|Steamboats first appeared
on Cayuga Lake in 1820, when the Cayuga
Steamboat Co. launched the 80-ft. Enterprise.
For the next 87 years, steamboats were the dominate
form of transportation for passengers, mail, freight
and supplies for those living and working around
Timothy D. Wilcox was a young man in the early
1800s, working as a cabin boy on Hudson River
boats and later as a captain on a Long Island
Sound steamer. He moved to Ithaca in 1842, and
began buying up steamboats and commissioning others
to be built. They had names like the Simeon DeWitt,
the Holland, the Forest City, the Beardsley, the
Kate Morgan, the Sheldrake (later renamed the
Cayuga), the Aurora, the Ino, the T.D. Wilcox
(later renamed the Ithaca) and the Frontenac.
The side-wheeler Frontenac was built by J. G.
Bennett (either in Ithaca or Union Springs) in
1870, at a cost of $50,000. It was 135-ft. long
with a 22-ft. beam, and was powered by a 270 HP
engine producing a top speed of 17 MPH - equivalent
to railroad trains of the period. Up to 350 passengers
could be carried in cabins and on deck, and the
boat sported the luxury of a dining room. It was
the largest steamer to ever sail on Cayuga Lake
and it was the pride of Captain Wilcox who piloted
it into his eighties. It made its maiden voyage
on June 24, 1870, becoming known as the queen
of the Cayuga fleet.
Captain Wilcox died in 1884, leaving the steamboat
business to his wife and daughter. Four years
later they sold the business to Cayuga Lake Transportation
Co., and four years after that in 1902, that company
was purchased by Melvin T. Brown of Syracuse.
Captain Brown took personal charge of the Frontenac.
The Frontenac's regular schedule called for it
to depart Ithaca at the foot of Cayuga Lake each
morning at 9:00, and proceed northward to the
village of Cayuga on the lake's northeast corner
by 1:15 pm with a dozen stops on either shore
along the way. Because of its crisscross course,
the voyage covered about 50 miles. The daily schedule
also included a southbound trip from Cayuga back
to Ithaca, arriving at 8:10 pm. Weather or special
excursions would occasionally cause this schedule
to be altered.
on the next page