Gerrish Rowing Canoe

Steve Ambrose

Nut in a Canoe
This one may be permanently lost but I thought I give her one last shot. Years ago my family donated a run-down Gerrish Rowing Canoe to what was then the Maine Smallcraft Museum. I believe John Shelley was the man in charge. At the time I didn't have the skills to restore the boat myself nor the funds to have it done professionally. The plan was to donate the boat and John would restore it for display. He disappeared and the museum closed before I could find out what happened to the collection of boats, many of which were stored in sheds that got bulldozed for a boat yard just down the road from Epifanes NA in Thomaston, ME.

Last known condition of the boat: Paint was cracked like death valley with final coat in red, interior was painted a tan color, bow and stern seats installed in paddling positions made of pine and woven clothesline, significant rot in the ends, rails damaged and spliced in places (along with wear from outboard motor mount), decks replaced crudely, builder's tag moved to inwale, hardware for mast and rudder installed. Sailing rig may or may not have ended up with the boat. My Uncle mistakenly gave John everything he asked for out of the boat house!

I'm not trying to recover the lost boat, just trying to determine if she survived our misguided attempts to get her into good hands. If anyone knows what became of the old boat please let me know.

Here's a picture from about 30 years ago:


Thanks, Steve
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The story is equally as sad as the photo is beautiful.
I hope you find something - anything - as to its whereabouts. Good luck.
The old Gerrish has turned up! A friend of a friend heard of an odd old canoe and conversation sparked a memory of the story from my website. A few calls and emailed images later we confirmed the old canoe survived. It's almost as if it went into a time capsule because it literally is in exactly the same neglected shape as when it left our boat house over 20 years ago. If anyone has good detail images of a Gerrish rowing canoe, please share. My grandfather made some "repairs" over the years and I'll need some help determining what the old girl should look like.

Does that old girl have a serial number? I have started a collection. I saw one on ebay a few years ago and had a small conversation with the man that owned it. It was in NY and I dont think it sold. Rollin would be the one to ask for pictures.
The Historic Wood Canoe and Boat Company Catalog Collection at has a Gerrish catalog from 1898 with a drawing as shown below and more details if you don't have this already. The Museum Small Craft Association database has two listed. One is at the Mystic Seaport Museum and the other is at the Penobscot Marine Museum. They may be able to provide more information. This sounds like it would be a great article for the Wooden Canoe Journal and/or presentation for the Assembly. Good luck,



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Thanks for the tips Benson. Penobscot shows to have a 15' and lists "paddle" while Mystic shows a 16' and specifies oars so I'll start with Mystic and see where it goes. I've seen the sketch before, in Rollin's book, in fact that drawing was the key to identifying the boat originally. No serial number that I remember.
Mystic shows a 16' and specifies oars so I'll start with Mystic and see where it goes.

The Mystic boat was built after Gerrish sold the company in 1909 to Herbert Walton, who moved production to Costigan, ME. Basic information about it is in the Museum's "Mystic Seaport Watercraft," which is available online:

The boat itself is in the watercraft storage facility, aka Alladin's Cave.
Thanks Dan. That Gerrish looks nothing like our old family canoe. Ours has a profile that is more canoe than boat and I don't think it's anywhere near the 4' width that both Penobscot and Mystic list for their boats. Ours is more like the sketch which, based on the article you kindly posted, would make it an older rowing canoe? It states they gradually became wider and took on the profile of more typical row boats in the later years. Ours is more of a canoe than a boat, in fact it looks like seat rails and oar locks were simply added to a standard 16' canoe. Determining details of its original construction may be more difficult than I thought!
Here are a few pictures. Heavily modified/repaired over the years: sailing rig added, crude stern deck and rail reinforcements for a motor mount, seats rewoven with plastic clothesline, tan paint (yikes!).
Steve --

If your Gerrish rowing canoe is narrower and more canoe-like than the sketch and the Mystic photo of wider rowing canoes, you might look to see if there is any evidence of the kind of curved carry thwarts mortised into the gunwales that were typical of Gerrish canoes (and some other early w/c canoes such as early Whites):

Copy of 100_6735.JPG Copy of 100_6731.JPG

I have a D. B. Neal rowing canoe, 15' 5", of unknown date (but probably no earlier than 1907) that has many similarities to your canoe, and has such curved carry thwarts:

sm copy 100_5708.jpg sm copy 100_5470.jpg

Building in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, Neal almost certainly knew about Gerrish and his canoes and boats.

Just a random thought based only on speculation . . .
Greg, although it's hard to tell from the pictures, our old canoe is a very close match to the sketch (minus some trim details that could have been modified over time). The Gerrish tag that was likely on the deck is still in the canoe mounted to the inwale. I have no doubt it's a Gerrish rowing canoe but its condition and crude repairs over the years have blurred its former glory to the point I just don't know what it looked like when it came out of the factory. I've never come across another like it, live or photographed. The only approximation of what she may have been is the old sketch from the Gerrish catalog. Since I never intend to let her go again I'll do what is necessary to make her whole but I'd like to get her as close as possible to the original configuration especially since there don't seem to be many in existence. One note, I got a measurement on the beam at 45" so she's wider than I remember but there is the possibility that she's spread a bit since there are no thwarts (except for the added mast brace), the seats are mounted low, and the decks are weak. Hopefully someone will surface with some pictures and measurements otherwise there will be some interpretation involved ;) There are carry thwarts in the boat but I suspect my grandfather added them to aid launching the canoe (and keep her together).
I would assume there is a strong resemblance to the Pea Pods and in that case (and given his expertise on the Gerrish) you might pay Rollin's shop a visit to learn as much as you can about Gerrish rowing craft. He may just have a few things squirreled away for you to look at.......