Schenectady Harbor - August 21st-23rd, 1992 (The Navigation)


Everything done on and off the river was within the context of the historic harbor of Schenectady - truly the waterway gateway to the west 200 years ago. While the actual waterfront of the harbor survived in a truncated bit of the old Binnekill channel behind the Stockade District of the City, few people had any idea that it existed, or what it meant in American history.

To facilitate the visualization of this historic place, regional artist Len Tantillo was commisioned to create a painting of what the place might have looked like in the 1790s. Based on research done at the State Museum by the Durham Project and the Colonial Albany Project, the artist rendered an image that, for many who attended the event, bridged the gap between 1992 and 1792 and connected them with this historic landscape.

Click on any image to enlarge
The Tantillo painting The painting done in 1992 by local artist Len Tantillo, capturing the appearance of the old harbor at Schenectady as it looked 200 years before, drew a lot of attention during the event.

For the crew of the batteau "Discovery", the weekend at Schenectady provided the first opportunity for intensive operations under variable river conditions. Most of the modern channels, both river and canal, were broad and deep. Yet many of the channels a batteau would have navigated 200 years ago were narrow, twisting and often obstructed by overhanging trees. Near Scotia the crew had noticed a narrow, dead-end channel on a map, preserved behind a large island - the Isle of the Mohawks. This would be the first place to test navigation under primitive conditions.

Old navigation channels The route of the navigation is overlain on this 18th century map of the waterways around Schenectady showing the old harbor beside the stockade and the channels and islands.
The batteau heading up the river Underway into the main channel of the Mohawk River, "Discovery" and her crew head west to explore the narrow channel behind Isle of the Mohawks near Scotia.
Entering the narrow channels At the helm as the batteau enters the narrow back-channel of the island, Bob Mulligan enjoys drifting back into a more pristine environment - making the connection with the 1790s more complete for the crew.
In the narrow channel near Scotia As the channel narrows, the thrill of navigating under historic conditions gives way to concern about what lies ahead for Bob Mulligan at the sweep and George Haswell watching forward.
The crew uses the oars Into the narrowest part of the channel, Joe Meany and Olof Jannson stand by at the oars in the bow, while the voyageur canoe of the Beverwyck Brigade scouts ahead for a passage.
Reaching the dead-end of the channel Having reached the dead-end, where the old channel is completely blocked off, George and Bob seemed relieved to be turned about and on the way back out of this cul-de-sac.

The unique nature of the State Museum's project - recreating a boat not sailed on these waters for nearly 200 years - drew the attention of another batteau replication project, this one on the James River in Virginia. Although based on a very different style of boat, used primarily in the early and middle 19th century, the James River Batteaux project has evolved into a major annual festival with a number of replica boats and numerous experienced crew.

One batteau crew from Virginia came to Schenectady and joined us in sailing, and driving, "Discovery" during the three day bicentennial event.

Batteau crew from Virginia The Virginia batteau crew enjoys an evening lantern-light cruise on the Mohawk River, after most of the evidence of the 20th century has left the scene.
Batteau crew from Virginia One of the batteaux crew from Virginia takes a turn at the sweep during an evening navigation of the Mohawk River, lit only by moonlight and the campfires of the encampment on shore.

 


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