Kestrel Sighting

Kestrel at Rosslyn boathouse in Essex, NY
Kestrel at Rosslyn boathouse in Essex, NY

Katie Shepard posted this vintage photograph of the steam yacht Kestrel on the Essex blog recently to see if anyone could identify the vessel, the boathouse, the men on the pier, the approximate year, etc.

Greater Adirondack Ghost and Tour Company: Wow, what a great photo. That’s the steam yacht Kestrel, owned by Samuel Keyser. The Keyser family used the Kestrel while summering in Essex and she was a regular sight on the Lake from the 1890s until the late 1930s. This beautiful 19th Century yacht still exists today and I’ve actually had the pleasure of seeing her first hand, she’s a magnificent vessel…

George Davis: You ghosty folks sure are good. Well done. And extra credit since you’ve seen the Kestrel in person, up in the 1,000 Islands, I imagine. Right?

Greater Adirondack Ghost and Tour Company: Thanks! We were visiting Alex Bay this past summer and went out to see Boldt Castle. Admission also covers the Boldt’s boat house over on Wellesley Island which we had never visited before. Sitting in one of the slips inside the boathouse was the Kestrel in all her glory. It took a minute of head scratching and “hmmm…where have I seen this boat before” until it finally clicked. It was a bit of a jaw dropping moment. I had no idea the yacht even still existed, but she’s an amazing survivor.

Kestrel at Boldt Castle Yacht House

While I knew that the Kestrel still existed and was afloat in the Thousand Islands, I was surprised that others were aware of the local connection and even more tickled by the fact the Plattsburgh “ghost folks” had spotted (and identified) the handsome old steam yacht. The following information is published on Boldt Castle’s yacht house web page. It helps illuminate the Kestrel’s lengthy history.

The Kestral was designed by D. Crawford and built by George Lawley at his South Boston shipyard in 1892.  Her first owner is not presently known, but the first available written records indicate that she was sold on June 14, 1899 to Samuel Keyser of Baltimore, Maryland.  After a succession of owners who lavished money and care on her, she was sold to James A. Trowbridge of Norton, Connecticut on February 19, 1937.  Mr. Trowbridge enjoyed her for nearly 33 years and her ship’s log shows  many short trips up and down Long Island Sound with a favorite stop at Northport, Long Island.

Records show an overhaul and some replacements in 1957.  Her original boiler was replaced first in 1926 and again in 1967.  In 1972, she was sold to Robert P. Scripps of New York, and appeared in the New York Harbor for the 1976 Parade of Tall Ships.  She was then sold to the American Maritime Academy on Staten Island.  The American Maritime Academy used for a few years and then abandoned her.  In 1988 she was acquired at auction by Mr. John H. Luhrs of Ponte Verde, Florida.

After purchasing the Kestrel in 1988, the owner chose to have the steam engine completely repaired by the renowned Conrad Milster at his boiler room at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.  In 1990, she was taken to Kettle Creek Yacht Services at Tom’s River for final finishing.  Some of the individual items that were salvaged and could be reused were her 1967 boiler and cylinder blocks, part of the engine shaft and assorted hardware.  She now has four pineapple finials atop her compound engine.

Her interior has been completely redesigned and painted white.  She has sixteen “Wylie” ports with decorative wedges, ten 22-inch deck cleats, and a compound curved sliding hatch on the forward deck.  Her outward appearance shows a semi-permanent canvas awning with roll-down protective panels around her fantail stern.  Her new five foot stacks displays Mr. Luhr’s private signal and brass decorative dolphins adorn her railends.  Her capstan is original, while her galley has all modern conveniences and the head has a very unique brass faucet with shower attachment.  During a period of five years Mr. Luhrs completed her final restoration at St. Augustine Marine Center in Florida.

The steam yacht Kestrel is representative of the period and vessels owned and operated by George Boldt.

On July 30 of 2009 Mr. Luhrs generously donated the Steam Yacht Kestrel to the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority for permanent display at the Authority’s Boldt Castle Yacht House facility for the enjoyment of present and future generations. (Official Boldt Castle Website)

Our Friends at Greater Adirondack Ghost and Tour Company shared this “photo of Kestrel docked outside her palatial new home. She sleeps inside the center (largest) berth in the yacht house.”

Kestrel at Boldt's Boathouse, Wellesey Island (Credit: Greater Adirondack Ghost and Tour Company)
Kestrel at Boldt’s Boathouse, Wellesey Island (Credit: Greater Adirondack Ghost and Tour Company)

Kestrel at Keyser’s Boathouse in Essex

Nowadays I refer to our boathouse – the revitalized dock house captured in the vintage photo at the top of this post – as Rosslyn boathouse, but the name is actually slightly misleading. Rosslyn, the name given to our home by the W.D. Ross family when they built it in the 1820s, would likely not have originally been used for the boathouse.

You see the boathouse wasn’t built for another three quarter’s of a century, and when it was, the waterfront had been sold off from the rest of the property. It was purchased by Samuel Keyser for construction of a boathouse / dock house to moor and service his steam yacht, Kestrel. Sound familiar. Although the Keyser estate is located north of Rosslyn by a half mile or so, the pier on their own property was ostensibly damaged during flooding or perhaps an ice flow during Lake Champlain’s spring thaw. (Still trying to learn more about this, but scarce information available.)

The turn-of-the century building was most likely designed and built for the Keyser family to accommodate their 62 ft. long, steam-powered yacht, Kestrel. Constructed entirely of mahogany, the yacht plied Lake Champlain’s water the 1890’s through the 1930’s, becoming as much an iconic vessel in Essex history as the boathouse has become in the century since it first adorned Merchant Row. (Essex on Lake Champlain)

Thousand Islands Field Trip

In closing this already run-on post, I’d like to make myself a promise to visit the elegant old steam yacht. Soon. And in the mean time, I’ll try to contact the staff to see if they have any interest in a few vintage photographs of the Kestrel to add to the ship’s log…

About virtualDavis

A writer, storyteller and unabashed flâneur, George Davis (aka virtualDavis or G.G. Davis, Jr.) is the author of Rosslyn Redux: Reawakening a home, a dream and ourselves, a transmedia chronicle about rehabilitating an historic property in the Adirondacks with his bride. He blogs about storytelling, poetry, doodling, marginalia, flânerie, publishing, and other creativity-inspired esoterica at; posts sometimes exhilarating, often unnerving, occasionally euphoric, and always pollyanna "midlife mashups" at; chronicles his sailing adventures (and misadventures) at Sailing Errant; and delves into matters of parenting, babylandia, and childfreedom at Why No Kids? George formerly taught and coached at Santa Fe Preparatory School and The American School of Paris, and he co-founded and launched Maison Margaux: "Paris à la parisienne" in Faubourg Saint-Germain. He currently owns and operates Adobe Oasis in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his bride. George meanders on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and Flickr.
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