By Mr. Paul Steven Ghiringhelli (Drum)September 6, 2012
CLAYTON, N.Y. -- History and heritage are rarely this much fun.
Hundreds of Fort Drum community members were treated to a full day of exclusive access last week to the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, a 4.5-acre campus on the St. Lawrence River that holds one of the largest collections of freshwater boats in the U.S.
Sponsored by Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation and Lockheed Martin, Fort Drum's second annual Ride the River event Thursday included more than just self-guided tours of some 300 beautifully preserved antique boats and thousands of small-craft artifacts.
It gave Family Members an opportunity to ride in antique vessels, board a pontoon boat for Calumet Island, tour the luxurious La Duchesse houseboat, enjoy a barbecue lunch in the pavilion, listen to the guitar plucking of singer-songwriter Jared Campbell, or just relax in the pleasant late-summer sun.
"It's been absolutely (a success)," said Laura Oakes, FMWR marketing publicity assistant. "Everybody coming through has been really pleased. The kids are having a great time. We are also taking photos of Families and giving it to them."
Soldiers and their Families from Fort Drum received round-trip shuttle service to and from the museum. In addition to boat rides and island tours, probably the most talked-about draw of the event was the 106-foot houseboat.
La Duchesse was built in 1903 as a summer residence for hotelier George Boldt, manager of New York City's famed Waldorf Astoria. Decades later, Andrew McNally purchased the boat and eventually donated it to the museum.
Since officially opening to the public in July 2005, tens of thousands of visitors have toured the opulence of La Duchesse, which continues to be fully restored to its original design.
"After seeing the inside of it, we decided that's what our life should be like," said Angela Glaspell, wife of Staff Sgt. Christopher Glaspell, 514th Maintenance Company, 548th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.
Glaspell spent the day in Clayton with her 10-year-old son, Ryan, and 8-year-old daughter, Mae. She said it was her Family's first time attending Ride the River.
"We've loved it," she said. "So glad we came."
Donna Orvis, FMWR marketing chief, said the biggest difference with this year's event was in using Clayton Island Tours' pontoon boats, which held eight times as many passengers as the FMWR boats of last year.
"Being as choppy as the river is today, we may not have been able to take ours out," she said of the windy conditions. "We have been able to send out full boats all day long."
Clayton's Antique Boat Museum is described as the nation's premier freshwater nautical museum. When not riding the river, visitors strolled about the many buildings on campus, admiring the superb woodwork of aged sailboats, 1920s speedboats, rowboats and even a century-old dugout canoe.
Because a fundamental part of the museum's mission is "interpreting" recreational boating and preserving Thousand Islands heritage, there is an active Boat Shop inside the Edward J. Noble Historic Stone Building, which offers courses in everything from winterizing or varnishing a boat to tying common maritime knots.
After a full day of museum and boating activities, children engaged in arts and crafts, jumped in a bouncy house or stood in line for animal-shaped balloons from Jason the Entertainer.
Other Family Members took a trolley ride to downtown Clayton for a chance to do some window shopping, visit quaint stores, buy memorabilia or browse the farmer's market along the river.