The Antique Boat Museum, ACBS Lifetime Associate Member and Thousand Islands Chapter
The 106′ houseboat La Duchesse brings the gracious River lifestyle of the turn of the 20th Century to life. Built in 1903, for hotelier George Boldt, manager of New York City’s famed Waldorf-Astoria hotel, and a summer resident of the Thousand Islands, the houseboat had been in continuous use as an elegant summer home until she was generously donated in 2003 to the museum by the McNally family, of Wellesley Island, NY, and Chicago, IL. In 2005, the museum opened her for tours to museum visitors.
Designed by the naval architectural firm of Tams, Lemoyne and Crane (well known for many early race boats), and originally constructed in Long Island City, NY, La Duchesse was shipped in sections by rail to the Thousand Islands and was then assembled and launched into the St. Lawrence River, where she has remained for the last 120 years. Boldt had his own tug, Queen, amongst the more than 60 boats in his fleet, so La Duchesse was never motorized, but towed to anchorage locations.
Truly magnificent, La Duchesse is a two story houseboat built with every creature comfort. Noticeably nothing was spared in her construction. She has a galley with staff quarters, a dining room with opulent brass fireplace, 6 guest staterooms with 3 shared baths complete with claw-foot tubs and gold rimmed sinks. Upstairs is the master stateroom and bath, a smoking room (later an office), a large salon with a marble fireplace and Steinway Piano, and an expansive lounge deck. In the early 1900s, Boldt and his guests would watch the race boats completing in the Gold Cup being run along the St. Lawrence from the upper deck of La Duchesse.
After a period of gradual decline, due in part to the Great Depression, La Duchesse sank in her slip, but was fortunately rescued by Andrew McNally, who purchase and raised the boat in 1943. McNally set about turning the historic houseboat into his family’s summer home, and it became a lifetime passion and investment of love, time and money. One of McNally’s biggest challenges was what to do with the 50 year old wooden hull that required constant maintenance, but couldn’t easily be hauled out of the water. Fortunately, McNally contracted Hutchinson Boatworks to build a new steel hull for La Duchesse in 1957…a decision that no doubt saved this great vessel and is the reason she is celebration 120 years on the St. Lawrence River today.
Each year, more than 20,000 visitors have enjoyed seeing her luxurious interior and original furnishings while hearing the story of this unique summer home from one of the Museum’s volunteer docents.
La Duchsess is one of the many reasons (in addition to their runabouts, launches, race boats and numerous small craft) that we here at ACBS encourage people to visit the Antique Boat Museum. Congratulations on 120 years!
Checkout more about La Duchesse and the Antique Boat Museum at www.abm.org.