Burlington | July 13
by Tom Larsen
The Lois returning to Burlington after her travels at the northern end of the lake was a welcome event for the crew. Burlington possesses a beautiful waterfront, and it is a joy to be docked there. Perkins Pier is a relaxing spot for bicyclists and people out for a jaunt, with a fantastic view of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks.
The International Waterfront Festival that was occurring while we were docked there had all sorts of events scheduled. With sponsorship and a grand venue provided by Main Street Landing the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum put together a full week's program of speakers ranging from a combination concert-lecture with Art Cohn and Atlantic Crossing, to Mike Winslow of the Lake Champlain Committee who spoke about the geologic and environmental history of Lake Champlain. Dr. Fred Wiseman presented a film on the native peoples of the area during the time of contact. LCMM has been pleased to publish Professor Wiseman's research in a series of three books, two of which are currently available. There was a native encampment of the El-nu tribe on the waterfront, giving the public a taste of the thousands of years of native history that has occurred in the Champlain Valley. These options were combined with a plethora of music and arts events for visitors.
We arrived in Burlington on a clear day, with a brisk north wind and no threatening skies. It made for a fantastic sail, and got our hopes up that our stay in Burlington would be sunny and nice. That was too much to ask for. For the next few days, a bright sunny morning was followed routinely by a storm in the afternoon. The least of these storms was just a bit of rain, with perhaps a thunderclap or two. More often, we experienced pouring rain, wind howling through the rigging, and it even dropped hail on us once. Throughout this changeable weather, the crew's spirits remained high, and the people that braved the weather were treated to enthusiastic interpreters who felt like real mariners, braving the elements! Despite the often-questionable weather, a steady flow of people, totaling nearly 3,000 overall made their way to the boat to learn more about the rich and detailed history of Lake Champlain.
The weather did provide some adventures. One morning, in a storm with high wind, one of the boats at a nearby mooring broke loose. Luckily, some of our crew noticed it before it was dashed into the pier. Working in driving wind and rain, fenders were grabbed, and the boat was kept off the rocks. With additional help from the Burlington Harbor crew and Coast Guard, it was secured until the wind died a bit, and it could be moved back onto its mooring. The owner was very grateful, and thankfully no other boats freed themselves from their moorings.
The skies clear over Burlington. Photo by Tom Larsen.
Evening events on the Lois McClure have become a regular activity in many ports of call. Providing the opportunity for evening events is a way for us to say thank you to our valuable sponsors. As an added bonus we're able to offer folks a taste of the fine cheese produced by the farm families of Cabot. On one of the rare nice evenings of this summer, our sponsors from the Chittenden Bank hosted an event for friends and clients. It was a unique opportunity to renew the historical connection of business with lake history.
The Burlington waterfront has had a long and varied history. During the times of boats like Lois McClure, this was one of the larger lumber handling ports in the country. Burlington provided a staging ground for lumber being shipped out of Canada, and also received materials such as quarried stone shipped from places like Isle La Motte. Canal boats loaded up here, and headed south, bringing raw materials to the cities being built up across the nation and around the world. With the final enlargement of the canal in the early twentieth century the New York State Barge Canal system was able to accommodate steel barges used for different cargo types, and Burlington became a port for fuel oil. There are still remnants of the oil tanks along parts of the shore. If you look closely, you can see the places where barges pulled up and emptied their cargo out - pump stations out in what looks like the middle of the harbor.
Top: Print showing a representation of Burlington Bay in 1858.
Bottom: Lois McClure under sail near Burlington.
As the public came aboard the Lois, a conversation that often occurred was how much the waterfront has changed. In the middle decades of the twentieth century, as commercial use of the waterfront declined and abandoned facilities deteriorated, it became a place that was shunned by locals as a slum. Kids were told to stay away, it was too dangerous. Now, it's a thriving place - fantastic restaurants, beautiful parks overlooking magnificent scenery, and lots of recreational boat traffic. It's a great place to stop by and visit, and the Lois McClure and her crew always enjoy being there.