Newsletter of the Finger Lakes Chapter, ACBS

Volume 17, Issue 1.................................................................. March 2007

UPDATED: March 13, 2007


















In the late 1900s, members of the Thousand Islands Antique Boat Museum Trust, a registered Canadian charitable organization, drew attention to the needs of Phoebe and offered to sponsor its restoration at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton NY. That idea evolved into a project for the boat's restoration at the Kingston Pump House Steam Museum as part of the Marine Museum's plans for the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Centre. The restoration project was entered in the Millenium Commemorative Registry at Kingston City Hall in 2000.

The boathouse behind the Pump House Steam Museum was on Lake Ontario. There, the boat had been supported above the water by three transverse 10-in. steel I-beams -- one aft where the skeg and stern tube meet the hull, one amidships, and one forward about three feet behind the stem. However, Lake Ontario's water levels annually vary approximately three feet - high in the spring and low in the fall. And the placement of the boat was such that spring waters could rise high enough to put the lower portion of the hull in about a foot of water for a few months each year until receding by fall. As a result, the boat would have a foot of water in the bilge each spring and early summer, and would then slowly dry out in the fall and winter. That annual cycle caused the keel and keelson to rot severely, and with the very heavy boiler and engine still onboard, the hull sagged between supports and hogged amidships.

Nevertheless, the hull above the high-water line was in remarkably good condition, and the super-structure was complete and recoverable. Members of the Frontenac Society of Model Engineers who operated the Pump House Steam Museum had also been in charge of the upkeep of Phoebe, and they had done a very good job maintaining her for her task as an ambassadress for the Museum. But without major restoration, the boat was at the end of its life.

That restoration effort got underway in 1998, with Henk Wevers, a retired university engineering professor, leading the effort. "A few friends pitched in with cash donations for a start-up fund, and publicity in the local newspaper encouraged a few volunteers to come forward," he reports. With approval of their restoration plan from the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes and the Kingston City council, restoration got underway.

The engine and boiler were lifted out of the launch through openings cut in the cabin and boathouse roofs. The existing steel support structure was then extended so that the keel was supported along its entire length, and so that telescoping bilge supports could be added to both sides of the hull, the stern and stem. With the lightened boat supported in an extensive steel cradle, cabin bulkheads, cabin floors, and the rotted-out sections of the bilge that had been flooded and dried out each year for the past 14 years, were removed, leaving two halves of the hull supported by the new steel cradle.

Careful documentation of removed parts and photographic recording of the dismantling process, proved invaluable when it came time to rebuild the lower hull. It also allowed the restorers to remain faithful to the construction methods and techniques used by the original builders nearly a century earlier.

A new 37-ft. long keel was made in two sections out of white oak, and all the structural framework of the hull was replaced with new members. What began as a crew of three, grew to 13 regular volunteers over the next six years. In August 2003, the work was completed.

Many ideas were floated for the future of the Phoebe. The one that appears to have won out is the building of a land-based timber-framed shelter/boathouse at the Pump House Steam Museum in Kingston. Detailed plans continue to evolve and a major fund raising effort is underway. If all goes well, the Phoebe may be in its new home in 2008.

Many thanks to Steve Wikstrom for his critique of this article and for contributing photos from his and Ellen's collection. Also to Don Quant (speaker at the upcoming Joint Chapter Meeting) and Henk Wevers (leader of the Phoebe Restoration Project in Kingston) for their reviews, corrections and comments. In 2002, the Finger Lakes Chapter contributed to the Phoebe's restoration because of its past association with Skaneateles Lake. -Ed.