Photo © Ian Coristine/
 You are here:  Back Issues      Archive

Luckenback: Gilded Age Yachtsman

The Luckenback Family were prominent River people, yet they did not have a cottage, as far as this author has been able to determine, in the Thousand Islands. As with many wealthy families, they preferred to rent a suite at one of the areas luxury hotels for the summer. In July 1899, the Luckenbacks were among the first guests to check-in to C. G. Emery’s New Frontenac.1

Commodore Lewis Luckenback, president of the “Luckenback Steamship Co.”, was one of the longest-lived [1830-1970] and most successful of US shipping companies.”2 He was also Commodore of the New York Yacht Club,3 yachtsman and frequent guest at Round Island’s New Frontenac Hotel. His yacht, Now Then, could usually be found tied up at the Frontenac Dock; Luckenback maintained a suite of rooms at the luxurious hostelry. He spent many seasons at the Frontenac, until his death in 1906.4

“Lewis Luckenbach started with a single tugboat in New York and initially built his fortune, by pioneering tug-and-barge transport, of coal from Norfolk, Virginia (the outlet for the coal fields in what is now West Virginia), to New England.”2 The line at its height was reputed to have over 150 ships; each named for a member of the family, thus there was the SS Dorothy Luckenback, SS Lillian Luckenback,  etc.5

Steam yacht racing was one of the favorite pastimes of millionaires, in the Gilded Age, in the Thousand Islands. With his own fleet of ships, it was a natural for Luckenback to enjoy the challenge of this expensive sport.

Generally these contests were of an informal nature, as in this example;

The steamer “Kingston” was “trimmed” by Luckenback and the Now Then. For three miles, the little boat [“Now Then”] kept beside the big fellow, when Commodore Luckenback, by giving the “Now Then” a single notch more, left the Kingston astern and went into Round Island with a half mile lead.”6

The Now Then was considered one of the fastest yachts on the river. The highest recorded speed was 27 miles per hour!7

A three way race was held in August 1903; the course was 20 miles long, from Alexandria Bay, to Dark [Singer] Island and return. Luckenback was racing Now Then, against Gilbert T. Rafferty’s yacht Stroller and Thomas A. Gillespie’s yacht Jean. The outcome is unknown, but the newspaper article announcing the race said that;“much money” was wagered.8

If you have operated a boat on the St. Lawrence, you probably know the surprise of hitting a shoal. The Now Then did just that, in September of 1901, and pumps and equipment were required to salvage her. The shoal was on the north side of Howe Island.9 Steam yachts were expensive to operate; besides hitting the occasional shoal, there was general maintenance and the crew. Captain Henry Griffin was responsible for the upkeep of the yacht. To prepare for the new season, in June 1902, Griffin installed “new pistons, steel bulkheads”, to make the Now Then “as good as new”, after the 1901 accident.

The Now Then was built by Herreshoff Manufacturing Co., in 1887. “No other firm in the country, at that time,had made a specialty of fast steam crafts and for this reason, the government placed a staff of experts in the Herreshoff yards, to experiment with them.”10

  1. Brooklyn Eagle, 9 July 1899
  2. The Ships List, Webpage
  3. Ogdensburg Journal, 27 August 1904 Page 4
  4. Brooklyn Eagle, 24 August 1902 Page 2
  5. Maritime Timetable Images, Bjorn Larsson 2015, Webpage
  6. Ogdensburg Daily Journal, 11 August 1902
  7. Ogdensburg Daily Journal, 26 July 1899, Page 5
  8. Watertown Re-Union, 29 August 1903, Page 3
  9. Ogdensburg Daily Journal, 9 September 1901, Page 4
  10. The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. XII, Page 354, James T. White & Co., NY, 1904

By Rexford M. Ennis

Copyright 2014 Rexford M. Ennis All Rights Reserved

Rex Ennis has written several articles for TI Life.  His bio is recorded in Contributors, in December, 2008. In the past two years, Rex has published two important books on the Thousand Islands.  The first, published in 2010, Toujours Jeune Always Young, the biography of Charles G. Emery was reviewed in the June 2010 issue.  The second, Saints, Sinners and Sailors of the Gilded Age: A compendium of biographical sketches, centered on the Gilded Age, in the Thousand Islands, describes the biographies of every name appearing on an 1889 map, published by Frank H. Taylor, called: “Map of the Thousand Islands; Hotels, Parks and Cottages.”  See the book review in our July 2011 issue; you will find the map described in the July issue, and in the August 2011 issue.  Luckily for TI Life readers, Rex is hard at work on a new book – so stay tuned.

Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


There are currently no comments, be the first to post one.