Comprehensive look at an Adirondack icon

Paddlers navigate a two-person guideboat on the third day of the Adirondack Canoe Classic — commonly known as the 90-Miler — last September on Fish Creek. (Enterprise file photo — Justin A. Levine)

SARANAC LAKE — It all started in Saranac Lake, at what many consider to be the first hotel in the interior of the Adirondacks built to cater to the rich and playful. And out of that one hotel, an Adirondack legend was born.

“The Adirondack Guideboat,” by Stephen B. Sulavik, with contributions by Edward Comstock, Jr. and Christopher H. Woodward, was published late last year by Bauhan Publishing. But a mere recounting of the history of guideboats this is not. This is more an encyclopedia, the most comprehensive look at the iconic boats we’re likely to see any time soon.

Sulavik was a surgeon by trade, but compiled an astounding amount of information on guideboats and their builders throughout his life. Once he died, former Adirondack Museum chairman Robert Worth pushed the book through publication.

“Knowledge of the Adirondack guideboat’s superb craftsmanship — it’s beauty, grace, lightness, durability and speed — has existed for a century and a half,” Sulavik writes in the introduction. “The rich history surrounding the boat must not be lost; it forms the basis of this work — an attempt to tell this important story from a new perspective. Here you will find a wealth of information about the guideboat’s origins, the personal lives and milieu of its builders, and the distinctive characteristics of their boats.

“The hallmark of Adirondack ingenuity — the guideboat — is often hidden from view in a distant boathouse or barn loft. It is a pleasure to see a guideboat, old and unusable as it may be, gracing a wall or ceiling in the great room of an Adirondack camp. This book has been written not only to tell the story of this unique and admirable boat, but also to recognize and celebrate the inventiveness of its original builders and the singular culture of their time and place.”

The book is a deep dive into the history of guideboats, and is broken up into several sections. The first provides the history of guideboats, including their possible invention at Martin’s Hotel on Lower Saranac Lake. The second section provides biographies of 56 boat builders, from 1852 to the present, and includes current Tupper Lake resident Robert Frenette.

Maps and photos adorn the whole book, which also has old drawings and plenty of color pics as well. Most builders have a photo in the book, and Sulavik explains where and when they worked, and what keynotes each builder included in their boats.

Taking a cue from the second section, Sulavik then dives into the regional variations of boats and their builders, and offers a guide on how to tell who built a guideboat based on details in the boat itself. Sulavik explains that the shape of a stern or the width of a singular piece of wood can be used to identify which of the four dozen or so builders the boat came from.

In the final section of the book, Sulavik provides readers with an illustrated guide to guideboat terminology and parts.

While The Adirondack Guideboat may offer more details than many would need, the overall appeal of the book is bolstered by its photos and personal stories of builders. Whether you’re into guideboats, paddling or history, The Adirondack Guideboat is a must-have for any Adirondack library.


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