Such was the
case on Friday, July 26, 1907,when the Frontenac was
held over-night at Cayuga. On Saturday morning the
boat carried a special party on an excursion south
to meet the steamer Mohawk at Sheldrake, exchange
passengers and allow both boats to return to their
Upon leaving Sheldrake, the Frontenac carried about
60 passengers and a heavy cargo of freight. It turned
north in six-foot waves driven by a 50 mile per hour
gale out of the northwest, causing Captain Brown to
by-pass Aurora and Levanna, and continue northward
along the eastern shore.
As the boat neared Farley's Point at about 1:00 pm,
fire was discovered in an area behind the pilot house.
Captain Brown tried to douse it with a hose, but with
the flames fed by the strong wind, he couldn't get
the fire under control. He returned to the pilot house
and turned the boat toward shore. It ran aground at
Dill's Cove, just north of Farley's Point about 200
feet off the beach in about six feet of water.
With 400 life-preservers onboard, there were more
than enough to go around and Captain Brown and his
wife (who managed the kitchen operation), assisted
many passengers getting them on. How many life boats
were onboard is not clear, but they, too, caught on
fire and were of no use. All but eight passengers
made it to shore, many with burns from the fire that
completely consumed the boat. The loss was properly
characterized in the local press as a disaster, although
more lives could easily have been lost if things hadn't
gone as well as they did.
In subsequent investigations, Captain Brown, his officers
and crew, and the boat itself, were all exonerated
of any liability in the accident. In fact, they reaped
praise from many quarters for their efforts to minimize
But beyond that, the loss of the Frontenac represented
the end of the steamboat era on Cayuga Lake. Railroads
were becoming more prevalent, they were traveling
faster and could haul huge loads of passengers and
freight. Because of their speed, they were also getting
the mail contracts. And the automobile and the American
road system were starting to take their place in American
history, making it more and more unnecessary for people
to rely on public transportation to get them where
they wanted to go.
Captain Brown continued on as a captain on Cayuga
Lake freighters before taking a job as captain of
a tug boat on the Erie Canal in 1910. He died in Port
Byron in 1922, at the age of 72.
The tangled wreck of the Frontenac became a destination
for curiosity-seekers for many years after its loss.
However, with the advent of World War II and the demand
for scrap metal, the wreckage was recovered through
the ice and hauled away to support the war effort.
July 27, 2007, falls on Friday of the Chapter's Boat
Show Weekend -- the 100th Anniversary of the burning
of the Frontenac.
Many thanks to FLC Vice President Bill Stinson for
the idea and material for this article, and to Don
Quant for his review and comments. -Ed
the above article on the Frontenac, the following
bit of history turned up. Talk about poor planning!
In 1892, a wealthy New York City contractor, Robert
L. Darragh, who had his summer home at Sheldrake,
felt that the steamboat service was not up to the
old standards. He decided to build two new boats "to
make Sheldrake popular and to restore to Ithaca the
trade of the north."
The first of these boats was the Laura Darragh built
at Newburgh, NY by a Mr. Marvel. She was equipped
with a 250 hp engine capable of driving her at 15
miles per hour. She was 105 feet in length and had
a beam of 18 ½ feet.
The Laura Darragh arrived at Sheldrake in November,
1893. In building her 105-ft. long hull, Mr. Marvel
had failed to take into consideration the fact that
the locks of the Erie Canal could only hold 98 feet
of boat. As a result, seven feet had to be trimmed
off her stern and piled on the deck to be replaced
after she arrived safely in Cayuga Lake. The superstructure,
also built in Newburg, could not pass under the low
canal bridges, and had to be removed and then rebuilt
Mr. Darragh's adventure in the boat business was cut
short by illness and both the Laura Darragh and the
second boat, the Red Jacket, were sold. These were
the last steamboats built for passenger service on
From: STEAMBOATING ON THE FINGER LAKES by Charles
C. Inshaw, July 1942
According to an article adapted from Alta E. Boyer's
book, A History of Lodi Point, appearing in the Spring
2007 edition of Life in the Finger Lakes magazine,
the Laura A. Darragh operated on Seneca Lake for many
years after leaving Cayuga Lake. -Ed