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The Era of the Hutchinson Day Cruiser

In the early 1900s, long deck launches became the boats of choice among well-to-do summer residents on the lakes and rivers in the northeastern United States. The early launch style was ideal for touring, commuting and quite suitable for owners to enjoy a comfortable boat ride with their guests. The standard design featured the long fore deck that provided the launch style with a very attractive and modern appearance. With this design, the engine was located under the forward deck and ahead of the cockpit. This arrangement resulted in large spacious cockpit that provided passengers with an ideal seating arrangement to socialize as they cruised to their destination. Another advantage of the aft cockpit location was a much softer ride when wave conditions turned choppy.

The Hutchinson Brothers of Alexandria Bay recognized the popularity that the launch style offered wealthy islanders of the St. Lawrence River. They quickly became leaders in the development and styling of the early launches in the early 1900s. It was a time when a number of America's wealthiest families were building magnificent summer homes in the Thousand Islands.

In the fall of 1905 the Hutchinson Brothers were contacted by United States Congressman, Frank Lowden. Lowden was the son-in-law of George Pullman, the industrialist who developed and produced the railroad sleeping cars that became known as Pullman Cars. Lowden became a prominent figure in American politics serving as the Governor of Illinois and then a potential candidate for the American Presidency.

The Hutchinson Brothers realized that building a fine custom launch for Congressman Lowden would add significantly to their boat-building reputation. Lowden Placed an order with Hutchinson Brothers for a new 38-foot launch to be completed for the1906 summer season. Lowden's new launch was a Hutchinson masterpiece and received a great deal of recognition in several national boating publications. Its attractive style and superb performance influenced other prominent islanders to purchase one of Hutchinson's luxury launches. Lowden's original launch is now one hundred seven years old, is still named Monitor and continues to serve her current owners.

During the seasons that followed, the Hutchinson Brothers built several beautiful long deck launches that received national attention, including Voyageur, Bobolink, Thais, Neutral and Frolic. Their launches were always swift, comfortable and quite elegantly appointed. The custom launch from Hutchinson established itself as the boat most frequently selected among prominent Thousand Islanders. Its design seemed perfect for island-hopping, touring and commuting. Owners of these attractive launches often added a fabric top over the cockpit as a desirable option to provide more passenger comfort on extended trips or in case of rain. Soon these convertible tops became virtually standard equipment on nearly all Hutchinson launches because guests often preferred the comfort provided to the heat and glare of the open cockpit. However, these fabric tops tended to diminish the smart, attractive lines of the launches. Since the large tops was always difficult to raise or lower, it was nearly always left in the upright position throughout the summer.

The thought of designing a permanent top for their launches presented an interesting opportunity for the creative Hutchinson Brothers. They prepared a larger launch designed with an attractive permanent top that offered both a semi-open cockpit and a small windowed cabin. Their new model was longer than their traditional open launch and still provided the same positive performance qualities of a smooth ride with impressive speed. In 1910 Hutchinson Brothers introduced their new model with a permanent top plus a small enclosed cabin. They identified their new model as the “Day Cruiser.” The Day Cruiser was a handsome craft having many of the attributes of the traditional launch with ample seating in the covered cockpit with the benefit of the small enclosed cabin further aft for those who preferred a more protected ride. The small cabins were often equipped with an ice box, fresh water supply and a marine head.

The first day cruiser from the Hutchinson Brothers was an attractive 45-footer built for the Commodore of the Thousand Islands Yacht Club, James H. Hammond of Pittsburgh, PA. She had a beam of just 8 ½ feet, was powered by a 200 horsepower Hall-Scott engine that provided a reported speed of 27 miles per hour. She was named, “Jean,” and her layout provided a driver's station forward on the starboard side with several comfortable wicker arm chairs in the large covered cockpit. Aft of the covered cockpit was the comfortable glass cabin with a few wicker chairs, a service bar and an enclosed lavatory. There was a small cockpit aft of the cabin with a full width seat. In many ways it was a perfect boat for touring, island hoping or commuting. The new style caught on quickly with the island social set and Hutchinson built several outstanding day cruisers during the decade that followed.

When the more compact and attractive sedan utility style was developed in the nineteen twenties through the nineteen thirties, the popularity of the larger Day Cruisers began to decline. The day cruisers were big boats with displacement hulls that often required a professional captain and a even a deck hand to handle successfully. Owners were becoming more interested in the sport of operating their own boats. The new utility sedans were much easier for owners to operate. At the same time there was a ready market for the used day cruisers since they could easily be converted to commercial tour boats. Captain J.P. Wagoner of Alexandria Bay operated a local tour boat line and was happy to acquire Commodore Hammond's, “Jean.” She was easily converted to a profitable tour boat that remained in commercial service for decades in the Thousand Islands. Another well known day cruiser was the the very handsome Hutchinson, “Pilgrim,” that was originally built for Anna Laughlin of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation in Pittsburgh, PA. “Pilgrim” featured a magnificent varnished African mahogany hull and served as one of the River's most prestigious tour boat for several years.

Since the conversion from day cruiser to tour boat was relatively simple, the rapidly growing tour boat business offered a convenient market for used day cruisers. The abundance of day cruisers helped expand the touring industry on the River. The converted Hutchinson day cruisers served for decades in commercial service and paid for themselves many times over.

The popularity of Hutchinson's new sedan utilities and sedan commuters continued to expand until the start of World War II in 1941 when Hutchinson's contracts for military craft ended their production. Many of these seventy and eighty year-old sedans have survived and are currently enjoying renewed popularity among classic boating enthusiasts from the Thousand Islands to Lake Tahoe.

The January 2013 issue of Boating magazine featured a totally new 32-foot Chris-Craft runabout on its cover. This model is identified as the “Day Boat.” It features an enclosed marine head, a refrigerator, a microwave and even a small cabin with a single bunk. It is a spectacular open boat that in many ways still captures the essence of the Hutchinson Brother's day cruiser that they introduced more than one hundred years ago.

By Anthony Mollica

Anthony Mollica’s first wrote professionally in his teaching career in communications. Writing for pleasure evolved from his activities with the Antique and Classic Boat Society and the Antique Boat Museum as well as his life-long interest in the history of boat building in American. He has published articles in various marine periodicals including Classic Boating, ACBS Rudder, Gar Wood News, The Antique Boat Museum Gazette Annual, Motor Boating, Lakeland Boating and The Chris-Craft Brass Bell Quarterly. He is also the author of twelve published books, many of which are available in local book stores.  In September 2010, TI Life reviewed Building Chris-Craft: Inside the Factories”.  A book he wrote with Chris Smith, a member of the founding family.   (See Anthony Mollica on our Publications page)

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Pat Regan
Comment by: Pat Regan ( )
Left at: 1:25 PM Friday, February 15, 2013
I really enjoyed this article on the Hutchinson Boat Works. I remember when it was in still in Business building boats during the summers of 1953 and 1954. I was working at the Crossman Hotel. This industry was a great part of the 1000 Islands.
Rich Calabrese, Jr
Comment by: Rich Calabrese, Jr ( )
Left at: 3:19 PM Tuesday, February 19, 2013
That era might be history but thankfully some of the old Hutchinson gems are still being used on the river. In my opinion, they should always remain on the river and not be sold to someone outside the region. (Lake George, Oneida, other states, etc). I remember as a kid (I'm 47 now) back in the 70's, watching the antique boats being used as tour boats, taxis and shuttles between the mainland and islands. That was way before the loud, obnoxious speed boats became so popular (I wish they'd go away). It's not surprising that there's a fraternity between wooden boat owners. We all wave to one another, we yield to each other, we respect each other and we don't feel a need to try to show off. There's nothing like it, an old wooden boat. Long live the woodie.
Catherine Vivers
Comment by: Catherine Vivers ( )
Left at: 11:55 AM Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Very informative and Rich Calabrese you described it beautifully!! I must quote you......"there's nothing like it, an old wooden boat. Long live the woodie!!"
Nancy Prigg Rawls
Comment by: Nancy Prigg Rawls ( )
Left at: 12:07 PM Wednesday, February 20, 2013
These boats look like some of my father's, H. Paul Prigg, boat's he designed and built in the 20's and 30's in Miami and Palm Beach. He was a famous race boat driver winning many races, setting new speed records and owner of many trophies, one being FL Gov. Martin trophy. I am the youngest living child of his and if anyone knows the whereabouts of any of his boats please contact me. Thank you.
John Peach
Comment by: John Peach ( )
Left at: 3:01 PM Thursday, February 21, 2013
Another excellent article on Hutchinsons. I am ashamed to admit I never knew that Jean and Pilgrim were Hutchinsons :-{
Where were the first long deck Hutchinson's built? At the Mill Point Shop - later Fitz & Lee?
John Thumper Peach