On the ‘Greatest Day That Georgeville Ever Saw’

 

STEAMBOAT LAUNCH

 

The Subscribers respectfully announce to the public, that the steamboat now in course of construction at Georgeville, will be launched into the waters of Lake Memphremagog on Thursday, the 27th inst.  Ladies and Gentlemen are invited to be present and witness this novel (in this part of the country) ceremony.

 

The Ladies of Georgeville will provide a Dinner, the proceeds of which will be devoted to furnishing the Cabin of the Boat.

 

"Come one, come all."

 

Ephraim Cross

Geo. W. Fogg

 

Georgeville, June 18, 1850

 

 

Come they did, setting out in farm wagons early on the warm and cloudless morning of June 27, 1850 – the "greatest day," in Hazen Increase Bullock's account, "that Georgeville ever saw."  From miles around, they came in their hundreds, bumping and jostling over the rutted roads, drawn by the opportunity to witness not simply "a novel ceremony," as the notice in the Stanstead Journal put it, but nothing less than a wonder of the modern age. 

 

"It seemed," to young Hazen Increase, who was nine at the time, "as if the crowd filled the entire basin formed by the surrounding hills, and flowed over the heights in places, so great was the curiosity to see a real steamboat. Possibly many had read or heard of steamers but not a half dozen had seen one, and this opportunity was not to be lost."

 

 

"A vacant field between the two lake streets [now the village green] was chosen in which tables were erected with seats running nearly the entire width of the lot and shaded by a profusion of evergreen trees. At the entrance of each street arches trimmed with spruce, fir and cedar were erected, under which admittance was given to the grounds.

 

"At one side a temporary kitchen was erected of rough boards, containing a cook stove and all the accessories required in the culinary art, and in which coffee, tea, oysters, roast meats and turkeys were prepared for the hungry guests.  A very large quantity of edibles, besides the above, had been contributed by the housewives of the village." 

 

At 11 a.m., the ceremonies began. Led by the Georgeville Brass Band, a parade of invited dignitaries formed for a march through the village "to the strains of [the band's] choicest selections," and then threaded its way through one of the archways to the banquet awaiting.   

 

The places of honour were occupied by 30-year-old George Washington Fogg, who had conceived the idea of building the lake's first steam boat, and his principal partner, Ephriam Cross, a recent arrival from New Hampshire.   Sharing the crowd's applause was Orson Spear, the shipwright  Fogg had imported from Lake Champlain to supervise the construction of the steamer.   After a liberal round of toasts and speeches, "the last tableful had hardly risen from their seats when notice was sent through the crowd to prepare" for the crowning event of the day.

Photo by Alexander Henderson, 1863. University of Glasgow Library.

There, decked with bunting and towering high on her ways at the foot of the north side of today's Carré Copp, was the wooden-hulled, paddle-wheel steamer. To Bullock, she was "an object of surpassing beauty."  The Stanstead Journal described her simply as "the Boat", since she did not yet have a name.  But she was, wrote the Journal, "said to be a beautiful model of nautical excellence by those who are au fait in such matters."  Her deck measured 115 ft. from stem to stern, her beam 35 ft., her capacity 160 tons, powered by a 21-cylinder, 18 h.p. engine from Molson's St. Mary's Foundry in Montreal.     

 

As George C. Merrill, who grew up in the village and later served as purser and captain of the boat, would write: "The whole of the lake contributed to the steamer.  The oak of which the bow and floor timbers were made was taken from the sides of Owl's Head; the engine frame and kelsons of Norway pine from Indian Point [at Newport]; the white pine fore hull and decks from Magog; the knees and frames of tamarack from swamps near the lake; the rock maple for bottom from hillsides in Potton."  

 

Finally came the moment for Fogg's wife Sophronia to break a bottle of wine on the bow (Hazen Increase Bullock thought it was she, but wasn't sure).  As the Journal's correspondent observed, "the Boat took to her "˜native element like a duck', or to speak more classically, she "˜walked the water like a thing of life.'  The bay was covered with craft of various description, filled with eager spectators, and the shore was lined with applauding witnesses." 

 

As Bullock described it, "no wharf of any size being there to obstruct her course, the boat took to the water without the slightest cant and with that portion of the band who had the courage to risk any mishap upon the deck with Capt. Fogg.  The band struck up a lively air.  The momentum that the vessel acquired carried her nearly a third of the distance to the opposite shore, and a swarm of small skiffs went out and towed her back to her moorings at Georgeville."

 

There was, of course, much expensive finishing work still to be done on the steamer.  This, with a few trial runs, took the rest of the summer and fall of 1850.  In the interim, Capt. Fogg cannily put the selection of a name up for bids.  He advertised that he was open to suggestions and would make the final choice based on based on their suitability – and the amount of cash that went with them.  The publisher of the Journal, L.R. Robinson, proposed the Pioneer.  Some surviving accounts suggest that the steamer was briefly named the Jenny Lind, after the popular operatic soprano known as "the Swedish Nightingale."  

 

But it was as the Mountain Maid that she began her first season of scheduled sailings the following summer – a name finally chosen, it was said, in honour of an attractive young lady in the village who preferred to remain anonymous. Under Capt. Fogg and later other Georgeville skippers, the Mountain Maid would play a significant role in transportation of people and goods on the lake over the next forty years. 

 

On the day she was launched, the celebration continued into the wee hours. "As a consequence of the fire water on every hand that day, the number of drunks was appalling," Bullock wrote, "and so thoroughly drunk they were" – notably Uriah Jewett, an amiable bachelor on the Magoon Point road who was everyone's uncle, and his brother-in-law Elijah Geer. "Poor Uncle Riah laid under the lee of a board fence where the summer night's dew fell upon his upturned face till morning, and old Elijah Geer was in his best fighting mood that night, convinced that he could whip all mankind combined."