Ell Rockwell Collection

Caption: Captain Rockwell on deck of his steamboat Reindeer. Ell Rockwell Collection, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

Collection Summary

  • Dates: ca. 1830-1928
  • Size: 4 boxes of artifacts and several items in oversized storage, including the Reindeer’s doors
  • Media: paper; textile; wood; ceramic; glass;
  • Language: English
  • Subjects: Steamboat Era;
  • Related Publications: Viking of Lake Champlain (Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Digital Exhibit, 2018)
  • Access and Use: There are no restrictions on access and use for this collection.

Scope and Content

The Ell Rockwell Collection consists of several artifacts, photographs, and manuscripts documenting the life of Captain Ell Barnum Rockwell (1830-1928), heralded as the world’s longest serving steamboat captain. During his 84 years of service on board the steamboats of Lake Champlain, Rockwell experienced firsthand the boom of the commercial industry on the lake and the transition of power to automobiles and railroads toward the end of his life. He served on board over 20 vessels, from the schooner Cynthia as a cabin boy at age 14, to the pilot the grand steamers Vermont III, Chateaugay, Adirondack, and Champlain II (although he was not at the helm when the Champlain II crashed near Barn Rock in July of 1875). Rockwell’s favorite steamer may have been his own vessel, Reindeer, which was completed in 1882 and personally piloted by Rockwell until 1902. The pilothouse of Reindeer is on display at the Museum, donated by James and Claudia Avery in 1993, and its extant remains lie along the shoreline near Whitehall, NY.

The Ell Rockwell Collection is a gathering of materials related to Rockwell’s life and work, and donated to the Museum by several private individuals. Of note are Rockwell’s 98th birthday card, dated 1928 (given by longtime Museum supporters Hilarie Gade and John Peters); Rockwell’s clock, eyeglasses, captain’s hat, logbook, and additional manuscripts and photographs (given by Mr. and Mrs. Robert McHugh); four paneled doors from the steamboat Reindeer (given by Lorraine and Glen Mitchell, Wight A. Manning, Dave Mason, and Susan Bowen); and Reindeer’s ship’s wheel (given by Joyce Kendrick Weldon). Together, these objects bring Rockwells’s story to life, and support our understanding and memory of the grand steamboats which plied Lake Champlain’s waters for nearly 150 years.

Citation recommendation

Ell Rockwell Collection, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Vergennes, VT.


Lake Champlain; steamboats; Reindeer; Champlain II; Vermont II; Ell Rockwell