Newspaper Articles About Canoes: Gerrish, Molitor, And Others.

Benson Gray

Canoe History Enthusiast
Staff member
I've recently been trolling through for information about old canoes and continue to be amazed at what shows up. The Bangor paper announced on July 16th, 1886 that Gerrish was experimenting with a steam powered canoe. I. F. West of East Orange, New Jersey shipped a canvas canoe to Gerrish's home town of Brownville on August 25th, 1879 yet this is very close to the time when Gerrish is thought to have invented the concept. It also appears that an early canoe builder named L. A. Levitt from Old Town may have invented the sectional canoe as described in an article from February 18th, 1898. Charles Molitor of Detroit won a canoe at a Takoma Canoe Club party in 1905 as described in an article from October 26th, 1906. This may have been what led him to eventually decide to manage the boathouse on Belle Isle and get some very fancy canoes from Morris and Old Town. His bid for the 1911 and 1912 season's boat house contract from the city of Detroit has also been published. It is interesting that he agreed "to furnish and maintain at all times during the above contract boats, canoes, and accessories equal in number and condition to those now in use." This may explain why he was so particular about having some very unique canoes. Copies of these articles are attached below.


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Many years ago I met I believe it was "Jim?" Leavitt of Leavitt Quality Canoes. I can't remember where he was located. I was on a pilgrimage to find the fabled Stelmok and Thurlow after discovering their "Bible". I stopped off at LQC and got a tour of his shop, he was building wood canoes but using fiberglass instead of canvas. Anyway a little research finds he was in Hampden Highlands ME. Any Idea if it is the sane family?
Any Idea if it is the sane family?

I haven't been able to find out much about Leavitt Quality Canoes or Lewis A. Leavitt but it seems likely that they may be related. Do you have any idea of when "Leavitt Quality Canoes" were in production so I can add him to with the others? Lewis had a nice advertisement in the 1898 issue of the Maine Central Railroad magazine as shown below.


I have added it. Rollin and Jerry's book came out in 1987. Please send me a scan of the pamphlet when you find it. Thanks,

Benson - a comment and a question. First, it's interesting that the same cut was used to illustrate the ads for both Lewis Leavitt and Rollins & Russell. Seems like maybe the publisher of Maine Central Railroad may have used whatever (perhaps limited) artwork they had on hand.

And the question: Can you shed some light on the history of Carleton and Rollins & Russell? The 1898 ad above from Rollins & Russell claims that they are successors to Guy Carleton. However, the Carleton history shown at states that the Carleton Canoe Co. operated from 1889 until 1941. To add even more confusion, the list of Maine builders at shows Guy Carleton building canoes and bateaux from 1888-1996 (I'm guessing the 1996 is a mistake and should be 1896), and then the Carleton Canoe Co. operating from 1899 - 1941. Maybe Guy Carleton operated under his name from about 1888 or 1889 until 1896 when Rollins & Russell took over, and then someone re-named the operation Carleton Canoe Co. in 1899?
I'm sorry to be responding so late but I just returned from getting a canoe with an unusual decal in Massachusetts that had been in the same family for 110 years. It appears that the Maine Central Railroad's graphic designer recycled some artwork and probably got a name wrong.

There are some big gaps in my understanding of how Guy Carleton and the Carleton Canoe company evolved in the late 1800 and early 1900s. He was personally listed as a canoe builder in the Maine Registers from 1888 to 1896 (and I have just corrected the typographical error in the list of Maine builders). This changed to Rollins and Buzzell in 1897 and 1898. I've found no other references to anyone named Russell building canoes in Old Town at that time so my guess is that the Maine Central advertisement was supposed to read Rollins & Buzzell as the successors to Guy E. Carleton. It also appears that Guy may have still been involved during this period because the local newspaper from November 24th, 1898 carried a canoe advertisement that identified him as the manager. The 1899 Maine Register lists I. W. Buzzell & Co. along with Carleton Canoe Co. as builders of batteaux and canoes. The local paper from April 22nd, 1899 indicated that both of these companies "shipped quite a number of canoes to various parts of the country." An 1899 issue of the Hardware magazine indicates that Carleton "purchased the stock of the I. W. Buzzell Boat & Canoe Co." The 1899 issue of Seeger & Guernsey's Cyclopedia lists the Carleton Canoe Company as a maker of bark and canvas canoes. This is the first time that Carleton is identified as a source for bark canoes so they may have simply been reselling ones that were made across the river on Indian Island. The "Vital Records of Old Town, Maine Prior to 1892" edited by Ruth Gray (ISBN 0-89725-289-6) shows that Guy Carleton is buried in the Forest Hill Cemetary lot number 865 with 1850-1902 on his stone so he was not working there when Old Town purchased Carleton in 1910. The various documents mentioned here are attached below. Let me know if this doesn't answer your question.


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Thanks for the detailed response, Benson, and for being a mind reader. I meant to include a note about the ad showing Rollins & Russell as opposed to Rollins & Buzzell. That was confusing but I forgot to ask about it.

So it sounds like Guy Carleton was building and/or selling canoes from the late 1880s through 1896 when perhaps Rollins and Buzzell may have come in with some capital and taken over, retaining Carleton as manager. Then somehow Russel & Buzzell lost the "Russell" component between 1897 and 1899. And then finally Carleton bought out Buzzell and created the Carleton Canoe Company. However, the note about Carleton buying the Buzzell stock says "hereafter the TWO plants will be operated by the Carleton Co." So that suggests that Carleton was still operating independently during the 1896-1899 timeframe. Something appears to still be missing from the clues.

Thanks - Michael
Guy Carleton was running two related businesses. He purchased "Steam Mill Point" in 1883 with a lumber mill on the river. He added a small factory building about a mile away in 1889 where most of the bateau and canoe building was done. The maps at and pictures at show these buildings in more detail.

The Old Town Canoe Company was most interested in Carleton's saw mill. Their treasurer's report says "The year closing Dec. 31, 1910 marked an accomplishment of the utmost importance to our advancement, i.e. the acquirement of a means of handling economically and surely our stores of native cedar." It goes on to say that they purchased "the Carleton Canoe Co., thus giving us the means of producing from the log at minimum cost the ribs used in our canoes. ... to provide for our needs considerably in advance, which was not assured before." See for more details. The 1911 fire burned Carleton's small factory building which led to the consolidation of canoe production into the Old Town factory.

Hunt and Stowe had been selling bark canoes from Indian Island during 1893 to 1899 so Carleton probably just added this business after they closed. We are still missing much of the detail but some broad patterns are emerging. Let me know if you have other questions. Thanks,

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Things are starting to get a bit more clear after some further research. It appears that John H. Rollins was a canoe builder and Isaiah W. Bussell was a lumberman (as described in detail from an article published in 1910). They took over Guy E. Carleton's boat business and sawmill in 1896. Rollins left in 1898 and was working at the Indian Old Town Canoe Company in April, 1901 when he "met with a severe and painful accident Monday by getting his right hand caught in a grooving machine."

I also discovered an interesting article about the Morris fire on Monday evening, December 15th at 6:00. The light was visible from Old Town even though Veazie is "about eleven miles distant." (Google maps measures 7.7 miles but this is still a long way.)

The supporting documents are attached below. Let me know if you have any questions.




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It appears that Bussell's control of Carleton didn't last long. Isaac F. Tibbetts and Edgar B. Weeks were listed in the 1903 Old Town Directory as the Carleton managers and they held that position until 1910 when it was sold to Samuel B. Gray. The newspaper article describing the sale from March 12th, 1910 is attached below. This article also indicates that Carleton's business grew out of Ira Wallace's which dates to 1876 or older.


I have added it. Rollin and Jerry's book came out in 1987. Please send me a scan of the pamphlet when you find it. Thanks,

Hi Benson. Like many people my wife has been doing a lot of Covid closet cleaning. She came up with a box of my old stuff that she asked me to go through before she threw it away and guess what I found.
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I should know better than go looking in old newspapers for information about early canvas canoes but sometimes I just can't help myself. The DigitalMaine Repository at contains a collection of Phillips Phonograph newspapers from the Rangeley lake area between 1878 and 1901 and others from around the state during that time. This is a particularly interesting period in the early development of the canvas canoe. I was surprised to find a reference to a canvas canoe on October 4th, 1879 and then nothing else until August 18th, 1899 when Gerrish, Osgood, Morris, Thatcher, Gould, Leavitt, Twaddle, and others started advertising them. (It appears that a large part of this discrepancy is due to gaps in the record since the papers for many years are missing.)

I wonder if this early canvas canoe was similar to the same one from I. F. West mentioned above on August 25th, 1879. Further research shows that Isaac Foster West (1856-1940) doesn't appear to have stayed in the canoe business for long. (He listed his occupation as a "Cashier" in the 1880 census and he was still living with his parents.) The Sportsman's Gazetteer and General Guide described at includes a description of his Qui Vive canoe from 1877. This may be from A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe by John MacGregor that was published 1866 and says “Winding here and turning there, and rushing fast down this reach and paddling slow along that, with each minute a fresh view, and of new things, the mind is ever on the qui vive, or the boat will go bump on a bank, crash on a rock, or plunge into a tree full of gnats and spiders.” The literal translation is "who lives" but figuratively it translates more as "what you have to do to stay alive" or "alert."

Another apparently short term canoe builder is a steam boat captain from Moosehead Lake in Maine named Dan Brown who moved to San Diego, California and went "into the canvas canoe and boat building business at his new home" as announced in the January 17th, 1888 edition of the Currier Gazette from Rockland, Maine. All of these pages are shown below.




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