Tonawanda News — Within an hour of the Lois McClure's day-long visit Wednesday at Long Homestead in the City of Tonawanda, 150 visitors had already come on board, dipped below deck and gotten an earful of historical and educational information exhibiting the link between past and present.
The 1860s replica schooner, the type of vessel that carried cargo up and down the Erie Canal for decades in the 1800s and early 1900s, many of which were constructed at several Twin Cities shipyards, has been traveling the Great Lakes since May.
Art Cohn, the schooner's director, said Wednesday's visit was his first stop along the canal. He and his 12-person crew will be navigating through various towns and villages along the waterway before returning in October to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vermont.
Cohn, a historian and educator who has traveled with the schooner since it was constructed in 2004 — said its makeup was entirely based off of two sunken vessel's discovered at the bottom of Lake Champlain.
"That's how we learned to build it," he said, adding that the vessel's annual 40-stop jaunt through waterways in the Northern sections of the country draws upwards of 25,000 visitors a year.
In the early days, the boat, which has no engine, was pulled up and down the canal along the towpath by horses and mules. Now it has a tugboat to do the dirty work.
Many of the same crew members, he said, have worked together for years, including during the vessel's last visit to the Twin Cities in 2007. This year, Cohn said the Erie Canal was a target because of the floating museum's historical theme, which this year has been tied to the War of 1812, while specifically exploring America's naval victories against Great Britain in the years to follow.