Oldest Old Town


"Just one more"
I read on a post here the other day that Salmon Falls canoe is restoring an Old Town with a 4XX serial number. That got me wondering, what is the oldest known surviving OT and what type is it?
Dylan and Emily Schoelzel of Salmon Falls Canoe have a blog at http://salmonfallscanoe.blogspot.com/2011_02_01_archive.html and http://salmonfallscanoe.blogspot.com/ which shows a recent restoration of a “1902/1903 Robertson/Old Town” which "bears a three digit serial number 4XX." I have requested more information.

The first four Old Town Canoe build records are in the low four digit range as shown at http://forums.wcha.org/showthread.php?455&p=2274#post2274 from 1906. There are no known records earlier than these so we will probably never be able to determine the "oldest known surviving OT" with any accuracy.

There are two Old Towns with serial numbers 1473 and 2781 which have been identified by the remains of an early style decal on the deck but there are no records to date them. These canoes are shown at http://forums.wcha.org/showthread.php?6843&p=36719#post36719 and http://forums.wcha.org/showthread.php?t=2780 if you are curious. We can guess that the one with the lower serial number shipped first but there is no way to confirm this or what models they are.

There are also three known 42 inch long model canoes that look very much like these early full sized Old Town canoes but there is even less information available to precisely identify and date them.

The deck and name plate from an Indian Old Town Canoe Company canoe sold on eBay last year as described at http://forums.wcha.org/showthread.php?5808 and shown in the pictures attached below. This is clearly the oldest fragment from a predecessor company but probably doesn't qualify as the "oldest known surviving OT" either.

There are many other canoes with low serial numbers and no decals that some people claim are early Old Towns which can't be verified due to the lack of records. Most of them have characteristics shared with the Charles River area builders. Are there any other contenders that I have forgotten or not heard about?



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DSC_0040.jpgDSC_0031.jpgDSC_0032.jpgDSC_0033.jpgDSC_0034.jpgAs I was discussing my current project with a friend he told me about the canoe his wife had inherited from her grandmother. This is what I know the canoe was made for Marion Clarion Clapp Colin suposedly by Old Town. The current owners mother lived to be 83 as did her mother (the original)owner who died @40 years ago. I was shown the canoe yesterday and here are some pictures there are no serial numbers at all showing. Any thoughts on the vintage of this one?
more photos

sorry new member still getting used to it all here are some which were not included in the previous postDSC_0031.jpg
As I was discussing my current project with a friend he told me about the canoe his wife had inherited from her grandmother. This is what I know the canoe was made for Marion Clarion Clapp Colin suposedly by Old Town. [snip] Any thoughts on the vintage of this one?

It is not an Old Town. It has Gerrish-style spruce lashing at the tips. It looks like the thwarts may be morticed and seats bolted below the gunwales (the stern seat may be a replacement).
Thanks Dan any guess as to its age or further info to date it with Gerish?
Thanks Dan any guess as to its age or further info to date it with Gerish?

I'm not totally convinced it is a Gerrish, though it is Gerrish-like... Age? Hard to say, but on the earlier side, say 1890-1910, give or take. How's that for specificity!
Perhaps off topic a little, but Todd Parmington & Wendy Valint of Vintage Canoeworks in Buffalo, NY told me once that they restored a three digit Old Town. Unfortunatly they did not keep any photos and couldn't recall who bought it. Robert Ross also told me that he sold a Robertson Old Town a number of years ago to somebody in the midwest. Just a tease I guess but worth investigating if someone has the time.

Jim C.
It looks like the thwarts may be morticed and seats bolted below the gunwales

Clearly the hand thwart that we can see is morticed and after blowing up the view of the thwarts, it looks like they are also.
The thwart shape resembles the thwarts on mine (Gerrish).

The canoe has been reworked. If you look at the planking you can see some crazy quilt patterns that certainly are not original.


Nice canoe, whatever it is.
Wood species appears chestnutty too...

(by that I mean the wood appears to me to be American chestnut, not that the canoe appears to be a chestnut...)
Benson, here is the info you requested. Sorry it has taken me so long to put this together.

As with all of our restorations, this one was for a private customer so it is not for sale. It is a canoe that has been in his family since purchased new. There was no logo on the deck or evidence of a plaque. The serial number is 431. It is 17 feet long. I was able to consult with a former owner of a verified Robertson/Old Town canoe that had an original logo on the deck that predated 431 by a few canoes. Both canoes shared similarities.

Some distinguishing features of 431 are:

-The decks are very telling.

-The planking was close to 4 inches wide, white cedar and nearly all vertical grain.

-The planking pattern was far from resembling any sort of pattern I would expect to see on an Old Town. The goring was formed by two planks; a nearly full width plank that was hardly tapered and a very narrow plank that was highly tapered, almost wedged like. This type of small wedged like shim plank in the goring can be seen on a very high percentage of Robertson and Charles river builders.

-Ribs were mostly vertical grain too.

-Spruce inner and outer gunwales and cap rails too.

-Mahogany seats, thwarts, and decks

-The planking was notched into the upper part of the stem and the ends of the rails like Charles river canoes.

-Screws were iron

-Seats were mortise and tennon construction.

-The dimensions of the seats and caned area on the seats were somewhat like those of Robertson canoes I have seen; the stern seat had a larger caned area than then bow seat. The overall width and length of the caned area on both seats had odd dimensions that I would expect to see on Robertson and other Charles river area canoes.

-The ends of the gunwales ran past the outer face of the stem.

-The inner rails measured 13/16 thick by 15/16 wide. They had no bevel on the outside face to compensate for the tumblehome. Both the thickness and width tapered toward the ends as the sheer rose. I would expect to see these inner rail features on Robertson and other Charles River canoes, particularly the width and thickness of the inner rails.

The overall feel of the canoe, the way it was built, had a Robertson/Charles River feel to it yet the shape of the hull and its proportions was very Maine. You could clearly tell the lines of the hull related to the bark canoes of Maine. The turn of the bilge, the tumblehome, the stem profile, etc. Obviously some of this is not factual detail, it stems more from emotion but I don’t think it should be ignored.


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Thanks for sharing all your careful observations, Dylan. Love the feather-detail on the deck of this canoe... very realistic...
Hopefully you can convince the owners to bring it to the Assembly next year for display on the green. Thanks,

We have Old Town canoe 26481 built in 1913. It was originally shipped to Wisconsin where it apparently spend most of its days at a camp. When built it was green.

In the early 1940s my Dad purchased it and repainted it red. From there it went to Rochester NY. In the 1960s it went back to Old Town for a sail rudder. At that time we were told that it was the oldest Old Town canoe that they had seen with its original canvas.

In the early 1970s we replaced its keel with a new one from old town, and stripped and refilled the canvas.

Most of its time since the late 1940s it has been stored indoors and while it has a few cracked ribs is still in good shape and we still use it although not as frequently as we wish.

While not the oldest it does show the longevity of this craft.

It looks to me that the canoe pictured in #3 above might be a J.R. Williams. Dave DeVino has two of them and there was a third at the 2019 Assembly. Same lashings on the deck and same chamfered seats & thwarts.

It could also be a Ranco. Both Williams and Ranco were from Kennebunk if I remember correctly. Were they related somehow?

Joseph Ranco lived in Old Town, Maine but was spending his summers in Kennebunkport from the late 1880s. See https://www.wcha.org/forums/index.php?attachments/39944/ for an advertisement of his there. John R. Williams and several other Kennebunkport boat builders started advertising canoes around 1896. It is not clear if Ranco taught Williams and the others to build canoes or if they just copied some of Ranco's designs. It is very difficult to distinguish one Kennebunkport area builder's canoe from another without a tag. This is similar to the situation with the Charles River area builders and probably for the same reasons. This could be a great research project if anyone wants to work with the Kennebunk Historical Society at https://kporths.com/ on this.