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Joseph Leyare, The Great St. Lawrence Boat Builder

TI Life is pleased to present Bonnie Mark’s historical review of Joseph Leyare, the Great St. Lawrence Boat Builder. Bonnie collected many photographs for this history, and we have tried to include as many as possible.  Each photograph will enlarge by moving your mouse over the photo.  In addition footnotes will appear over highlighted text.

Joseph Leyare 

One can’t discuss boat builders in the Thousand Islands without talking about Joseph Leyare1. He was described "as being a true son of the soil, and he smacks of the sea, or of the river, rather .... the local folks say of him: ‘He's a wonder.’ He [was] is a swarthy French Canadian and looks like an eccentric - that is, the sort who knows what he is about. He seems to know boats the same as Thoreau knew nature, and he has all the marks of the aborigine.” 

Joseph Leyare was born September 1, 1863, the son of Joseph L. Leyare, Sr., and Elizabeth Mercier. He grew up in Clayton and began working for various skiff builders in Clayton and Alexandria Bay. He eventually worked for the St. Lawrence River Skiff, Canoe and Steam Launch Company in Clayton as superintendent. It was while living there that he met and married Margaret Davies.  They lived on the corner of Franklin and Union Streets.

On July 8, 1895, the St. Lawrence River Skiff, Canoe and Steam Launch Company announced the following:

On account of superior manufacturing and shipping facilities, the St. Lawrence River Skiff Canoe and Steam Launch Co.… will remove their whole business to Ogdensburg, N.Y., the end of the Summer.

As a result, the company changed its name to the Spalding St. Lawrence Boat Company, and moved into their new quarters in October of 1896; soon thereafter they published a new catalogue. Leyare moved with the firm to Ogdensburg and continued as superintendent of the plant. As with the rest of the builders, he often built boats on the side. It is rumored, although not proven, that it was he who constructed the famous PDQ for George C. Boldt during this period.

Chip, Chip and More Chips - Leyare's Gold Cup Legacy

Although he did not officially purchase the plant from Spalding until May 23, 1905, Leyare began building boats under his own name at the plant as early as 1902.2 The Ogdensburg Illustrated noted “Seven years ago Mr. J. L. Leyare purchased the boat building business of Spalding St. Lawrence Boat Company, which had been established in this city several years before.” It was during this period that he constructed Chip for Jonathan Wainwright, a bridge contractor from Philadelphia. Chip was 27 feet long with a 3 foot 4 inch beam and 10 ¼ horse power motor. Representing the Chippewa Yacht Club in the 1905 Gold Challenge Cup Race, she made 18 miles per hour over the Chippewa Bay course. After racing for three days, it was announced that she came in first.  This was the second Gold Challenge Cup for the Chippewa Yacht Club3.

During the winter of 1905, Leyare began construction on Chip II. She was the result of much thought on the part of Leyare the builder, Leighton the engine man, and Wainwright the owner. She was 30 feet long with a 4 foot 3 inch beam and a 16 hp Leighton engine. The Rudder noted:

As soon as the challenge was received, Mr. Wainwright at once commissioned Leighton to design a defender to be equipped with one of his engines. Joseph Leyare, of Ogdensburg, N. Y., was awarded the contract for constructing the hull, and Leighton got busy on the engine proposition. Knowing that under the 1906 rules of the association the two-stroke type of engine is penalized so severely that to equip his craft with a two-stroke rig would mean almost certain defeat, Leighton put on his thinking cap and retired to his shop to think it over. The result of his labors is the much-talked-of-open-base, two stroke outfit which, under the rules of the association, rates at 16.75-h.p., and propels Chip II around at sufficient speed to make the ordinary 30-ft. racing boat of double the horse power look decidedly slow4.

Chip II won the race in 1906 based on her earlier handicap. However, when the third cylinder in her engine was remeasured, she had a higher rating (according to American Power Boat Association [APBA] rules). While the spectators thought Chip II won, the majority of the Regatta Committee, convinced that Chip's engine was measured incorrectly, gave the trophy to Sparrow. The Executive Committee over-ruled the Regatta Committee and awarded the trophy to Chip II. It was not until 1907 that Jonathan Wainwright, owner of Chip II, actually received the trophy5.

Chip II raced again in 1907 and won the Gold Challenge Cup for the fourth year in a row for the Chippewa Yacht Club. However, it became apparent that due to the APBA’s current handicapping rules, the larger boats such as Stranger and Pirate with more powerful engines could not compete with shorter boats and smaller engines.6

The year 1908 brought a change in APBA rules. The old boating rules were abandoned and no limit was placed on the boats other than they had to be less than 40 feet in length. With the death of Jonathan Wainwright in the spring of 1908, his widow and Senator Hawkins commissioned Leyare to construct Chip III. She was 40 feet long with a 6 foot beam and was "built on [the] familiar lines of the power boat racer".7 The engines, being built by Leighton of Syracuse, were of high power with minimum weight. The race was spectacular but the Dixie II, flying the colors of the Thousand Island Yacht Club, barely edged out Chip III throughout the entire three races, making the contest an exciting three days of racing.

Leyare continued to construct speed boats, some of them being designed by Leighton in Syracuse and Clinton Crane from New York. In 1908, he began construction on Duquesne and finished it in 1910 for A. R. Peacock, stockholder and employee at the Carnegie Steel Works in Pittsburgh. She was 40 feet long with a 6 foot beam and was powered by a Jencick engine. She was supposed to race in the 1910 Gold Challenge Cup race flying the colors of the Frontenac Yacht Club, but she did not enter8.

In 1909 according to the Sanborn Map Company, the Leyare shop was located on the corner of Adams and Main Street and extended from the River to Main Street. There were two, one-storey boat houses, and a wood shed on one side of the rail road tracks. On the other side of the tracks were two one-storey boat building buildings occupying almost the entire width of the site with a two-storey office tower facing the river. Behind the left side building were two one-storey sheds, one of which was used for varnishing. By 1925, the Standard Shade Roller Company that was the adjacent business, had limited Leyare’s access to the river by acquiring the land along the river and removing one of the boat houses.


During the winter of 1910, the Leyare shop constructed other boats in addition to the Number boats. These boats included a cruiser and four runabouts, one of which was for Commodore F. G. Bourne (Singer sewing machines) that was designed by Toms LeMoine and Crane, New York, as the defender for the Gold Challenge Cup races. The Squaw, flying the colors of the Thousand Islands Yacht Club, had a 150 hp Simplex engine. The engine was a last minute replacement as the original engine did not arrive in time. The Squaw had been kept in Commodore Bourne’s boat house at Dark Island and was brought up very early on the morning of the race. Admirers noted9 that “clean cut lines, and exceptionally well balanced hull. She cut through the water with a slight disturbance and seemingly little effort ….” She came in second to Dixie II, who was representing the Frontenac Yacht Club.

The Squaw continued to race during races held after the One-design races in the month of August. During a race on August 20th, she defeated the Stranger, which raced at more than 29 mph. She was piloted by Miss Reid, a guest of Commodore Rafferty with Charles Hoffman as engineer. “In a recent race on the river the Squaw made the course at the rate of 34.1 mile per hour. Charles Hoffman, engineer of the boat, has been making several changes, which give her considerably more speed.”

On August 27th, in a race after the Free-For-All Race, the gasoline feed line burst pumping gasoline into the hull of the boat. The carburetor then back-fired, igniting the gasoline. The flames were extinguished with great difficulty by the crew of the Pioneer, another racing boat10. During the winter of 1910-1911, she was rebuilt by Leyare and sold to an unknown owner. The October 13, 1910 issue of the Thousand Islands Sun commented that:

[she is] stronger than before the fire which occurred during her last race and at which time very little damage had been done to her hull. The motor that will be installed in this hull is rated at 304 hp at 800 revolutions, against 150 hp that was formerly installed in her. We can expect a great deal more speed from her with the new motor, as is was plainly seen in races that she needed more power to give her speed.

The owner of the boat is a very conservative man and it is possible that the same engineer, Charles Hoffman, will be at the levers when any large amount is at stake. Mr. Hoffman has the reputation of being one of the most expert motor men on the river and can get speed out of them when there is any to be gotten.

The following year, 1911, Leyare constructed the Wasp for William Tousey of Thousand Island Park. She was a W. H. Fauber hydroplane, 32 feet long with 6 foot beam and was powered by 2, 6-cylinder Leighton engines. She raced in the 1911 Gold Challenge Cup race and finished second.

The Number Boats

In December of 1909, a small article appeared in the Ogdensburg Advance11 noting that Leyare Boat Works had been selected to build 20 racing boats from the same mold which were to be raced on the river the following summer. Over the previous several years, members of the Thousand Islands Yacht Club felt motor boat racing had been spoiled by imported boats and everyone knew in advance in what order the boats would finish.

In order to increase racing in the St. Lawrence region, the members of the Thousand Islands Yacht Club enlisted members from their club, Chippewa Yacht Club, Frontenac Yacht Club, and the Gananoque Organization to develop a race12 of all the same boats. So the outcome of the race would depend on the skill of the operator, the condition of the motor and ultimately superior boatmanship.

Therefore the club desired to build 20 boats for general use, which would average 18 - 20 miles per hour, and would all start at the same time. The selection committee chose Charles D. Mower13, a noted naval architect from New York City to design the boats and Joseph Leyare to build them. Their success would depend on the skill of the driver and the condition of the motor.

Referred to as the "number boats", these twenty, one-design boats would be entered in races held every Wednesday and Saturday throughout the summer of 1910 terminating with a final race during the week of the Gold Challenge Cup races in August. Points would be given for entering the boat, running her, and placement in the Wednesday and Saturday races. Cups would be given for the Saturday races only. The winner would be the crew which showed the best seamanship and could obtain the best speed from the engine.

The committee in charge of the design allowed the initial subscribers to select the type of boat and motor to be used and the rest of the owners would have to abide by their decision. The length would be 28 feet 6 inches overall with 28 feet at the waterline and a 5 foot beam. Planking would be ½ inch select white cedar. Each boat would be equipped with a 4 cylinder, 30 hp Jencick motor. The boats would weigh 1,850 pounds and would cost $1,400.00 each. A speed of 19 miles-per-hour was expected14.

The owners of the boats were men (and women) who were very involved with boating on the St. Lawrence River. The owners included:

Boat Number -  Name of Owner -  Summer Residence15  

#1 ------------- Ira Kip, Jr. Alexandria Bay, NY

#11 Canuck George F. Benson Mississagua, Ivy Lee, Ontario
#2 Skip A.K. Bourne Dark Island, Chippewa Bay, NY #12 Comet Charles M. Englis Owatonna Isl., Chippewa Bay, NY
#3 This George C. Boldt Hart Island, Alexandria Bay, NY #13 That George C. Boldt Alexandria Bay, NY
#4 ------------- Ernest B. Rubsamen St. Lawrence Park, Alexandria Bay, NY #14 ------------- A.W. Hardy
#5 Snicker F. K. Burnham, Jr. Alexandria Bay, NY #15 Scab W.F. Harris St. Lawrence Park, Alexandria Bay, NY
#6 Betty Capt. David H. Lyon Lookout Isl16., Chippewa Bay, NY #16 Rascal E.R. Nichols Alexandria Bay, NY
#7 Kom Seben Dr. Egbert LeFevre Rockport, Ontario #17 Petrel James L. Pass Fineview, NY
#8 Leyare F.A. Reed Poole’s Rest, Ontario #18 Night Rider Lee M. Rumsey Alexandria Bay, NY
#9 ------------- F.E. Ballard #19 ------------ Committee Boat17

#10 Brub Thomas A. Gillespie Grenell, NY

#20 Pilot F.G. Bourne Dark Island, Chippewa Bay, NY

By April 17, 1910, eleven of the twenty hulls were painted and were finished except for engine installation. The week before, twelve Jencick engines were shipped from their factory to Leyare’s shop. It was expected that the initial eleven boats were to be totally completed by mid May.

Preliminary races were held throughout the months of July with No. 10, Brub, owned by T. A. Gillespie of the Frontenac Yacht Club and No. 3 This, owned by George C. Boldt of the Thousand Islands Yacht Club, taking the early honors and No. 8 Leyare taking second. The races were unique and interesting to watch because all of the boats started at one time.

After the Gold Challenge Cup races in August, the official One-Design Races, a series of seven races were undertaken18. The first race was won by No. 10, who raced two times over the Frontenac Course; the second by No. 8 (No. 10 was disqualified) two times over the Alexandria Bay short course; the fourth race was won by No. 8 again two times over the Alexandria Bay short course; the fifth race was won again by No. 8 two times over the Thousand Islands Yacht Club course; and sixth and final race was won again by No. 8 two times over the Club Course at Alexandria Bay. The winner of this race was presented with the Pioneer Cup by the Duke of Westminster. A special invitational race for the fastest six boats piloted by ladies was held with No. 8, piloted by Miss Gillespie19 an easy winner.

The seventh race was the 100 mile endurance race for the six highest scoring boats. The contestants started at 10:30 am at the Alexandria Bay Course, and continuing on a course “to be announced” and were expected to finish about 3:00 in the afternoon over the Thousand Islands Club Course. The winner was presented with a “handsome cup” by Mr. Gillespie of the Gananoque and Thousand Island Clubs. At the end of the race, everyone felt the races were well worth the effort placed in their creation.

The One-Design boats continued to race in 1911 and 1912 in both Clayton and Alexandria Bay20. During the month of August, the Thousand Islands Yacht Club sponsored weekly races held primarily on Saturdays. The race was two times around the Alexandria Bay course. During the August 13th race, the handicap race for the boats of one-design resulted as follows: Boat #10, owned, J. P. Gillespie and Boat #13, owned, G. C. Boldt tied for first. Boat #17, owned, James Pass was second; Boat #6, owner, D. H. Lyon third; followed by Boat #3, 10 owned G. C. Boldt; Boat #12, owned, C. M. Englis; Boat #16, owned E. R. Nichols; and finally boat #20, owned, F.G. Bourne. Then in the August 28th race was won by No. 3, owned by George C. Boldt, New York, and second place was taken by No. 10, owned by T. A. Gillespie from Basswood Island and Pittsburgh.

An advertisement appeared in the July 25, 1912 issue of the Thousand Islands Sun:

For Sale - One-design motor boat, without engine. Price $500. Inquire of Capt. Fitz M. Hunt.

It can be assumed that after the initial races that some of the owners were selling their boats at a loss.

Of these twenty boats, only seven survive: #3 This and #13 That, owned by the Antique Boat Museum; #8, Leyare, owned by Dr. Graff; and #18, the Night Rider, owned by McNally Family. Two boats21 with unknown numbers are owned by William Gage and Tom Mittler. Everett Smith, a boat builder in Canton, New York, has begun building replicas of the number.

In 1911, Leyare began to be concerned with the design of race boats. The Thousand Islands Sun22 commented:

Joe Leyare of the Ogdensburg Leyare Boat Works thinks that some of the huge power boats which will take part in the fall races of American Power Boat Association's Gold Challenge Cup on the St. Lawrence River in August, this year will develop as high as 45 miles an hour, but he says that the difficulty in handling boats traveling at that speed makes their value for racing purposes uncertain. The tremendous power of the little craft pulls their bows so high in the air that is difficult to turn them around when traveling at a high speed.

The One-Design class boats were so successful that in February 1912, Leyare was hired to construct 20, one-design sailing boats to "revive the once popular sport of sailing". It was said by the Thousand Islands Sun that the same Thousand Islands Yacht Club members were tiring somewhat of the motoring and were turning their attention to sailing to break the monotony.

The boats were designed by William Gardner and were similar to the Larchmont and Great South Bay Regatta boats. They were 26.4 feet over all with a deck beam of 6.6 feet and a sail area of 300 square feet. The boats were “non-capsizable” and “non-sinkable”. They were being offered for sale at $450.00 and would be ready by June 1, 191223.

Leyare continued to build and repair boats from 1913 to 1917. On November 29, 1917, the Ogdensburg Advance announced that Joseph Leyare closed the boat plant and accepted a position in Buffalo with Curtiss Airplane Company to be in charge of their hydro-airplane plant25.

St. Lawrence Boat Works

Joseph Leyare came back from Buffalo in 1919, after which he became interested in leasing his plant to a number of businesses. Ultimately he leased the building to a concern involved in the construction of hydroplanes. The new company, Ogdensburg Aeroway Company, which later became Huff-Daland, would only come to Ogdensburg if the Chamber of Commerce raised $3,000.00 to pay for the lease on the Leyare’s plant for one year. In addition to building hydro-airplanes, the Ogdensburg Journal, noted that Joseph Leyare would continue building boats on a larger scale26.

With the assistance of the Huff-Daland Company, a new firm was created known as St. Lawrence Boat Works, Inc. The firm, incorporated October 11, 1921, noted that its directors were Grant Hall, Thomas Huff (principal), Elliott Daland (principal), Charles Porter, Alfred Lust, J. Bright Lord, and Edward Madill, who was the moving spirit of the concern. Leyare, who became the superintendent of the concern, was known as the most competent man in the industry. The new firm continued the tradition of building skiffs and canoes that the Spalding-St. Lawrence Boat Works began.

In February 192227, the Abercrombie and Fitch Company of New York placed an order for 125 canoes. The new company was so successful that they were invited to display their "Whistle Wing" St. Lawrence Skiffs, square stern row boats, and cedar and canvas canoes at the New York Boat Show.

In April 1923, they increased their capitalization from $25,000 to $75,000. By March of 1923, Huff-Daland needed larger quarters so they moved to the Pooler Building on Riverside Avenue and St. Lawrence Boat Works expanded throughout the entire plant28.

In August of 1925, Joseph Leyare left the St. Lawrence Boat Works29 and announced the reopening of his big boat factory. He had enough orders so that he was "rushed for work". He had several individual orders as well as a contract for "out board motor type" for the Abercrombie and Fitch Company.

Leyare continued building boats in Ogdensburg until 1929 when he moved to Schenectady to work for an unnamed boat building concern. He retired a year later and went to live in New Hartford, New York with one of his daughters. He died in 1946 at the age of 82. He was known as one of the most knowledgeable boat builders on the St. Lawrence River and left a legacy of boat building with the Chips and One-Design class boats.

By Bonnie Wilkinson Mark

©  Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved

Bonnie Wilkinson Mark is the great grand-daughter of Bert Hutchinson of Hutchinson Boat Works in Alexandria Bay, NY.  This article is part of a longer narrative that chronicles the Boat Builders of the Thousand Islands.  She lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with her husband Charles.  Bonnie tells us, “ they have five wooden boats, one aluminum boat (“so the dog can go fishing too!”) and about 80 outboard engines”.  Bonnie  can be reached at .


Motor Boat, August 10, 1905, p. 15-16.


Ogdensburg Illustrated p. 51.


Thousand Islands Sun, August 26, 1905.


Rudder, V17, No.11, p. 674 (Nov 1906).


Thousand Islands Sun, August 23, 1906.


Thousand Islands Sun, August 15, 1907.


Thousand Islands Sun, April 30, 1908.


Thousand Islands Sun, August 23, 1908, March 24, 1910, and April 21, 1910.


Motor Boating, September 1910, p. 4.


Motor Boating, October 1910, p. 43.


Ogdensburg Advance, December 23, 1909.


“Challenge for Harmsworth”, New York Times, April 17, 1910.




Motor Boating, January 1910, p. 41.


Watertown Daily Times, July 16, 1910, c. 4, p. 3 and Thousand Island Sun, July 21, 1910. It should be noted that the list provided by Leyare’s daughter Esther Leyare Bjornstad was based on the 1914 Chippewa Yacht Club year book. A decision was made to use the two newspapers as they indicate the owners at the time the races were run.


Lookout Island is now called Oak Island.


In an earlier report by the Watertown Daily Times, dated July 16, 1910, p.3, c.4., No. 19 belonged to Mrs. A. G. Miles.


Watertown Daily Times, August 4, 1910. It is unknown whether the third race over the Chippewa course was ever run as there were no results of this race.


Thousand Island Sun, September 1, 1910.


St. Lawrence Bulletin, August 19, 1911.


A burned out hull minus hardware is located at Bo Mullins yard. The hardware is owned by Everett Smith.


Thousand Islands Sun, April 27, 1911.


It is unknown whether all the boats were constructed and raced.


Interesting to note that even though he closed the plant, the Sanborn Map Company still acknowledged that the name of the plant on Map #3, Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence County.


Ogdensburg Journal, May 15, 1920.


Ibid. It was later revealed that Leyare leased the plant to Huff-Daland in order to get them to come to Ogdensburg. Ogdensburg Journal, August 20, 1925.


Motor Boat, February 25, 1922, p. 15.


Ogdensburg Advance, April 18, 1922.


There is no mention of what happened to the St. Lawrence Boat Works. According to corporate records at the St. Lawrence County Courthouse, the company was dissolved December 31, 1937.









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Brian Hinchey
Comment by: Brian Hinchey ( )
Left at: 7:32 AM Friday, April 16, 2010
Well done article. It cleared up my misty concept of the era.