Chautauqua Lake's long history as a boating mecca was on full display Saturday at the 17th Annual Chautauqua Lake Antique and Classic Boat Show.
Hosted by the Twin Tier Chapter Antique and Classic Boat Society, 51 classic and antique boats were on display at the Village Casino in Bemus Point where it's been held for the past six years. At least 19 boats were displayed on the village park grounds outside of the Casino, and 32 were tied up at the popular restaurant's docks.
"The Casino has been a great support to us," said William R. Reynolds III, president of the local Twin Tier chapter. "It's a perfect place for a boat show."
Photo by Margot Russell
A line of classic boats bobs along the Village Casino docks in Bemus Point on Saturday.
Reynolds harkened back to the lake's storied history of boating, including the era of steamships, paddle boats, mahogany speedboats and sailboats.
"These classic boats are part of people's memories," said Reynolds when explaining the popularity of the older boats. "They carry memories of their grandfathers, or the way the engines sounded, or the smell of the leather and the varnish and the paint ... and the ride."
According to the Lawson Center, The Belle Epoch of boating on Chautauqua Lake began in 1922, when David S. Lawson Sr. began selling well-appointed mahogany speedboats from Lawson Boat & Engine Company in Bemus Point.
But the epoch ended just as quickly as it began with the introduction of fiberglass boats which were easier to care for and held mass appeal for the middle class.
When the era of graceful woodies ended, they mostly disappeared into barns or were even used for firewood or planters, according to Reynolds.
Thanks to the passion of classic and antique boat enthusiasts and organizations like Twin Tier, the grand days of boating are brought back to the fore for the public to enjoy.
Dewittville resident Greg Huber stood next to his fiberglass Packard named "Catfish," and explained that only a handful of this particular model - an Orr retro boat - are left in the country today.
The Packard Motor Car Company began manufacturing boats after World War II, after designing PT boat engines for the war. The name Packard was also once synonymous with high-performance engines, and Huber's boat boasts an impressive V-8 horsepower engine.
Many of the boats' owners explained that owning classic boats is akin to taking on a full-time hobby, and for many, they are investments rather than leisure craft.
If Huber needs a part for his Packard, he admitted, it's not something he can pick up at a marina, but has to be manufactured.
Then there was Phil Andrews who spent the day on a seat at the end of a dock, parked next to his wooden Hacker-Craft named "Triple Choice."
An impressive 26-foot-long lake boat built in 1930, the Triple Choice has won many awards.
"Everywhere I've shown it," said Andrews, who summers in Chautauqua. "It has won something - best of show or first place."
Part of its appeal, according to Andrews, who is a retired architect, is the fact that the boat's DNA is almost completely original.
"It's never had a complete restoration ... its varnish, its green leather upholstery. And look at the wood on the side of the boat. It's like a piece of furniture," Andrews said
Andrews bought the boat for his wife as a 60th birthday present 14 years ago, but it wasn't his first foray into buying classic boats. He also owned a 1932 Kris Kraft named "Sugar Lady" which proved to be a valuable collector's item as evidenced by the price tag when he sold it.
But not everyone displayed something with a motor.
Jim and Joan Dimon from Union City, Pa., design boat-inspired beds, wagons and cradles, along with drift boats that they build from scratch.
"The dory-shape is in a lot of old art," Jim explained. "And is a design that's close to my heart - it's like a piece of floating art to me."
The custom-made boats take about two months to build, but the skill has taken years to hone.
"I've always built boats on the side. I built my very first one in high school in sheet metal shop while everyone else was making ash trays and cookie sheets. I made a 10-foot galvanized duck boat," Dimon said.
Jim says he keeps his day job and builds boats on the side at their J&J Dream Boat shop. A prized project right now is a 28-foot double-cabin dory with an enclosed wheelhouse, sleeping area and fishing deck.
"I bet you'll see it on Chautauqua Lake one day when it's done," he said.
Nearly 4,000 people were expected at the boat show Saturday which proved to be the perfect way for people to get out and enjoy the boats and the sunshine - and as evidenced by the crowd - a few chicken wings on the Casino's deck.
"The day was absolutely been perfect for a boat show," Reynolds said. "It's amazing how much interest there is in these old boats. It's been a great day for boat lovers and the general public."