The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Frank Phelps' Shipyard at Chaumont
Syracuse Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), 28 Nov 1920

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Frank Phelps' Shipyard at Chaumont
Of the Many That Once Nourished Along the Lake Shore It Alone Remains.

Of all the ship building plants that once flourished along the Jefferson county shore bf Lake Ontario, a single yard, that of Frank Phelps, at Chaumont, now remains. Few new crafts have been laid down there of late years, but repairs are still carried on, and the lone ship builder exhibits all the resource which characterized the pioneer yards in the days before steam power was known upon these inland waters, and when a 300 ton schooner was considered a craft of remarkable dimensions.

In the earlier days the lakes and the St. Lawrence river afforded the means of transportation and communication for this region. Bay and streams, now blocked by shoals and closed to the modern mariner, were open to the navigator of those days, and the demand for ships from the smaller ports was brisk where to-day it has disappeared.

Lumber Plentiful.

Forests dotted with clumps of virgin pine, needing only the removal of bark and branches to form masts and spars, and an abundance of oak for the staunchest hulls, invited the sailor to build boats. With so long a lake shore, lengthened by the excellent harborage of Henderson, Sackets Harbor and Chaumont, it was natural that Jefferson county would be well represented, in inland maritime trade. With all these advantages of harbors and timber it was to be expected that ship, building would follow. Add to the lake the long shore line of the St. Lawrence river and the water facilities of the county become doubly important.

It was natural that the environs of Chaumont bay should become a flourishing shipping center. The double havens of Chaumont in the mouth of Chaumont creek on one side and Saw Mill bay on the other, gave it an advantage, but in the early days Three Mile Bay vied with it as a shipbuilding site, while several crafts were laid down on Point Peninsula, five miles across Chaumont bay from the village.

Construction on a large scale seems to have begun in 1835. At that time the lock capacity of the Welland canal limited the size of the vessels to 400 tons.

Establishes First Yard.

Asa Wilcox established the first yard at Three Mile Bay and launched a great many boats from 1835 to 1853. They were mostly schooners, ranging from 112 to 395 tons, and including one three master, the Hungarian, launched in 1856. Ontario, Hampton, Iroquois and Ocean, dating from 1843 to 1848, and one steam propeller, the Clifton, which took the water in 1846. Schuyler & Powers did some boat building at Three Mile Bay beginning in 1843, and E. Cline and Peter Estes each launched one craft, but none of these boats reached 100 tons.

In 1832 William Clark began building ships at Chaumont with the launching of the Stephen Girard of 60 tons. Three years later Robert Masters turned out the Alleghan of 100 tons. From then until the Civil War crafts were launched from time to time ranging from 75 tons to the 244-ton Oxford of 1848. In all upwards, of 3,000 tons of shipping was turned out from the Chaumont yards by various builders, from small sail barges to steam freighters. The, majority of these were launched in the west bay, where Chaumont creek empties, and near the site of the present ship yard. Some activities followed the Civil war, but about 1890 interest in ship building waned.

Phelps Now Owns Yard.

For the last several years the Chaumont ship yard has been conducted by Frank Phelps. It is located upon the west bay a few rods from the historic mansion erected by James Le Ray de Chaumont, from whom the village took its name. Across a little cove is the pavilion arid boat livery of Schimerhorn's park; one of the favorite local watering resorts.

The yard is devoted mainly to repairing. Possessing no dry dock, Mr.Phelps utilize winches in hauling craft out of the water. They are dragged out on a skidway and made high and dry for purposes of repairing the bottoms. A couple of shops and equipment of boilers, engines and machinery complete the yard.

Despite the limited conveniences, Mr. Phelps accomplishes extensive repairs and citizens of Chaumont Bay high tribute to his resource and mechanical ingenuity which permits him to overhaul any part of a craft from its rigging to a defective boiler.

Denver Now in Yard.

At present the sail barge Denver is hauled up in the yard for repairs and Captain Phelps expects to have the craft ready for lake trade by opening bf navigation in the spring. The Denver is a two-masted barge and has been engaged extensively in the bay transport. A small tug and launch or two are also in the Phelps yard for overhauling.

The steam barge M. C. Phelps, of Chaumont, one of the best known ships at this end of the lake, is the largest propeller launched at the yard. The Phelps is a vessel of about 340 tons, it makes Chaumont headquarters, being berthed in lower Chaumont river behind the drawbridge of the state highway.

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Date of Publication:
28 Nov 1920
Richard Palmer Collection
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Geographic Coverage:
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 44.060534953888 Longitude: -76.1383438110352
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Frank Phelps' Shipyard at Chaumont