A group of third- and fourth-grade students was given the opportunity last week to learn more about the New York State Canal System and life aboard a 19th century schooner.
Several dozen students fromWhitehallandFortAnntook approximately an hour out of their school day on Friday afternoon to visit crews aboard the Urger and Lois McClure, which were docked behind the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company for the day.
The vessels, which had both visited Whitehall earlier this year (the Urger in June and the Lois McClure last month), made an unexpected return to the community after they were unable to navigate the Erie Canal because of damage caused by the Tropical Storm Irene.
Len Ruth, who lives aboard the Lois McClure year-round, said the revised tour came about suddenly but crews were happy to have the chance to host local school groups along theChamplainCanalwho may have missed out on the opportunity when they had passed through previously.
Splitinto several groups, students visited one of three different stations and stepped aboard each of the vessels.
Representatives from the New York State Canal Corp had detailed displays and models under small tents that addressed three different areas: the history of the canal, the transition from animal power to tug boat as a means of moving vessels, and “Connect the Drops,” which addressed issues of water pollution.
Afterwards they toured the Urger, which further illustrated the history and technological advances of the transportation along the canal.
It was the Lois McClure, a full scale replica of 1862 sailing canal boat, however, that most captured the imagination of the children.
Volunteers took students aboard and let them use the mechanism that helps lift the anchor; they even got the chance to stand behind the helm.
But playing with the ships controls was secondary to learning about what the ship was used for and what life was like aboard its deck.
Sally Larsen compared the ship to today’s semi-truck, telling students it transported all sorts of goods-iron-ore, apples, grain-fromCanadatoNew Yorkand dozens of stops in between.
“How much they carried depended on low the boat sat,” she said, explaining the boat was built to just pass through that era’s locks with three inches of clearance on either side.
She said the ship required three people to keep it running, but was often home to an entire family.
“It was a good life because families were together. There idea of privacy in that era was different that ours,” she said.
Larsen said the experience is meant to help the student realize the importance of the canal and where they are from.
“As man conquered the waterway it changed the landscape,” she said. “It’s was a very critical part of how the area developed. It was the life blood of the community; it’s why the town is what it is.
Ruth said they host thousands of kids on the Lois McClure each year and the response from the kids is almost always positive.
“Sometimes you wonder if they’re listening to anything you say, and then they come back with their parent and are repeating everything we told them,” he said.
“It provides them with a sense of place and a sense of community,” Larsen added.
Both ships were expected to make a few stops north ofWhitehallover the course of the next month before going being docking for the winter.