Scenic boat tours were big business

I have always maintained that one of our great assets is the most beautiful waterway in the country. But the Chamber of Commerce can’t advertise it because there is no easy way for tourists, unless they rent a boat, to go through the lower lock and take a cruise around Lower Saranac. It was not always that way, however. The Thomas Boat Livery, located across from St. Bernard’s School did cruises, twice a day, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. that took visitors on a 32 mile trip from the dock on Lake Flower into and around the Lower Lake.

Jean Freeman in 1957, a reporter for the Enterprise, did a series of stories “featuring major tourist attractions and famous resorts in the Tri-Lakes Area.” So, directly from the archives of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library to you, are excerpts from Ms. Freeman’s feature story:

“Our guidepost points the way to scenic boat rides through the Adirondacks’ most beautiful lake and mountain country. One of the oldest liveries in the North Country, Thomas Boat Livery at 35 River Street on Lake Flower offers one of the most famous and unique boat rides in the Eastern United States.

“First serving the public in 1900, one of today’s featured tours include the trip to Honeymoon Isle and to the state locks; but perhaps the most beautiful and best known trips offered by Capt. Rolin Thomas, your host and owner and operator of the Livery, is through the Saranac River into Oseetah Lake, through the state locks and into ‘The Lake of the Clustered Stars’, the name the Indians gave to Lower Saranac. There are few lakes in the Adirondacks comparable to this lake of many islands.

[During summer vacations from school we teenagers practically lived on Lower Saranac, staying in one state camp or another, owned by family and friends. We went to town every day only to do our summer jobs and scourge up enough food to get us through another day or twothey were the best of times for us right after WWII.]

“Words cannot, of course, adequately describe the scenic grandeur that may be viewed along the way. Here may be seen the home of the Algonquin and Iroquois tribes, who named the lakes and rivers. The entire trip into the wilds steeped in Indian legend and lore takes three hours.

“In the old days, there were two boats that ran the Lower Saranac route. They were the ‘Adirondack’ and the ‘Pollyanna’, both double-decker boats that could carry 150-175 passengers.

“Mr. Thomas, who came from Maine at the turn of the century, makes his home with his family at 102 River Street. He told me the keel has been set and construction begun on a replica of a Mississippi River steam boat from copies supplied by the State library in Albany.

“This model, a double-decker, is being fashioned from Marine plywood and oak ribbing and will be propeller driven by an inboard motor until the paddle wheel is perfected. It will be named the “Nancy Carol” after Mr. Thomas’ two daughters.”

[It was a beautiful boat and The Enterprise crew would rent it out and cruise up the river for our annual summer party.]

The original Captain Thomas

[In August, 1923, Capt. Roland Thomas, then 11 years old were accompanying his father, Capt. Elmer F. Thomas, on a cruise, and were just above the lower lock when tragedy struck. Here is that piece of the story as carried in the Lake Placid News:]

“In coming down from the upper deck he (Roland) in readiness to take the bow line for a landing at the locks, grasped the pilot light, as he had been accustomed to do. The light gave way and the boy plunged into the river.

“The boy was a good swimmer, but his father, thinking the fall might have stunned him, cut the engines, threw two short planks into the water, kept as emergency life preservers and plunged in himself. The boy had swum to a buoy on a nearby rock and was shouting he was safe.

“In making the plunge Captain Thomas was killed, he must have hit his temple on the plank as evidenced by the bruise found after the body was recovered.”

Heading over his obituary:

“Capt. Elmer E. Thomas, Woodsman, Author, Boatman born in Maine – His book, Hunting & Trapping in the North Woods of Maine was recently published navigated Saranac for 20 years unique figure whose tragic death shocked Adirondacks.”