Editor’s note: On the night of June 8th, 2011, I had no sooner posted a draft version of this article on our “Next Issue” page when I received the news that the 5:00 p.m. storm that day had taken the roof off of the historic Cornwall Brothers Store Museum. Martha Grimes, a member of the Museum board, sent me the message that they hoped to open their exhibit on time in July. Tony Mollica, the author, and I agreed to hold off on the article until we knew the building was safe and open for business. I am pleased to report all went as originally planned. The Exhibit opened on Sunday, July 9th. Tony Mollica reported; The Hutchinson Exhibit Opening was on Sunday and it was absolutely a great success. The number of attendees was huge and everyone was very enthusiastic about the depth and quality of the exhibit. It was also wonderful to see the large number of local residents who attended. The Alexandria Historic Society did a wonderful job hosting this large and interested audience. We were simply overwhelmed by the number of people attending - wow!
On a pleasant afternoon two summers ago I was relaxing at our cottage when I decided to take a short boat ride to Alexandria Bay. There was a new new exhibit at the Cornwall Museum I wanted to visit. This interesting Museum is operated by the Town of Alexandria Historical Society and exhibits a variety of regional artifacts to help visitors appreciate the local and regional culture. The Historic Society was responsible in 1974 for saving the venerable Cornwall Brothers' Store in Alexandria Bay from certain demolition.
Their initial goal was to preserve the wonderful stone building that was constructed in 1866 and to see if it could become a hub of cultural activity within the Community. Their dedication and persuasive efforts were successful. Today the building is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places and serves as a regional museum with activities throughout the summer season. Each summer the Cornwall Store and Museum offers visitors the opportunity to learn, first hand, about the people and events that shaped this vital riverfront community. The Museum offers a popular summer series of evening programs on a variety of topics closely related to the Thousand Islands and the St. Lawrence River region with noteworthy speakers.
The Cornwall Building was built on the St Lawrence River waterfront to serve as a well-stocked general store providing the River community and the steamships that made regular stops at the store with a wide range of supplies. Over the past one hundred years the Cornwall Building has also been the location for the United states Customs House, the local Post Office and the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters.
After enjoying the Museum's new exhibit, I expressed my pleasure with the Museum's manager. After a lengthy conversation, I casually mentioned that there was very little mention of the Hutchinson Boat Works among their historical information. Like so many boaters, I always associate Alexandria Bay with the building of Hutchinson boats. That passing observation brought a quick response from the manager who suggested that I should take on that responsibility and consider preparing an exhibit on the importance of Hutchinson to motor boating and to the River Community. Her response was something I never anticipated and I was taken completely off guard. However, I regained my composure and thought her challenge might be worth exploring.
A few days had passed, I started looking for sources of Hutchinson history to see if there might be enough material available to actually create a modest exhibit. Since the Hutchinson Boat Works is still an on-going and successful boat dealership in Alexandria Bay, I felt that this would be the logical place to begin. I learned almost immediately that nearly all of their old records related to the years of wooden boat building including photographs, drawings, sales records, etc. had been disposed of some fifty years ago shortly after their last wooden boat was built. They were very willing to share what little remained in their files that was related to the years of wooden boat construction.
My next source was a visit to the archives of the Antique Boat Museum. Their files were excellent but lacked the rare, original photographs I was hoping to discover there. I did find many articles from boating magazines and a well documented academic research paper prepared by Bert Hutchinson's granddaughter related to the history of the Boat Works. It wasn't the treasure trove I had hoped to find, but there was enough material there to get started with motivation to continue the search.
In late 2009 I shared the findings of my initial efforts with the Exhibit Planning Committee. They agreed that the era of Hutchinson boat building was a vital part of the community's heritage and could make a popular and interesting exhibit. They asked me to continue my research to see if there could be enough interesting material to prepare a major exhibit. They suggested a tentative target date for the 2011 summer season. This schedule would provide enough time to continue the research necessary for a thoughtful and significant exhibit.
As I browsed through my 2009 edition of the Antique and Classic Boat Society's Membership Directory, there were fifty-three owners of Hutchinson boats listed. From my experience with vintage boats, I knew that classic boat owners always collect photographs of their boats and are constantly digging for more information. If my experience with classic boat owners was any indication, I was sure that the owners of Hutchinson boats would be a great potential source of photos and information to take us to the next level.
Each Hutchinson owner listed in the Directory was sent a letter explaining our effort to prepare a significant exhibit related to the firm that built the boat that they now owned. It was further explained that the key to the exhibit would be the photos and stories from Hutchinson boat owners and their own Hutchinson would become part of the exhibit. I pledged to keep them informed as our work progressed and any material that they might provide would be welcomed and valued. It wasn't long before the Hutchinson boat owners responded with marvelous photographs and the fascinating stories related to the history of their boats.
Through local contacts, we developed a list of former Hutchinson employees and their family members to make personal contacts wherever possible to record stories and collect any work-related photographs.
The archives of The Thousand Islands Sun, was another interesting source of information because they frequently issued a press release whenever an important new boat was commissioned or completed. If it turned out that the boat owner was a prominent person, the story made interesting local news. In a small boat building community, an order for a custom boat or the completion of a boat was an event worthy of the local newspaper. As a result, nearly every significant boat that Hutchinson completed was recorded in the local news and that news provided an accurate record of many of Hutchinson's custom boats.
As the photos and the stories began to accumulate our Exhibit Committee realized that there was enough material to assemble a significant exhibit. In addition, our efforts had elevated the
interest within the community and people began to volunteer information from many sources.
The next challenge was determining the best way to exhibit our material and tell the Hutchinson story that would cover nearly seventy years of their highly skilled craftsmanship building fine wooden boats.
The Exhibit Committee decided that the Hutchinson Exhibit will be displayed on twenty 4' X 8' panels. The ideas resulted in lots of creative discussions on how to best tell the story. Ultimately, the Committee decided to combine popular two suggestions and use both a time line approach and to highlight noteworthy accomplishments as they occurred on the time line. The panels will be arranged in a time sequence showing the advancement in boat styles and models over the six decades of Hutchinson's wooden boat construction. Special accomplishments will be recognized and highlighted along the time line.
Many of the stories and photographs came from individual Hutchinson boat owners who, over the years, independently searched for the information related to their boat. Independent research by vintage boat owners often becomes a near obsession that is common to most classic boat owners. The Antique Boat Museum's archives were a fine source of photographs and local press releases. Another group of photographs was located in an old box in one of Hutchinson's abandon buildings. Other photos were provided by family members of former employees who were very supportive of the planned exhibit.
The exhibit is scheduled to open on July 10, 2011. [It did open on July 10, dispite the damage to the Museum's roof]. In addition to the nearly 200 enlarged and captioned photographs and illustrations, there will be vintage press releases describing the boat building activities arranged to tell the Hutchinson story from its early beginnings until the final 22-foot mahogany utility was delivered during the 1964 season. Significant events such as the construction of sixteen World War II ships for the U. S. Navy will be highlighted as well as the 2007 commemorative U. S. Postage Stamp that featured a 1915 Hutchinson launch named Frolic. Of course, Pardon Me, the world's largest and most famous runabout will be given special attention. The Hutchinson named, Idyll Oaks, built in 1924 is the boat that inspired the very first Antique Boat Show in North America will be given special attention in the exhibit.
The story of Hutchinson Boats is a vital part of the history of American boat building during the golden era of motor boat development. This exhibit will guide visitors along the path that Hutchinson followed in creating new designs as pleasure boating developed rapidly in the first half of the twentieth century.
By Anthony Mollica Jr.
Anthony Mollica’s first wrote professionally in his teaching career in communications. Writing for pleasure evolved from his activities with the Antique and Classic Boat Society and the Antique Boat Museum as well as his life-long interest in the history of boat building in American. He has published articles in various marine periodicals including Classic Boating, ACBS Rudder, Gar Wood News, The Antique Boat Museum Gazette Annual, Motor Boating, Lakeland Boating and The Chris-Craft Brass Bell Quarterly. He is also the author of twelve published books, many of which are available in local book stores. In September 2010, TI Life reviewed Building Chris-Craft: Inside the Factories”. A book he wrote with Chris Smith, a member of the founding family. (See Anthony Mollica on our Publications page)
Editor’s Note: For a complete history of the Hutchison Boat Works written in TI Life, see Hutchinson Boat Works, written by Bonnie Wilkinson Mark, November 2010.