Lois McClure setting sail for Rouses Point

ROUSES POINT - Sailing-canal boats have a long history on Lake Champlain, and in the village of Rouses Point. Next week, the Lois McClure, a replica of 1862 canal boats, will sail into the village for the first time.

"They used to ... build canal boats in Champlain and then they would come down [to Rouses Point] and they wiould fill them with different things," explained Geri Favreau, president of the Rouses Point-Champlain Historical Society. "Then, they would go to New York or Montreal or take the canal system to Buffalo."

Many families in the area would live on the boats as it sailed from Canada down through Lake Champlain. Beatrice Jefferson was one such person.

"I remember being on the canal boats," Jefferson recalled. "We were on the canal boats until we started going to school."

Eighty-five-year-old Jefferson, who is now settled in Rouses Point, remembered being on the canal boat, Murray Hill, until she was 6 years old.

"All I remember is my mother saying my father could have been a millionaire," Jefferson said. "He could have carried booze across from Canada. They never checked those boats. But, he never would."

In 1823, the expansion of trade along Lake Champlain "exploded" according to information provided by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes, Vt., where the Lois McClure is docked.

To accommodate the trade revolution,the sailing-canal boat was invented, often carrying lumber and grain from what Jefferson could remember.

"The Lake Champlain sailing-canal boat was built as an 'experiment' and designed to be able to sail from distant lake ports to the canal on the power of the wind," according to LCMM.

The sailing-canal boat was redesigned as needed from 1823 through 1862, when the boat was built to accommodate approximately 60-120 tons of cargo.

Today, one of the missions of LCMM is "to study Lake Champlain's extraordinary collection of historic shipwrecks and present that information to the public." One of the ways in which they accomplish this is to build full-size working replicas of historic vessels that once sailed along the lake.

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