Working with museum collections is sometimes like assembling a jigsaw puzzle – on a very large scale, and over a very long period of time. Steamboat Reindeer is one of the largest “jigsaw puzzles” in LCMM’s collection. In September 2017, Joyce Kendrick Weldon called to offer the Museum the ship’s wheel from the Reindeer on behalf of her niece Heidi K. Sieloff, and nephew J. Halsey Kendrick. Joyce recalls that the wheel was given to her father, Jack Kendrick, by his neighbor Vern Rockwell, and it remained over the fireplace in the Kendrick family camp on the Georgia shore for decades. Now the family had decided it was time for the wheel to find a permanent home at the Maritime Museum.
The Reindeer has a very special place among the steamboats of Lake Champlain. Every other paddle-wheel steamer that worked on the lake was owned by Lake Champlain Transportation Company. Reindeer was built in 1882 by the Grand Isle Steam Boat Company under the direction of Ell Barnum Rockwell. Born at North Hero, VT in 1830, Rockwell became a cabin boy at the age of 12, and worked all his life on lake sloops schooners, and steamboats – including those of the Champlain Transportation Company – as a pilot, mate, and captain. When Rockwell retired in 1928, at the age of 98, he was said to be the oldest steamboat captain in the world.
While not the largest steamboat on the lake, at 200 feet long, Reindeer was the largest steamboat to navigate Otter Creek to the basin at Vergennes Falls. Remarkably, over the years, several parts of the steamboat Reindeer have been given to the Maritime Museum. Her pilot house, which featured curved windows and a painted ceiling with molded trim, was given to the Museum in 1993 by James and Claudia Amery. Traces of white paint, green and light yellow trimmings can still be seen in the interior. Wooden doors from the Reindeer, featuring botanical carvings and wildlife etched into their glass panels, were donated by Lorraine and Glen Mitchell in 1985, Wight A. Manning in 1993, Dave Mason in 1998, and Susan Bowen in 2008. Remarkably, the Museum even has a collection of manuscripts, photographs, and artifacts from Ell B. Rockwell, donated in 1986 by Mr. and Mrs. Robert McHugh. Reunited at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, these wonderful objects can still transport us back to the Age of Steam.