By Ken Kelly, member of the Water Wonderland Chapter.

The Back Story

I first became interested in wooden canoes when I purchased a 1930s built log cabin in 1993. I was looking for a summer place on an all-sports lake with the plan of getting a mahogany runabout soon there after. Already a wooden runabout enthusiast, I almost did it in reverse order and bought a boat first. Fortunately that didn’t happen. My cabin was on two small lakes and the lake association didn’t allow any motorized boats. A friend suggested a wooden canoe would be a great fit with my interests and the cabin circumstances. I soon found one and I loved paddling it. The style and shape of this canoe were very attractive. The beautiful gleam of the finished surfaces and wonderful wood colors were exceptional. The substantial feel of it in the water and relative quiet compared to paddling an aluminum canoe make it a great experience.

I was hooked and I started to look around for an extra canoe for when friends visited. In that process, I found the website of a local restoration company and on the cover of their website was an amazingly beautiful canoe with an extremely long deck on the front and a short deck on the back. I mentioned to Gil Cramer, owner of the Wooden Canoe Shop, that I’d like one like that if he ever found another. He was very clear, that canoe was a custom, special order, and in all his experience, he had never seen another one similar to it.

Forward about 20 years later. Over those years, I’d become a serious wooden canoe collector and estimate having “collected” over 100 canoes by buying, restoring, and finding new homes for them to try to keep my total ownership under 25 at any given time. However, I’d still not seen or heard of another canoe like the one on the website I’d fallen for years ago. Lucky for me, wooden canoe circles are small and the community gets to know each other well, including who likes what type of canoe. A canoe friend called to ask if I wanted to come to an estate sale of the owner of that canoe. I went knowing I was going to bring home that canoe and that is how it entered my collection 20 years later.

The Canoe

An ‘Indian Princess’ was the top grade The Carleton Canoe Company made. It featured hand selected premium planking and rib materials to make the hull, and all mahogany trim to finish it. The trim includes the gunnels, decks, and seat frames which would be made of ash or birch on lower grade canoes. The Indian Princess canoes could also have extra features like outside stems, floor racks, flag pole sockets, and other optional upgrades. This 18’ canoe was the largest, most expensive model that Carleton made in 1936. The optional extra long 56″ front deck and a 20” rear deck added extra cost and made it ultra premium and exceptionally unique. Carleton would have had their finest craftsman make this canoe because the cost of any re-work could have been substantial, so they would not take the risk on anyone but their most skilled builders. The owners of this canoe spared no expense and must have wanted it to be obvious to anyone who noticed.

Akron, Ohio – During the Great Depression

Social canoeing was popular in many locations from the late 1800s through the 1920s. Before automobile ownership became accessible to most people, they could go to the lake and rent a canoe for an afternoon floating with a date or with friends. In many cities close to a lake or a quiet river, there were canoe clubs that allowed storing your canoe with easy access to the water (they were also social clubs, dancing and dining establishments). Akron, Ohio had one or more of these clubs. Home to growing industrial companies like Goodyear Tire and Rubber and Firestone Tire, there were likely to be many successful and resourceful people there to maintain a strong club, even in the middle of the Great Depression. I don’t know the local history, but have found postcards from 1910 featuring the Portage Path Canoe Club in Lake Side Park, Akron. This Carleton canoe with delivered to the Anchor Canoe Livery in Akron. However, this had to be a privately owned canoe – not part of a Liveries rental fleet. 1936 was fairly late in the date range of social canoeing popularity. Although this was likely the fanciest, nicest canoe at the club, this canoe was very lightly used with no signs of wear. It is almost in new condition. It has been restored, with new varnish and new canvas in 1992, but the wood is all original. I think the original owners were making a statement in having this unique, premium canoe and maybe using it wasn’t even the objective. It certainly would have been a nice piece to display.

Since I’ve Owned Her (2012)

The only issue I wanted to address with this canoe was the paint. The original build order from Carleton specifies that the canoe was ordered in Dark Maroon color. When it was re-canvased in 1992, the owner wanted it to be green. It looked good in green, but it wasn’t accurate for this collectable canoe. This canoe also did not apparently get a contrasting color and stripe work of any kind when new. Typically, a canoe with this many premium features and upgrades would have had a stylish paint stripe design to make the canvas as uniquely attractive as the rest of the canoe. So I changed the color back to Dark Maroon and added an appropriate stripe design to complete the package. I’ve also enjoyed this canoe in the water, but it is big and heavy (very stable) so I understand why you’d want to have it stored at a club close to the water where you could find help to move it to and from. Or maybe that is why it didn’t get used so much?

Thanks for your interest and reading this story.


  1. Such an interesting story for a beautiful canoe. I’m so glad you take such care and pride in your canoes. What a delight. Happy New Year by the way.

  2. My name is Bob and I have been restoring Old Town canoes for almost 50 years. Right now I have 2 beautiful 16 footers. One is a 1924 which is a newly finished complete restoration. It looks like a fine piece of antique furniture and the other is a 1964 trapper with an original contoured yoke. It hurts to part with them but where would I find a buyer who would understand the quality and character of such canoes. I am retired now and can’t use them like I used to. I have been In the hobby of authentic restoring of wood canoes since 1960.
    I had people who wanted the canoes before I finished them through the years.
    Happy canoeing, Bob

    • Greetings Bob. This spring I will be restoring an 18 foot Old Town as my first wood/canvas restoration. After having acquired the canoe a couple of years ago, I have researched the process and am eager to start in the spring. With your experience, I certainly would be interested in any advice you may be willing to communicate to me.
      I am choosing to restore this boat as much to learn and respect the heritage of wood/canvas canoe history as to to keep it afloat. However, I know that once I am finished, the total weight of the 18 footer may be more than I want to move about.
      I have thought that a 16 foot boat would be more to my liking for day paddling ( I have a kevlar boat for tripping).
      I would like to know more about your boats including degree of restoration, photos, location, and what price you are thinking of for the boats. If you are willing to communicate, I can provide my email address or phone #.

      John Clayburgh

  3. Great story and great work. The number of people who want to preserve wooden boats is few and the ones who want to preserve non-powered boats is even fewer. I love to see these old canoes preserved. When I was young, in the 1960’s, I spent seven summers in the BWCA at a canoe camp. We had several wood and canvas canoes that mostly stayed in the boat house. We kids wanted nothing to do with those heavy old things, we all wanted to use to the “light weight” aluminum ones. In the late 1980’s I had a chance to speak with the owner of the camp and he was willing to part with the wooden canoes, unfortunately at the time I had three young children and no money. In later years the camp was sold and I’ve often wondered what happened to those canoes. I’ve resigned myself to building Stripper canoes and presently have a strip Cosine Wherry on the frame ready to fiberglass.
    When I attend the boat shows, I love to see the powered boats but, I will always make a B-line straight to the canoes and non powered craft and spend time inspecting every inch of them. Unfortunately there usually aren’t many if any canoes. It would be nice if there could be some sort of emphasis placed on these craft to get them to attend the shows.
    Keep up the good work.

  4. Magnificent. I have always admired them, but never had good luck with canoes. Back in the 60s, we rented a house on Lake George and one day several of us made a power boat journey up to the north end of the lake. To get to our starting point, I borrowed the Old Town canoe that was the house owner’s and paddled across Katsklill Bay to meet the other boys.
    Later that afternoon, we came back and the first thing I noticed was that the lovely blue Old Town had been hauled up onto the dock….Huh?
    When we got ashore, I discovered that my friend’s younger sister (maybe 12) had decided to take it out onto the lake to show her “boyfriend” who was trolling her with his own Glaspar 14. Well, as you can imagine, youthful exhuberance took over and the showoff boyfriend did a fishtail and planted in Mercury prop right through the Old Town bow.
    Thankfully, appropriate parents had already been notified and were arranging for repairs, but I felt so bad for the canoe at the hands of 12-year old twits.

    And the next summer, at Silver Bay, I took out a canoe with a couple of friends and one of the girls said: “I think I should take my ring and neckless off and put them in the bottom of the canoe.” I responded that that was not necessary, even though there were speedboat waterskier/wakes in the area. Sure enough, you know what happened next…glub-glub. Somewhere on the bottom of Silver Bay, Lake George….

    Last, I WON a new Grumman canoe at the Business Council of NYS Annual Meeting at the Sagamore on LG. I came down the next morning to pick it up and was directed to the indoor athletic area. It seems that overnight, some of my fellow lobbyists had been drinking beside the indoor pool and decided that the pool could use some ornamentation. So, my new canoe got launched into the Sagamore Indoor Pool. But it didn’t last long with me, as I was into Windsurfing at the time, so I sold it before any more bad canoe luck could strike again.
    Best wishes for happy, peaceful paddling!

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