Summer 1997

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Rochester's Great Circle Tour

Tales of Navigation on Irondequoit Bay


Donovan A. Shilling

Ever hear of J. D. Scott? Ever hear of Rochester's great circle tour? O. K. How about the Titania, the steamer Lookout or the good ship Norman H. Galusha? Well if you haven't then we've got a tale worth reading. It is Victorian, it is nostolgic, and it's about boats and the bay.

The first boats on Irondequoit Bay were Iroquois canoes, followed by the first white explorer in 1669. That was the French adventurer, La Salle. Later the English would sail schooners into the bay, then along Irondequoit Creek to a place called Indian Landing. There they built a community called the "City of Tryon" in 1797. The builders hoped that it would become the "Queen City" of the vast Genesee County. Silt however, increased by wide spread run-off from farming on the upper Genesee, would halt navigation to Tryon by 1818 and crush this hope forever.

In 1810 Oliver Culver launched the schooner, Jemima, the first locally built American vessel to sail on Irondequoit Bay. Any number of boats plied the reedy water of the bay between 1810 and 1870. However, by 1871 the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad Company had built an embankment and a low bridge across the mouth of the bay. A great cork had thus been formed which plugged the bay. It would take almost a century before its removal. Happily today, both sailboats and large passenger boats can once again navigate without restriction between the lake and the bay.

As the Victorain Age dawned in Rochester it spurred a new interest in linking God and Nature. It was this back to nature movement that prompted the development of dozens of picnic groves and resort hotels. Many of these were built along the shores of our sparkling Lake Ontario. The bay too, with its good fishing, smooth sailing and scenic shoreline, attracted many people who vacationed in the newly built hotels and many more who built cottages and summer homes. Getting to these happy bayside abodes was possible first by steam train, then by electric railway (the trolley). But the most pleasurable, most relaxing, and most desirable trip was to skim along the gentle waters of the bay by steamboat.

According to the Irondequoit Centennial Album, a wonderful compilation of historical facts written in 1939, the first steam driven vessel on the bay was the Jennings. It was named after its builder, Alf Jennings, at Drake's Landing (Glen Edith) in 1875. In design it was little more than a flat-bottomed, raft-like boat with an upright steam boiler.

The steam power, did however, swiftly scoot the little craft across the bay and was a great convenience to those who used it for moving cottage-building materials to hard-to-reach sites along the bayshore. Up to thirty passengers could also be accommodated and these were usually ferried to various early bayside hotels and summer retreats.

With the construction of the Bay View Hotel in 1872, the Sea Breeze Hotel in 1877, and the Heibing Hotel at the Glen Haven picnic grove, somewhat later, there was a desire for additional water transportation. Norman H. Galusha, owner of the Galusha Stove Company and an inventor in the rail transportation field, also turned his interest to providing mass water transportation, The Galusha family had built a summer cottage just south of Newport Cove and their small cove was named for the family. Eventually the house was sold to Hiram Edgerton, a colorful Rochester mayor. "His Honor" then resold the property to a local sports club. Thus in 1882 the home became the club house for the Rochester Canoe Club. They discovered that it was a highly convenient location. We understand that thirsty canoe enthusiasts enjoyed frequent visits to the Newport House by using a small bridge the members had thoughtfully constructed across the inlet that separated the clubhouse and the resort.

It was in the Newport cove just north of the Newport House that the N. H. Galusha was constructed in 1877. This was a splendid Victorian vessel painted white with blue trim. It was a double-decked craft propelled by a great water wheel mounted on its port side. The "side wheeler," carrying up to 175 passengers, made the ten mile round trip along the bay for 25 cents. Blue and white striped canvas completely bordered the roof of the lower deck. Large American flags, fore and aft on the upper deck, created a natty look for the craft that was unlike any other ever built before or since. Its name changed to Glen Haven after that resort was expanded by the Rochester and Glen Haven Railway Company in 1889. For three decades happy vacationers and cottage owners enjoyed their cruises aboard this trim craft. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in a fire one evening in about 1907 as it was moored to its dock at Newport.

Not long after the successful launching of the Galusha, two smaller steam boats jointed the side-wheeler on the bay. The first, christened the W. H. Brewer, was constructed at the Newport cove boatyard. Its steam boiler was linked directly to a stern propeller. The other, called the Lookout, was a boat native to Hemlock Lake. Irondequoit historian, Maude West, informs us that a Mr. Frank Evershed purchased the boat in 1903 when Hemlock Lake was to become the city's fresh water supply.

To transport the 45-foot-long vessel with its 10 1/2 foot beam required two very rugged wagons, a steam-powered tractor used for threshing, and the removal of the craft's superstructure and engine works. The long journey from the hilly Hemlock location to the bay at Sea Breeze must have been an adventure in itself.

Undoubtedly, tree limbs had to be trimmed, hills had to be overcome and numerous spectators shooed aside as the unlikely conveyance made its slow progress through Lima, Honeoye Falls, the city's outskirts and finally Sea Breeze. In all it took three days to make the trek. The Lookout was purchased by Mr. Evershed for 75 dollars while its transportation, re-assembly and launching must have cost at least again that amount. One advantage the smaller Lookout had over its competition was that, with its shallower draft, it could run all the way from Sea Breeze to the Float Bridge at Empire Boulevard. The slim craft with its trimming of red and white canvas served its patrons dutifully until other vessels replaced it in 1915.

Next to the Galusha, the most popular boat on the bay between 1877 and 1907 was the Woodworth. Mr. F. C. Woodworth was one of several men who earned a modest living operating boats on the bay. In 1885 he commissioned Orlo Walzer to construct a 200 passenger, double-decked vessel. The Woodworth lasted almost 25 years and was abandoned in 1910 at Newport Cove.

Near the head of Irondequoit Bay is a small body of land known as Snyder's (Schneider's) Island. It is just south of Glen Haven and a large cove that has been variously called Bauman's Cove and Pardee Cove. The island, often looking as though it were an extension of the mainland due to an adjoining weedy swamp, belonged to Richard Snyder and his sons George and Edward. Their boat, the Island Queen was one of the swiftest on the lake and could carry almost a hundred passengers. Living on an island forced the Snyders to keep their craft in ship-shape order since it was as much a necessity to them as it was an income producer.

While this catalogue of nostolgic Victorian steam boats is helpful in establishing the ambiance of the era, of far more interest is the tale of one of the men who piloted these vessels. He was Jacob D. Scott born on Christmas Day 1845. Mr. Scott was a self-appointed steamboat captain, social director, advertising agent, real estate owner, part owner and former train conductor on the Rochester & Lake Ontario Railroad. Our concern with this remarkable businessman begins when he transferred his almost limitless energies from train to boats.

Our story begins in 1892 when "Jake" Scott had the good ship Damascus built. We suspect that the boat's name may well have been associated with the legions of Shriners who made Rochester their summer convention playground for a number of years at the turn of the century. At any rate Scott's new vessel was half completed in Charlotte, then towed by horses over a very rough road to a small cove between the Bay View Hotel and the Unique Social Club. The latter was an aptly named cottage that was the summer retreat of a fraternity of high-spirited young gentlemen. Here the engine was installed and the craft was completed by the addition of a superstructure. Jake insisted that this boat be different from all others on the bay and therefore he had a huge stern paddle wheel constructed to propel it. While unique in its resemblance to a miniature Mississippi River boat, it did not easily answer to the helm and was a chore to navigate. J. D. soon sold the vessel. Its new owners anchored the pesky boat along the bayshore and remodeled it into a popular floating restaurant and drinking emporium.

Two other steamboats, the J. D. Scott for use on the lake, and the Eleanor for bay travel, were then built to J. D.'s specifications. Travel on these vessels was widely promoted by Skipper Scott. His excursion service was imaginatively advertised.

The enterprising J. D. had a small ornate tent erected outside his office in the Powers Block near the Four Corners. From this prime location he did a thriving business selling, what was to become, his famous "strip ticket. " Pink in color, this fifty-cent ticket was a bonanza both for the enterprising Scott as well as the thousands of people who took advantage of this round-trip land, lake, and bay excursion.

Both visitors to our fair city as well as long-time residents began their "Great Circle Tour" by boarding a trolley in downtown Rochester for a ride along Lake Avenue to the thriving resort and amusement complex at Charlotte. There they'd disembark and await the little lake steamer the J. D. Scott. This connection was the second leg of the tour. After casting off from Charlotte, the lake boat's small boiler was furiously stoked to produce a full head of steam. Then, as often was the case, the J. D. Scott would race rival boats along the lake to the Sea Breeze pier. The ride was sometimes an unsettling one depending on the choppiness of the lake and the season of the year. Late Fall and early Spring winds could make the lake segment of the tour most memorable.

When a Buffalo steamer began to handily beat Scott's vessel, J. D. purchased a swifter boat called the Titania. His new boat was often a winner over the Buffalo firm's larger vessel, The Algona. Interestingly, the then often beaten Buffalo boat was offered for sale to Scotty who bought it for $3000. He now had a corner on much of his competition.

The next leg of the tour was a walk across the railroad tracks to Irondequoit Bay itself. Some passengers, feeling the need for refreshment, might stop off at the Sea Breeze House and Pavilion. The Bartholomay Brewing Company was well represented with a variety of its beverages sold on the premises. The imbibing by some of the crowd was occasionally interrupted with the clanging of a bell. Drinks were quickly quaffed and a steady stream of ticket holders hastened to the bayside pier. There a steamboat, perhaps the Eleanor would await their passage. The departure from the Sea Breeze pier was always signaled by the ringing of a large old church bell that Scotty had thoughtfully installed to alert the crowds.

With the throbbing of the steam engine, the waving and shouts of the passengers and a shrill blast on the steam whistle the boat would begin its passage on the quiet waters of Irondequoit Bay. At first swampy cattails produced a green corridor and then, as the boat chugged toward Point Pleasant the entire bay could be viewed. In summer it wore a broad green collar composed of weeping willows, maple and oak trees. In fall the collar became a necklace of scarlet, gold and green, looking quite elegant when reflected on the bay's dark waters. Over on the bay's west shore another postcard scene came into view. Like tightly placed shirt buttons, the neat white-painted cottages, some with matching boat houses, made a splendid sight when seen from a boat skimming across the bay's calm waters.

Finally the landing at the Glen Haven resort would come into view. Those on shore would wave when they spotted the approaching steamer and its trailing black smoke. Travelers getting off at this point had another opportunity to make a happy decision. Stopover privileges allowed passengers to enjoy time at Point Pleasant, Birds and Worms, Newport and Glen Edith. At Glen Haven numerous diversions were offered to the throngs of visitors. There was the Glen Haven Hotel with its wonderful food, dance hall and dance band, a grand assortment of gay amusement rides and the shady, bench-lined pathways where one could simply relax and watch the constant passing scene.

The scene, depending upon the viewer's orientation, was composed of either the fascinating variety of water craft on the bay or the equally intriguing and ever-changing countenance of their fellow travelers. Daytime trippers could savor their picnics in clean, roomy pavilions or on blankets spread along the grassy bayshore areas. Evening merrymakers had the moon, the stars and the soft offshore breezes to accompany their array of amusement activities or their romantic inclinations.

The final leg of J. D. Scott's unique trip special was to catch the Rochester & Sodus Bay trolley that whisked travlers along a picturesque retun trip to the trolley's station on East Main Street. Thus, for just 50 cents, Victorian pleasure seekers could spend a delightful day hopping from one resort to another fully enjoying the treats each one had to offer. Thanks, Scotty, for making life fuller and more memorable for the good people of your era.

By 1901 the internal combustion engine was making its appearance as the horseless carriages chugged noisily over our city's streets. It was also in that year that visitors saw the first naptha/gasoline powered launch cut its way through the waters of Irondequoit Bay. The vessel, called the Otetiani, was the inspiration of the gentlemen of the Unique Social Club. Their launch won first prize in the water carnival of the Damascus Temple when its Shrine Patrol held its illuminated fleet parade off Glen Haven on August 1, 1904. It was one of 30 craft "gloriously lighted and brilliantly decorated with flags and bunting…amid band concerts on shore and fireworks over the water."

These sleek launches quickly grew in popularity prompting construction of others on the bay. It was just prior to the turn of the century that Orlo Walzer began building a fleet of naptha-powered launches. Historians recollect that there were 15 such boats that plied the bay up to 1920. Many of these vessels were owned and operated by the Irondequoit Navigation Company whose CEO was Williams Sours. Mr. Sours was also the owner and proprietor of the legendary Newport House. The fleet included the Newport I, II, and III; Point Pleasant I and II; the Sea Breeze and the Glen Edyth.

Times changed and Captain J. D. Scott eventually retired from his beloved lake and bay travel service. He became associated with the More Candy Company, but that's another story. The old skipper passed away on December 14, 1931, at age 86 leaving behind a wake of pleasant memories and many friends.

It must have been a grand experience to skip along the water at 15 knots per hour on the ride from the Sea Breeze docks to the Newport House. In that period, just after 1900, the voyage taken over the bay was almost as much fun as the dining and dancing which followed the trip to the Newport House itself. Today, with the bay open to lake traffic, a whole new renaissance is occurring. People are once again enjoying the calm waters, good fishing, and pleasant scenery. Let's hope that in our zeal to return to the bay we don't spoil it.

© 1997, Donovan A. Shilling
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