Burgin canoes from the Woerd Avenue Boat House in Waltham, Massachusetts

Benson Gray

Canoe History Enthusiast
Staff member
I've seen Arnold canoes but can anyone tell me anything about Burgin canoes from the Woerd Avenue Boat House as listed in the 1921 Waltham, Massachusetts directory at http://doczz.net/doc/1779566/ and below? These businesses weren't far apart so may have been working together.


You're probably aware of this detail, but I have both a catalog and a heavy card (early business card?) from the Waltham Boat & Canoe Company that show James Burgin listed as general manager on the catalog and "proprietor" on the card. I think the card may be just a little earlier than the catalog, but I believe that both well precede 1921. So whose canoes was Burgin offering then? Hmmm... Don't know if there was something more complicated going on there, but the Woerd Avenue Boat House had the same address as the Waltham Boat & Canoe Company. In the 1922 New England Business Directory, the Woerd Avenue Boat House is listed under "Boats to Let". Under "Boatbuilders", both the Waltham Boat & Canoe Co. and the Woerd Avenue Boat House are listed.

Edit: Just checked the Historic Wood Canoe and Boat Company Catalog Collection, and see that the catalog I have is listed as 1906, and an image of the card is also there.
This catalog collection is great stuff for anyone who doesn't have it:
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I had not made that connection but it makes sense. Burgin was with the Waltham Canoe Company in 1906 as shown on the catalog cover. The summary below from https://books.google.com/books?id=wrAVAAAAYAAJ indicates that it was a substantial business at that time (although his name was not spelled correctly). These numbers indicate that Nutting and Waltham were both making about 200 canoes a year (at $30 each). His involvement in the canoe manufacturing business may have been less significant by 1921.




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It's fascinating to see how few employees Nutting and Waltham (Burgin) had in 1906, and yet they produced an average of about 4 canoes per week with only 3 or 4 employees - all the ordering, milling, construction, canvassing, filling, painting, varnishing, accessories production, marketing, finances... They must have been very efficient. However, the data shows that among the commercial industries listed, canoe building was at the lower end of the spectrum of annual product relative to number of employees (see below). Maybe this is partly a matter of scale; I wonder how these numbers look for a much larger company like Old Town. Waltham in 1906 was a good place and time to be a baker or a chemist!

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I wonder how these numbers look for a much larger company like Old Town.

I don't know of any information like this for 1906 but the "Annual Report of the Bureau of Industrial and Labor Statistics for the State of Maine" from 1910 at https://books.google.com/books?id=TF1KAAAAMAAJ includes the number of people employed in various companies including Old Town and some other canoe builders as shown below.


The Old Town records show that 3100 canoes were produced in 1910 which probably includes Carleton since they were purchased in March of 1910. The table at http://www.wcha.org/catalogs/carleton/carleton_chart.html led me to guess that about 800 of that total were probably Carletons. Dan Miller indexed the Kennebec records many years ago so that information let me calculate that they shipped 850 canoes in 1910. The Morris estimates at http://www.wcha.org/content/bn-morris indicate that about 875 canoes were shipped then. Therefore, about 121 canoe builders made an estimated 4825 canoes which works out to just less than 40 canoes per person. This is not much below the estimated annual rate of 50 and 61 per employee for Nutting and Burgin (Waltham) respectively. (My original estimate of $30 per canoe may also be too low for fancy Charles River models.) Fun stuff,

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I'll try to clarify a little, even though it is late and I've been away all weekend.

H. P. Bartlett and E. M. Illingsworth started a canoe livery in 1893. (Bartlett had worked for C. P. Nuttings father). Around 1901 they formed the Waltham Boat and Canoe Company, buying into/taking over Robertson & Perry (Charles B. Robertson was nephew of J. R. Robertson).

The business was sold to James Burgin in 1903. Burgin had worked for C. P. Nutting for six years prior. About this time, both Robertson and Perry go to work for J. R. Robertson.

In 1906, Burgin sold the canoe manufacturing part of the business back to Bartlett, retaining the livery part of the business.

Waltham Boat and Canoe burned down June 27, 1912.

Woerd Ave. Boat House is listed as a livery 1910-1915 and as a canoe builder 1917-1923.
I recall seeing a hand drawn map identifying the boat houses and canoe clubs in the Auburndale and Waltham areas along the Charles River from the early 1900s but I haven't been able to find it again. Does anyone have a copy to share or can you point me to where I can find it? I would like to find the locations of the Waltham Boat and Canoe Company, Joseph B. Emerson's Boat House (near the Weston bridge in Auburndale), and others. Thanks,

I recall seeing a hand drawn map identifying the boat houses and canoe clubs in the Auburndale and Waltham areas along the Charles River from the early 1900s but I haven't been able to find it again.

Maybe you are thinking of the David Kingsbury map from Wooden Canoe 141.


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