Water Lily, July 4, 1878 From an unidentified clipping in Alfred L. Donaldson's Scrapbook 8, Adirondack Research Room, Saranac Lake Free Library. Annotated "News, July 23, 1914"

When The "Water Lily" Ran Up To Bartlett's Carry, Etc.

Steamer On River And Lakes Popular With The Public, But the Guides Didn't Like The Innovation; Sousa’s Band Aboard—Martin And Rice Builders

Frequently of late, when I pick up a Saranac Lake paper, I see something about an appropriation which the State has made, or may make, for the improving the waterway through the Saranacs, facilitating motor boating.

Saranac River near Lower Saranac Lake, c. 1890, Seneca Ray Stoddard
(probably the Water Lily)
Courtesy of the Adirondack Experience
I cannot help but be struck with the thought that sometimes people’s dreams and aspirations come true, even though after much tribulation, they are obliged to abandon their plans during their lifetime, and years after their death, the things that they strove for so unsuccessfully, are realized.

Knowing personally, as I did, for many years the man who first advocated the idea of the Saranac’s being made a waterway for power boats, and who, with his son, put the first power boat on the Saranac waters, it is very interesting to me to trace it back and see the gradual growth of the idea, after its abandonment by its originator.

In 1877, the small island between the Saranac River and Round Lake (or the middle Saranac) at what is commonly known as "The Middle Falls" was in a state of nature. At the right, going towards Bartletts, were "The Rapids;" on the left the "Back Channel", a trickle of shallow-water over jagged rocks. Going up, all had to land and carry their boat and load over the short portage; coming down, the more experienced and venturesome could, "shoot the Rapids" with safety. Oftentimes it was tried by others with disastrous results, many a smashed boat and bruises resulting therefrom. Up to this time there had been no boats on these waters except Adirondack boats of different sizes, and the Indians birch bark canoes. In the Fall of this year, William F. Martin, of the then famous "Saranac Lake House", on Lower Saranac Lake, with his son, William Allen, took a gang of men up to Middle Falls, and camped there in tents. They blasted the solid rock from the back channel, making a canal wide and deep enough for small steamer to pass through. They built a plank walk at one side for the convenience of guides and others with row bouts, to tow their boats through, doing away with the necessity for unloading the boat and carrying across the portage. They then built a dam across the portage at the right, above the rapids, forcing the water to flow through the canal which they had made. It was quite successful.

Meanwhile Fred W. Rice, Sr., who had been in Willsboro, N. Y., building sail boats for use on Lake Champlain, had been in correspondence with Mr. Martin, and came up in the early winter with a sail boat to put on the lake in the coming summer.

William A. Martin, who was a builder of Adirondack boats, and Mr. Rice built “The Water Lily” during the winter 1878-79. She was a steamer, it being before the day of motor boats or gasoline engines. The engine was in the center of the boat with a cabin at each end and a deck running around the boat, Messrs. Martin and Rice were skilled workmen, and put their best work on this boat. The cabins were finished with birdseye maple and cherry polished like a mirror. The outside was painted white with her name on each side, and on the stern.

This, the first power boat on Lower or Middle Saranac Lake, began making regular trips twice each day to Bartletts, carrying passengers both ways. Sousa's Band were summering at Martins, getting board and salary for playing at the Hotel and on the steamer when wanted. [This story is almost certainly wrong, though Sousa visited Saranac Lake later on.] There are some residents now in Saranac Lake who remember the excitement on the Fourth of July of that year. People came from North Elba, Bloomingdale, Brighton, Harrietstown and from all the surrounding country to "take a ride on the steamer" which was kept going all day, with its flag flying— and Sousa's band playing on the deck.

It became very popular that summer for parties at the Hotel to go out on the Steamer on moonlight evenings, and take the band to play.

Unfortunately later there arose a spirit of opposition to the steamer being on the lake. Guides feared it would reduce their worth, and the one or two hotel-keepers said it would drive the deer and all game back into the woods. Mr. Martin, Jr., received anonymous letters saying that if he did not take the steamer off the Lake she would be sunk. After a while the dam was blown out with dynamite by persons unknown, and thereafter the Water Lily landed at a dock at Middle Falls and a large row boat went from there to Bartletts and back with passengers, the steamer waiting for the boat to return. This large row boat was usually rowed by Mark Clough and was familiarly dubbed "Captain Clough's shell".

Several years later The Water Lily was sold to persons at Lake Placid, and removed there and eventually was burned up. The model for this is still at the Martin boat shop on Lake street, where a grand son of Wm. F. Martin now builds Adirondack boats and launches

The State afterwards made an appropriation for building a dam at Middle Falls, which was built under the supervision of David Cronk. Later still, it built the lock in the Saranac River, thereby making the Saranac River and Lakes navigable. I believe Captain Joe Baker under Captain E. E. Thomas were first in the field making trips to Bartletts, now the Saranac Club. At the present time one could hardly keep track of the different crafts and their owners that go through the locks and the Saranac waters.