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Balboa - a Century of History

In 2007 Paul Malo wrote the  “ Original River Houseboat, Balboa”, giving the history of the "Comfort" renamed the "Balboa" for Thousand Islands Life. This sequel is by Robert S. Miner, of Fargo, North Dakota.

My family was fortunate to call the Balboa our summer home in the Thousand Islands from 1955 to 2008 and it has served as a base camp for four generations of the Miner family and relatives.

In 1989 my late father, Robert E. Miner, told of how Mancel T. Clark Jr. (owner of Comfort Island) provided him, in 1967, with a chronology of the Balboa. The Clarks brought the ship to the Thousand Islands and wrote the first log entry in 1892.

Originally she was a one-story keel boat with a mast, boom, and a single sail. However, like many of the original houseboats, she was  frequently towed to her destination by the Clark’s steam tug the Mamie C.



A July 30th 1893 article in the New York Times credits A.E. Clark for introducing the houseboat to the St. Lawrence as follows: “Mr. Clark brought a queerly-shaped craft, resembling more of an awkward sailing sloop than anything else, there was a tendency to scoff at the stranger, but now houseboats have become the fashion.”

During those years, the fall duck hunters used the Comfort as a base camp. The skiffs used on hunting and fishing excursions were carried on the cabin roof. According to an early log entry, she made frequent trips up the Rideau Canal to the Ottawa River.  Mancel Clark's uncle, Alson Skinner Clark, was a well-known American impressionist artist.  (See Alson Skinner Clark Exhibition).  He sketched the boat’s interior.

The last entry by the Clark family in the log was written in 1908.

Later, the Comfort was either rented or owned by John Russell, an author and screenwriter in the 1920's and 1930's. His South Seas tales were well known in England and later in the United States. His screenwriting credits included Beau Geste, Lord Jim, Where the Pavement Ends, and The Iron Horse. He also worked briefly on the original Frankenstein film of 1931.

The Log of the Houseboat "Comfort" of Alex. Bay N.Y. Sketches by Alson Skinner Clark


 Little is known about the next owner, a Dr. Bennett from Syracuse (?). We do know that Dr. Bennett would have the Comfort, now the Balboa, towed and anchored off Laundry Point or up to the Lake of the Isles. He would ferry across from Fishers Landing, get a ride to the anchorage and “skiff aboard”. We were told that eventually the cost of dry docking, caulking, storage, etc. became prohibitive so at high water she was “winched up on rollers” to safe ground and became a camp, for lease.

 Dr. Bennett sold the Balboa to Mrs. Robert Inglehart, my great aunt. The Inglehart name is still well-known in the early days of Westminster Park and Wellesley Island.

In 1955 the current “log” resumed when Mr. and Mrs. Robert Miner came from Westerville, Ohio and purchased the Balboa for $75. All but six windows were broken, screens were rotten, and most of the furniture was removed. A table and a wooden box were salvaged and put to good use for the next 50 + years and furniture was donated by local relatives and friends. Over the years it was resurrected from the derelict seen in the 1955 pictures to a weather-tight and almost-mouse-proof camp.

The Balboa’s lower level underwent several modifications to make it more- easily accessible, and livable, for three small children and two adults. The upper level was improved with a large screened-in porch added to the “river” side and a room enlargement. The end of the ship was altered to allow for a lower porch and better access to the lower “deck”. The original cabin doors were moved to the side to allow for a second, main access.

The top level had three “cozy” sleeping quarters and a bathroom. Electricity was added in the early 1960’s for both refrigeration and cooking. All the chair and table legs had to be “adjusted” to account for the list towards the river! The center support pole, seen in photographs, was used as a measuring stick to see how we had grown from year to year.

Later, the Balboa was given to the James Miner family, of Stow, Ohio who enjoyed it for several years until its sale in early 2008. While the condition of the Balboa had degraded over the years from the tough winters of northern New York, the Balboa found its way into the hearts of our family and will always be the first houseboat on the river. As my parents described it to us many times, it was “better than a tent”. That it was.­­

I was really fortunate that the Clark descendants had provided copies of the ship’s original log with its pre-1905 photographs and drawings. Hopefully it provides some insight on this little -known historical treasure that currently sits in a small corner of Westminster Park. Perhaps it will provide others with the inspiration to preserve this historical structure for future generations.

By Robert S. Miner, with historical notes that had been provided by the late Robert E. Miner.

Copyright 2009 Robert S. Miner, All rights reserved

Robert S. Miner lives in Fargo, North Dakota where he is employed by John Deere Electronic Solutions as Senior Quality Engineer. His 18 consecutive summers on the St. Lawrence River helped develop his increasing love of the outdoors.

Editor's Note:  Two stories relating to Alson Skinner Clark - was this planned -  no!  Rob Miner sent his story idea to present a sequel to TI Life in the winter.  Then Mike Franklin provided his Comfort Island webpage and the history of the property in March. When we researched that story we learned about the Alson Skinner Clark exhibition to be held this summer by the Alexandria Township Historical Society in the Cornwall Bros. Store in Alexandria Bay.  All three stories show how closely related the islanders are and how important each story can become.  We thank Robert Miner, Mike Franklin, and Tad and Kira Clark for providing so many wonderful photographs and material.

Photograph of the Mamie C Lampshade at Comfort Island Flagpole on Comfort Island
Photo: by Mike Franklin, courtesy Tad Clark
Photo: by Mike Franklin, courtesy Tad Clark
Photo: by Mike Franklin, courtesy Tad Clark
Photograph of the Mamie C, which was the steam boat that towed the "Comfort" to her picnic or touring destinations.
The lampshade, at Comfort Island is made of photographs, including the familiar "Comfort" houseboat.
Comfort Island's flagpole was the original mast from the "Comfort".


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Kris Pinkney
Comment by: Kris Pinkney
Left at: 7:47 AM Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Wonderful article! Peeking ahead in May Dewey's diary, I found this entry:
August 27th 1889 - "I am so tired but I have had such fun. We started out fishing with the Brownings. They called in the "Mamie C" about 9 o'clock."

The Clark family went abroad in the summer of 1889. Comfort was rented by the W.C. Browning family as their to-be summer home, Hopewell Hall, was still off in the future.
Larry Golden
Comment by: Larry Golden ( )
Left at: 12:53 PM Saturday, July 11, 2009
I encountered the Balboa recently on a walk through Westminster Park and Wellesley Island East with my grandson. It is great to get this historical perspective, making that encounter so much more meaningful. It is these wonderful "links" with days gone by that make the Thousand Islands so enchanting and unique. It is only a shame that the Balboa has fallen into such disrepair.

Thanks for the wonderful article and neat photographs!
Robert Miner
Comment by: Robert Miner ( )
Left at: 7:59 AM Sunday, July 12, 2009
Thanks for the comments. I wish the Balboa hadn't gone into disrepair as well. Hopefully it can be repaired to a better state and saved for the future generations by others. Would love to find out when it was acually built and by what shipyard.