Brothers were as busy as ever. By March 1914, twenty workmen were busy constructing eleven boats varying in size from 25 feet to 40 feet. One of these was the Onondaga III built for Frederick Lovejoy of Montclair, New Jersey and Westminster Park. There were many reasons for owning boats in the Thousand Islands, transportation being one of them, but the following observation appeared in the Thousand Island Sun14 concerning Mr. Lovejoy’s launch and describing the merits of owning a Hutchinson built boat.
Mr. Frederick B. Lovejoy is a comparatively recent addition to the host of motor boat enthusiasts. He has had a whole flock of Automobiles, American, French and Belgian, yet he finds that they no longer give him that relaxation, that pleasure, that a busy business man must have during his hours of leisure. He also finds that the dirt, dust, and bad atmosphere attendant on riding in automobiles is none to good for his health.
He had seen many of his friends buy motor boats of various types, but was under the impression that a motor boat was almost as unreliable and deadly as Rudyard Kipling's "Female of the Species". Last year, while at his home in the Thousand Islands, near this place, he took several rides in the various speedy, comfortable, family runabouts that should abound in that ideal boating centre…
He became interested; he noticed the difference in the atmosphere while riding in a boat from that breathed while riding in an automobile. He noticed that these boats ran for hours without any trouble of any kind; that they started the minute they were wanted, went where they wanted to go and came back, all the time traveling at a comfortable turn of speed.
He furthermore noticed that these boats could be handled entirely from the drivers seat, just like the motor car, for there were the foot pedal controls for reverse and ahead, the electric starter for the motor, the electric lighting system for the lights, an automobile steering with spark and throttle control - in fact every convenience and luxury characteristic of the highest grade of automobile.
He noticed that the seating arrangements were better than in a car, more room in every way and bigger passenger capacity, more chance to take out a real party of his friends when he felt like it, and the seating so arranged so that everybody could join in the conversation without getting kinks in the neck.
The result was that when Mr. Lovejoy reached this place last summer he had delivered to him a 40 foot by 7 foot runabout deluxe. This boat was turned over to him complete in every detail the day he arrived. He has been using it practically since it has always been ready for him, always took him where he wanted to go and brought him back.
His boat is the Onondaga III, and was designed and built complete in every detail by Hutchinson Brothers, of this place and is constructed throughout of selected Mexican mahogany. Her power plant is an eight cylinder 150-180 hp runabout engine, equipped with an electric starter, and this little power plant gives him thirty real miles an hour whenever he wants it as long as he wants it.
Engines were constantly being replaced as engine technology developed. This was the case in 1921, when Mr. Lovejoy replaced the original engine with a 200 hp Hall-Scott. He then sold the boat in 1928 for $3,000 to the Dodge family of Wild Goose Island who renamed the boat the Wild Goose. The Dodges installed the front cockpit and replaced the engine with a 6 cylinder, 210 hp Scripps in 1962.
Hutchinson Brothers received national prominence when the Thais, built for A. O. Miller, was featured on the cover of August 25, 1914 issue of Motor Boat magazine15. In an article entitled "The Runabout Glorified", the author describes the Thais as built by Hutchinson Bros. who "exerted their utmost skill in her construction". She was powered with a 6 cylinder, 75 hp Sterling motor and traveled at 24 1/2 miles per hour.
One didn’t always have to have a canvas top for the boat. Houston Barnhard placed an order for the Voyager based on an automobile design or what was known as a “limousine top”. The November 1914 issue of Motor Boating magazine exclaimed: “…a notable departure from convention is in the design of the top. The after part of the cockpit16 is housed with an aluminum limousine body-top with generous rounded lines and upholstered throughout in gray and blue waterproof material.” Then in 1916, they also constructed a “special auto top” for W. B. Hayden's motorboat Artful Dodger17.
Or you could have a wooden hard top constructed, similar to the later sedans. Such was the case for Red Cloud. Red Cloud was one of two boats18 constructed over the winter of 1921 and delivered the spring of 1922 for the O. J. Hamlin Family of Round Island and Smithport, Pennsylvania.18 She was 36’6” long with a 6’6” beam, and was initially powered by a Balanced 4, 125 hp Hall-Scott engine and would achieve 26 to 27 mph. Red Cloud was transferred to Lindsey Boat Works on Hub Island in lieu of payment for services rendered to the boat. She fell into disrepair and sank on the Rock Island Light during the storm of 1979. John Withers of Thousand Island Park bought the boat and took her to Syracuse for restoration. He had 8 feet of keel replaced and several planks, and as result of her excellent care, she won Antique boat of the year in 1980.
During 1924, Hutchinson’s were still constructing launches among their other contracts and built a 28’ foot launch. Her early history is unknown, but the year 1964 starts her unique contribution to maritime history on the St. Lawrence River and the United States. The Allen Youngs family owned a cottage on the edge of the Zenda Property named Idyll Oaks. While Allen and his wife were walking through the Thousand Island Marina (now known as the Islander Marina), they noticed an old wooden boat on blocks in the corner of the building. They inquired about the old boat and Mr. Tom Turgeon, owner of the marina, agreed to sell the boat for the amount of unpaid repairs. The Youngs' then hired the marina and Glenn Jackson of their staff to work on her over the winter and renamed the boat the Idyll Oaks. During the summer of 1965, the Youngs' invited several friends and fellow wooden boat enthusiasts to bring their boats together for public display. So with the assistance of the officials from the Clayton Chamber of Commerce, 20 boats appeared and started the first Antique Boat Show - the first of its kind in the United States and the world. The rest we shall say is history.
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There is some discrepancy with this date. In an affidavit appraisal for G. C. Boldt's estate, Bert Hutchinson states "I have been actively and constantly engaged as a boat builder for more than 15 years, during which time I have personally taken part in the construction and superintendence of boats, also have bought and sold boats ...” This document was dated July 14, 1917. In George Hutchinson's obituary in the Thousand Islands Sun dated January 13, 1955, it states "In 1902, he came to Alexandria Bay and established Hutchinson Bros. Boat works". In Bert Hutchinson's obituary in the Thousand Islands Sun, it states "In 1903, he and his brother, George went into partnership as boat builders." 1902 was the date that was chosen for the start of the business.
Thousand Islands Sun, May 13, 1952.
Thousand Islands Sun, January 13, 1955.
Thousand Islands Sun, April 7, 1953.
Thousand Islands Sun, March 9, 1950.
Interview with James Herbert Sutton, October 11, 1988.
It can be assumed that the two men had some basic knowledge of how to construct boats because of their living on an island. It was basic knowledge as a part of growing up that one knew how to operate and build boats as a basis for transportation to the islands. Bert Hutchinson also had in his personal property, A Treatise on Architecture and Building Construction Prepared for Students of International Correspondence School, Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1899. There were five volumes in this set which covered arithmetic formulas, geometry, architectural engineering, masonry, carpentry, architectural details, electronics, plumbing, HVAC, painting, decorating, History of Architecture, architectural design, specifications, contracts and permits. This book was to become very useful in their next contract.
This was around 1904-5. In 1905, he married Lillian Perry and was living on Walton Street, according an interview with Andrew C. Duclon, Jr. on October 15, 1984.
Interview with Andrew C. Duclon on October 15, 1984.
This number is hard to determine because when Bert passed away in 1952, all of his records were destroyed. This number is based upon primary source records and extent boats, of which at this point the author has located 115 +/-.
Interview with L. L. Britton on October 15, 1984.
"Preparing for Pleasure", Thousand Islands Sun, September 23, 1909, p.1.
Thousand Islands Sun, December 11, 1913.
"Finds Health in Motor Boating, Owner of Many Automobiles Gets a Comfortable Marine Flyer and Enjoys the Sport", Thousand Islands Sun, October 22, 1914.
They were also on another cover of Motor Boat on September 10, 1916, with the Que Vive, a 45 foot long with a 9 foot 6 inch beam cruiser powered with a 6 cylinder, 110 hp, Sterling Model F engine. Motor Boat also noted in July 10, 1921 issue that the boat was sold to Carl Hanna after it was turned over to the U. S. Government for use during World War I as a dispatch boat in New York Harbor.
Soon after it was delivered, the boat burned to the water’s edge.
Thousand Islands Sun, February 17, 1916 and Motor Boat, March 10, 1916.
The other boat was the Jessabell. She became the work boat for Rogers Marina in the 1940s and after 25- to 30 years, she was sunk as scrap.