A legendary member of the Otsego Lake community has bid us farewell this week. Ownership of the Chief Uncas, the 55-foot electric launch that has continuously plied these ancient waters for just fewer than 110 years, has been transferred to the Susquehanna National Heritage Area, in Wrightsville, PA, a not-for-profit organization focused on the cultural and natural resources of the Susquehanna River and the communities along its shores.
The Chief Uncas arrived on the lake June 15, 1912, delivered to Adolphus Busch, founder of the Anheuser Busch Company, who had just eight years earlier purchased Uncas Lodge, the large house and farm at Three-Mile Point. And so began the storied history of a remarkable craft and the loving family that cared for her.
The Uncas was built by ELCO, the Electric Launch Company of Bayonne, New Jersey. She was one of the last electric boats produced by the company, which debuted its first diesel yacht in Sept. 1912. Handcrafted of Honduran mahogany to “the highest grade of construction, equipment and finish” with finely detailed interiors of highly polished wood paneling and intricate carvings and cupboards behind panes of stained glass, she was – and is — an exceptionally elegant and graceful beauty. Adolphus died the following year and the boat passed to his son, August A. Busch, whose love for her was encompassing. It was he who set the high standards of care and respect for the beloved boat that his daughter, Alice Busch Gronewaldt, and her heirs have honored to this day.
The Busch family was not alone in their love of this beautiful boat and most every Cooperstonian who has lived and died in the past century has felt some attachment to her. If one considers that Adolphus, who was born in 1839, may have been among the oldest to know the Chief Uncas at the beginning of her reign, and kids today who are old enough to know her and will live well into the 22nd century, there are potentially three centuries of people who have known and loved her. And many more to come, of course, in her new home.
And for good reason. Countless recollections of the Uncas by locals throughout the many years of her service have endeared her to the generations. She represented glamor and romance — gleaned from well-known images of Alice in repose on the bow as a teenager, brushing her long locks as the boat moved silently across the mirrored waters. She represented a pure and delightful sense of fun — gleaned from an era when the anti-German sentiment surrounding the First World War affected the Busches’ eligibility for membership at the local country club, and August would happily pull the boat up alongside the club dock during its social functions and often entice the entire group of revelers to ditch the party and come aboard to enjoy the very best champagne and caviar. She represented importance and power — gleaned from the time Herbert Hoover was a guest aboard her when the Prohibition-supporting President asked August for an alcoholic drink. Busch was livid at the hypocrisy, ended the cruise, and initiated a long, determined and ultimately successful campaign to end the temperance measure.
While the Chief Uncas will be here no longer, she will continue to rest in the waters of Otsego Lake as they pass beneath her in her new Susquehanna River home. We shall miss her, and we will hold dear the many deep connections we have so cherished over these many years.