Fawn as it appeared on the cover 
of the second issue of 
 Wooden Boat Magazine in 1975 


Fawn, an 1887 Bowdish launch owned by John and Shirley Wells of Canton, NY, returned to Skaneateles - for the first time in 110 years -- for the Chapter's Antique and Classic Boat Show held in July. The launch was the 63rd boat built in 1887 by Bowdish and Company, Skaneateles' first commercial boat-building operation. In a company catalog of the day the boat is described as a No. 1 Standard 19-ft. Launch selling for $185., hull only. Engines, boilers and wheels were sold separately. 

 Fawn's first home was on Oneida Lake where it remained for several years. When in 1908 it became apparent that the internal combustion engine had a future, its original 11/2 hp steam engine was replaced with a 3 hp Buffalo gasoline engine. A reversing propeller system was also installed. 

 In the early 1920's, the boat was purchased by Russell Springsteen who moved it to his camp on Seventh Lake in the Adirondacks. The camp's name was Fawn and it is probably from that source that the launch acquired its name. With only a couple of modifications (replacement of the reversing propeller with a straight shaft and a longer crank handle to facilitate starting), the boat served its new owner well until the late 1940's when he decided to retire it. Initially, he planned to burn the boat on the ice of Seventh Lake, but thinking better of it, he offered it to the Blue Mountain Lake Museum. For some reason the Museum found the boat to be "in excess of their needs," so Mr. Springsteen moved it into the woods behind the boathouse, built a gable roof over it and there it remained for nearly 20 years. 

 In 1965 John Wells was looking for an old hull in which to install a Watertown engine so that he and Shirley could participate in the Antique Boat Museum's Show in Clayton. While boating on Seventh Lake during a brief vacation, John noticed a boat onshore where a young sapling had grown up over it. Upon closer inspection he found the boat was now a bare hull, stripped of its engine and hardware. Although Mr. Springsteen didn't know the boat's make or year of manufacture, he was still interested in selling it. The Wells bought it on the spot for $25., and shortly thereafter moved it to their home in Canton for restoration. 

 Then began the long search to determine the make and origin of the boat. John and Shirley began prowling around all the old boathouses in the Oneida Lake area. And although they spent a lot of time and effort chasing down every boat builder in boatyards everywhere and investing in antique boat catalogs, they found no clues about the origin of their boat. 

 White cedar, white pine, oak, cherry and butternut were used in the boat's construction which included compressed expansion seams for water tightness. The seams were made by cutting a groove along each edge of each bottom plank so that a strip of compressed cedar could be inserted in the two grooves of adjacent planks. When any moisture reaches the cedar, it expands and makes a water-tight seam. That design was retained in the boat's restoration and according to John, the seams are absolutely tight. Another unusual feature of original construction was the use of "clamp floors." These are cast brass fittings used to attach the boat's half ribs to the keel without inhibiting thwartwise expansion and contraction between the frame and keel. 

 By now it was 1971 and the Wells were busy restoring their boat, getting it ready for its first showing at the Antique Boat Museum's annual Antique Boat Show, but still not sure of the it's builder. Then while stripping old paint from the last piece of wood to be refinished, Shirley's putty knife hit something solid. At first she thought it was just an inserted block of harder wood from which the paint would not come off. As she dug a little harder, she realized she had uncovered a label which read, "The Bowdish and Company Builders, Skaneateles, NY. Patented January 18, 1887. 

 During the restoration the Wells removed the deck of the boat and found a name, C.H. Platt, written in pencil on the wood underneath. Through the Town Historian in Skaneateles they were able to learn that there had been a Skaneateles carpenter by the name of C.H. Platt who may well have been employed by Bowdish and may have worked on this particular boat. 

 John and Shirley have spent many hours looking for proper hardware with which to outfit their boat. Realizing that the boat was undergoing a full and correct restoration, Mr. Springsteen offered the Wells the original name flag, boat cushions and some cleats. The flag is old and moth-eaten but it still carries the name Fawn in bold letters on a blue background. Mr. Springsteen also contacted his brother who had the Buffalo gas engine and convinced him to turn it over to the Wells for the cost of freight from Yonkers, NY to Canton. A friend gave the Wells an antique marine flag with 45 stars which dates back to about 1895. Other parts and components came from friends, collectors, auctions, antique stores and boat shops located primarily in the St. Lawrence River Valley. 

 Together, the Wells spent many hours restoring Fawn for its modern day debut at the Antique Boat Museum in 1971. There, it won Antique Boat of the Year, the most prestigious award of the show. In 1973 it won the grand prize, "First on the River," a competition among previous Antique Boats of the Year. Since then it has won numerous other awards and has been photographed and described in antique boating brochures and several boating publications and newspapers including Boating, Motor Boating, Boating History, Popular Mechanics, Sports Illustrated, Messing About in Boats, Wooden Boat, the Thousand Islands Sun, the St. Lawrence Plaindealer, the New York Times and the Ottawa Citizen. 

 Since 1970, home port for the launch has been at the Wells' Lalone Island in Chippewa Bay in the Thousand Islands where the boat is diligently cared for and used only on special occasions. The Finger Lakes Chapter appreciates the effort and planning that goes into taking the boat from the island, trailering it and moving it to Skaneateles and return. Thank you, John and Shirley, for allowing us to enjoy Fawn's presence on this, its 11Oth anniversary year, and our 20th. 

This Article Courtesy of Brightwork  
Newsletter of the Finger Lakes Chapter ACBS. 


1971 Antique Boat of the Year at the 
Antique Boat Museum