Another IAGenWeb Project





CLOSELY connected with the resort business, and indeed a part of it, is the boating business. The adaptiveness of the lakes to this sport was what attracted the attention of the early pioneers. Previous to this time it is supposed to have been the headquarters of a band of Yankton Sioux as a temporary resort, but there is no evidence that they ever regarded it in the light of a permanent home. It has always been the popular idea that the Indians were very expert in handling canoes and in everything pertaining to water craft. Now, so far as the Sioux are concerned, this may be or may not be true. One thing is certain, there is absolutely no evidence of their ever having had any canoes or craft of any kind on the lakes. During the summer of 1857 the boys at different times made careful search of places where they suspected canoes might be concealed but never succeeded in finding any and finally name to the conclusion there were none here. The query at once becomes interesting: Did the Indians of this locality ever have any means of navigating the lakes, except the temporary rafts that could be quickly built to meet an emergency and as quickly destroyed? It would seem that if they had ever had canoes on the lakes in any number some vestige of them would have been discovered by the white settlers, but nothing of the kind was ever found and it is an open question whether they ever had any.


No sooner had the white settlers established themselves here in the spring of 1857, than about the first thing they set themselves about was to provide some means for crossing the narrow places. At first they used a raft, but early in the summer two log canoes were constructed, one in Okoboji Grove by W. B. Brown and Lawrence Furber, and the other in Center Grove by R. U. Wheelock and Lewis Hart. They were made from basswood logs about twelve feet long, and possibly from twenty to twenty-two inches in diameter. They were capable of carrying two persons each in still water, provided they kept very quiet. This was the size of the lake fleet that summer.


It will be remembered that a small sawmill was brought in and set up late in the fall. Several rowboats were built as soon as lumber could be had. They would be considered nondescript affairs compared with the graceful craft of more recent times, but they were staunch and safe and supplied a severely felt want. Not much was done in the way of sailboats for several years. Occasionally some one would rig a small sail to a rowboat and thus relieve the monotony as well as the labor of rowing, but it was not until along in the seventies they turned their attention to sailboats. Who was the first to construct a sailboat on the lake is not positively known.


O. Crandall and a man boarding with him by the name of Benedict put up a boat in the early seventies which they called the "Martha Washington," which was one of the first, if not the very first, sailboat on the lakes. About the same time Billy Lilywhite built one on Spirit Lake which he named the "Old Tub." Zina Henderson, at Okoboji, built a little two-piaster which was christened with the taking name "Lady of the Lake." B. B. Van Steenburg was much interested in the early boating movements and had a yacht put up from a model sent him from New York, which he claimed was the same as that of some of the fastest sailers in the New York yacht club. She was very staunch, set low in the water and would stand up under a cloud of canvas. He named her the "Spook." In order to work up enthusiasm in the yachting interest, Mr. Van Steenburg proposed a series of races, and to encourage the sport offered a purse of twenty-five dollars to be distributed in prizes to the contestants. The first of these races came off August 1, 1876. There were six entries: First, the "Old Tub," by William Lilywhite, L. W. Waugh, captain; second, "Martha Washington," 0. Crandall, K. L. Wilcox, captain; third, "Lady of the Lake," Henry Baxter, Zina Henderson, captain; fourth, "Little Red Wagon," A. A. Mosher, owner and captain; fifth, "Queen of the West," J. F. Hall, owner and captain; sixth, "Okoboji Star," George Chase, owner and captain. Van Steenburg did not put his own boat into the race, but kept. it for the use of visitors.


There were no steamers on the lake then. The course was the whole length of West Okoboji and back, the two buoys having been placed as near to each end of the lake as possible and give the boats room to pass, around them, thus making the distance to be sailed fully twelve miles in a right line, but as there was a strong south wind they had to beat across the lake several times before the south buoy was turned, thus making the actual distance sailed several miles greater. They started from a point opposite Van Steenburg's house near the north end of the lake. Soon after getting their send off it became apparent that the real contest was to be between the Old Tub and the Martha Washington, both being handled by experienced and skillful sailors. They soon left the others far behind and beat their way up to the south buoy, which they turned within four minutes of each ocher, the Martha being in the lead. They now spread out their canvas, pulled up their centerboards and made a straight run for the north buoy six miles away. In making this run the Old Tub passed the Martha Washington and made the turn about five minutes first, but in beating hack to the starting point the Martha gained on her competitor so that she was less than two minutes behind when they passed the score. In another half mile she would have evened things up, but the Old Tub took first money, the Martha second, and a half hour later George Chase came in with the Okoboji Star and took third. The other three boats made no pretense of finishing the race. The Okoboji Star was a new boat that had just been built, and Mr. Waugh is reported to have made the remark at the close of the race that he could take the Star and beat either of the others.


A curious accident occurred in connection with this boat that might have proved much more serious than it really was. After the race Mr. Chase left the Star for a short time in care of W. B. Arnold. The next morning Mr. Arnold thought would be a fine idea to take his family and a few friends out for a sail. The party consisted of some six or eight women and children, the only two men being Mr. Arnold and Mr. Albee, of Spencer, neither of whom knew anything about handling a sailboat. They started off very smoothly for a time, but after passing the protecting bluffs of Pillsbury's Point they found the wind was blowing a stiff breeze from the south and their boat plowed the water at a lively rate. Things began to look serious, and Mr. Arnold decided to get back if he could. In bringing his boat around, instead of coming around head to the wind as a sailor would, he "jibed round" and in doing so the boat capsized, throwing the whole party into the lake. Messrs. Arnold and Albee directed and encouraged the women and children to hang on to some part of the boat or rigging so that they might keep afloat until they were rescued or drifted ashore. Mr. Olin Pillsbury saw the accident from his place and at once set out in a small rowboat to render such assistance as he might. His boat was light and two was all he could take at a time. He accordingly took in Mr. and Mrs. Albee and directed the others to hold on and he would be hack as soon as possible. He soon came back for the second load. By that time the capsized boat was drifting direct for Dixon's Beach and would evidently be ashore before a third trip could be made. After the first scare was over the party had no particular trouble in hanging to the boat or rigging. They all reached solid ground in safety with no more serious results than a thorough wetting, some hysterics and a good scare. It is reported that Mr. Arnold has never been out in a sailboat since. The only wonder is that the whole party were not drowned.


Indeed, any intelligent person watching and noting the reckless carelessness manifested by many summer tourists in some of their wild pranks with sailboats, can only wonder that accidents are not far more frequent than they are. It's the old story, "fools for luck." If they knew more about boating they would not dare take the chances they do.


A second race on practically the same lines as the first was arranged to come off over the same course on Saturday, the sixteenth of September. The same boats were on hand for the race, except the Old Tub and the Queen. The Old Tub was on Spirit Lake, and it was too much work to get her over the isthmus, and the Queen had had enough of it. This time Mr. Waugh handled the Martha Washington. The wind was blowing a perfect gale, accompanied with some rain, but the boys ;started in for their race all the same, All of the boats were soon blown ashore or disabled, except the Martha Washington, which under the careful handling of Mr. Waugh made the race and pocketed the prize.


Other and larger crafts were added to the sailboat fleet the next season, the most noted of which were the "Foam," by T. J. Francis, of Spirit Lake, and the "Swan," by James F. Hall, of Okoboji. The "Petrel," by the Henderson boys, was put on a little later. During the next summer it was proposed to have a three days regatta, commencing on the fourth day of July. As before Mr. Van Steenburg put up a twenty-five dollar purse in addition to which each of the boat owners put up an entrance fee. As before there were six entries. The Foam and the Swan were new boats, while the Martha Washington and the Okoboji Star were not entered. The Foam was handled by L. W. Waugh, and the Swan by Owen Gowan, both skillful sailors. A writer in the Beacon (who was an eye witness) describes the outcome of the first day's race as follows:


"The Foam turned the buoy just one minute and thirty seconds in advance of the Swan, and when they crossed the score on the downward passage the distance between them was so short that betting was considered decidedly unsafe. Of course the interest in the race centered in these two crafts and the outcome was eagerly awaited, and nobody was much surprised when they came in just two minutes and thirty seconds apart, the Foam leading."


Baxter's Lady of the Lake got away with third money, beating all competitors of last year. The second day the wind was so light that the race was decidedly uninteresting. The entries were the Foam, Spook, Swan, Old Tub and Lady of the Lake. The Foam, by reason of her enormous spread of canvas, soon distanced all competitors, easily winning first place. The Swan, Spook, Old Tub and Lady of the Lake came in in the order named.


On the third and last day but three of the boats contested, the Foam, the Swan and the Spook. Soon after starting the Swan was disabled, and the Foam had things her own way.







A yacht club was formed at this time. Rules for measuring boats, for figuring time allowances and for governing races generally were adopted and published in pamphlet form. The first officers of the yacht club were Commodore, L. W. Waugh; Vice-Commodore, Charles G. Chesebro; Rear Commodore, Henry Baxter; Secretary, A. A. Mosher; Treasurer, Henry F. Rice; Measurer, L. W. Waugh. Several other races were had first and last under the management of the yacht club in many of which a good degree of interest was taken, but after a time it became an old story. The interest died out and the yacht club went to pieces.


In the meantime the Henderson brothers bought the Foam and made regular trips with her from Spirit Lake to Arnold's Park. She was the first craft of any kind on the lake to run for passengers, and did a fair stroke of business. A somewhat singular incident occurred in connection with these trips that is worth preserving. One day A. A. Henderson started from town on his return trip, accompanied by -- Morgan and E. V. Osborn. The weather was unsettled and threatening, but for all that the boys had no apprehension of any trouble. They started from the dock, made the run through the narrows and past Stony Point all right when they noticed a rapidly moving cloud, more threatening in appearance than anything they had before seen. It proved to be a regular twister. Henderson proposed dropping under the lee of one of the sheltering points and wait until the storm had passed, but the others were very anxious to get home and urged him to keep on his course, claiming that with their present rate of speed they would make it in twenty minutes more and that it would probably be that time before the storm would reach them. Henderson yielded and kept his course. When pretty well across the lower lake the squall struck them. They had just before lowered and furled their main sail and were running with the jib alone. As the squall struck it caught the boat up almost out of the water and turned it bottom upwards and hurled it down with such force as to drive the mast some twelve feet into the mud in the bottom of the lake, and there she stuck fast.


Henderson was the first to extricate himself from the rigging and climb to the top of the overturned boat. For a moment lie thought his companions must be drowned, as they were nowhere to be seen. Soon, however, they swans out from under the capsized boat and succeeded in climbing up by the side of their companion. Fred Roff was watching the boat from the shore when the flaw struck. At first the cloud between him and the boat was so dense that he could see nothing, but as soon as it passed he saw the predicament they were in, and as soon as possible procured a rowboat and started for their relief and brought them off in safety.







It will be impossible to follow this history of the early yachts and yachting farther as more space has already been given it than was at first intended. Interest in the sport has been kept up since that time in varying degrees of intensity. New boats have from time to time been added to the yachting fleet and lunch good natured rivalry indulged in. in the later days many summer tourists have acquired interests in the neighborhood of the lakes, and it is not probable they will allow the invigorating and manly sport to languish and die out. Manly are investing in the modern launch, but the enthusiastic sailor will stick to his sheets and spars and insist that nothing can quite take the place of


"A wet sheet and a flowing sea

 A wind that follows fast,

 And fills the white and swelling sail

 And Lends the gallant mast."


The first steamer on the lake was the old "Favorite." She was a small, strongly built steam launch with a carrying capacity for about thirty passengers. She was built on the Cedar River and was run there for a time, after which she was shipped by rail to Varharren of Spencer, and he loaded her aboard a pair of trucks and sent her up to Okoboji and turned her over to John Hackett, who was to fit her up and run for passengers between Arnold's Park and Spirit Lake. E. O. Henderson, of Okoboji, was employed as engineer. After overhauling her and readjusting her machinery they soon had her ready for business. At the time of her first trip the Murphy temperance meetings were being conducted in the M. E. Church in town, and it was during the progress of one of these meetings that the outside stillness was broken by the clear, sharp notes of a steam whistle ringing out on the evening air. It was the first steam whistle ever heard in Dickinson County. The astonished audience were taken completely by surprise but few if any of them having heard of the fitting up of the steamer. The result was that every boy in the crowd made a straight shoot for the door and the boat landing, leaving Mr. Murphy with a somewhat diminished audience. The Favorite was the only steamer on the lakes for two years or more.


In the summer of 1882 the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad Company brought, up from Burlington a steamer, the "Alpha," which they placed on Spirit Lake. Her capacity was about forty-five passengers. Like the Favorite she was staunch and strong. She remained on Spirit Lake until superseded by the Queen, when she was sold to Captain Bennett, who hauled her across the isthmus and run her one season for passengers on East Okoboji. About this time Sam Crozier bought the Favorite, and the Henderson boys the Alpha. These two were the best known of the early boats.


The building of the railroads into the county in 1882 so stimulated the summer resort business that more and better boats were demanded. In answer to this demand several new boats were projected. First, Captain May, of Minneapolis, encouraged by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad people shipped in the material and machinery for a larger and more pretentious steamer than had yet been attempted. She was over eighty feet in length with a proportionate breadth of beam and depth of hold, and had a carrying capacity for about three hundred passengers. She was put up by Mr. Godfrey, a practical boat builder of many years' experience on the Mississippi River, and everything about her was intended to be first-class. She was reported at the time to have cost between six and seven thousand dollars. She was launched in May, 1884, and made her first trip from Arnold's Park to the Orleans about July 1, 1884. She was christened the "Ben Lennox" for one of the officers of the Milwaukee road who presented her with a magnificent bunting flag.


The same year the Ben Lennox was put up on the lower lakes the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad Company decided to replace the Alpha with a first-class craft on Spirit Lake. Accordingly they contracted with a Dubuque company for the construction of an iron steamer to be first-class in every detail. All her parts were shaped and fitted at the works and then sent to the lakes to be put together. She was a remarkably staunch, smooth-running craft, amid was rated at about two hundred and fifty passengers, being a little less than the Ben Lennox. Her cost was about the same. When launched she was christened the "Queen," which name has stuck to her ever since.


Not far from the time these two boats were completed, or perhaps a little later, Captain Kendall built the "Hiawatha" on East Okoboji, opposite the town of Spirit Lake. In size she bore a kind of mean proportion between the smaller and the larger boats, being rated at about eighty passengers. She was strongly built and of good material and has stood the test of time and hard usage as well as any boat on the lake.


One or two small steam launches were put on about this time to ply between town and the Orleans. This was the make up of the early fleet of steamers. Soon after this, John Pallister, of Ottumwa shipped up two small steamers, the "Lelia" and the "River Queen," which for a time plied on the lakes between different points. Parties at Spirit Lake organized the Spirit Lake and Okoboji Navigation Company. Their scheme was to build a large barge to be towed by a tug to different points around the lakes for the accommodation of dancing and pleasure parties as occasion might require. They built the barge and then for a tug they took the rigging off the Foam and put in a small steam engine for the propelling power. The Foam had made a splendid record as a sailing craft but she proved far too light and frail for a tug and the scheme proved a failure.







Soon changes began to occur in the ownership and management of the several boats. The Henderson boys sold the Alpha to a Mr. Fuller, of Spirit Lake, who took her off the lakes and shipped her to Worthington. They then bought the Hiawatha of Captain Kendall. Mr. Maxon, a conductor on the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad, built a flat-bottomed side-wheeler after the style of the river boats but there was some defect in her model. She was slow, awkward, hard to manage and eventually proved a failure. Crozier sold the Favorite to Mr. H. Brown of Spencer and built a new boat, the "Huntress," which he managed successfully several seasons. The name of the boat was afterward changed to "Illinois." The Hendersons sold the Hiawatha to Mills and Allen and built the "Iowa." This boat ranked next to the Queen in size and was first-class in all respects. Several smaller crafts were from time to time added and others taken off which cannot be noticed in detail. After several changes the Ben Lennox was bought by the Manhattan Beach Company, who overhauled it and changed the name to the "Manhattan."


By this time the dry seasons had told seriously on the lakes, the average level being much lower than formerly, and at times the larger boats had difficulty in making all the points. East Okoboji is the shallowest of the lakes and for a time had to be almost entirely abandoned. The Manhattan was for a few sea sons run in the interest of the Manhattan Beach Company's watering place, but was afterwards condemned, run ashore at Given's Point, the machinery and fixtures taken out and the hull knocked to pieces and cut up for kindling wood. The Queen was kept on Spirit Lake until after the Orleans Hotel was torn down, when the railway company having no further use for her sold her to the Henderson brothers, who pulled her across into Okoboji and gave her a thorough overhauling. She proved to be in better condition than was anticipated, her hull being practically as sound as ever and her machinery but little worn. After being painted and renovated she was practically good as new. The Hiawatha, after several deals, came into the hands of the Broadgate brothers of Spencer, who continued to run her for passengers.


The Ben Lennox, the Queen and the Hiawatha, with the smaller boats, the Favorite and the Alpha, were the pioneers of steamboat navigation on the lakes. After the Manhattan was condemned she was sold to Mr. F. C. Roff, who took out her machinery and fixtures and such of her upper works as were worth saving, and as before stated, split the hull up for firewood. It had rotted to that extent that it was utterly worthless for anything else.







Mr. Roff determined at once to build an entirely new boat from the same model, using only such parts of the old boat as were just as good as new. His plan was to secure the best material, obtainable and to have the work first-class. This was in the spring of 1900. As soon as possible after completing the deal he set to work on the new enterprise. The ribs and timbers for the hull were of oak while the planking was Douglass fir from Washington. The hull was made much stronger than the old Ben Lennox. Such of the old machinery as was not just as good as new was replaced by new. The old boat had been overhauled and remodeled so many times that there was but little of the upper works that could be utilized, thus making it necessary to build new all around. It was intended to have her ready and in the water by the commencement of the resort season, but an unavoidable delay in forwarding the lumber from the Pacific coast prevented this and it was near August before she was fully completed. She was christened the "Okoboji." She was the third to receive that name but the other two were short lived affairs. In appearance she was the Ben Lennox over again as that craft was originally constructed and is the most roomy and one of the best appointed boats on the lake.


The steamers on the Okoboji at the present time are as follows: 1 The Okoboji, F. C. Roff, capacity 300 passengers; built in 1900. 2 The Queen, Henderson Brothers ; capacity 250 passengers ; built in 1884; iron hull ; good as new. 3 The Iowa, Henderson Brothers; capacity 120 passengers; built in 1896. 4 The Irma, Elmer Clark; capacity 100 passengers; built in 1898. 5 The Hiawatha, Broadgate Brothers; capacity 80 passengers; built in 1884. 6 The Illinois, capacity 60 passengers; built in 1887. 7 The Orleans; capacity 60 passengers; built in 1896. 8 The R. J. Hopkins, R. J. Hopkins; capacity 40 passengers; built in 1896. 9 River Queen, R. J. Hopkins; capacity 30 passengers; built in 1890.


In addition to the above list there are several steam and vapor launches owned by private parties who manage and control them for their own use and convenience and not for the accommodation of the public. The only steamer on Spirit Lake is the Templar, a small steamer with a carrying capacity for about forty passengers. She is owned and managed by the Knights Templar in connection with their resort at Templar Point. Her name has been recently changed from the "Chicago" to the "Templar."