The Old Badger: Automobiles led to the last of the Mohican

The Old Badger: Automobiles led to the last of the Mohican

Editor’s note: This column was first published March 31, 1976.

In the summer of ’32, Mrs. Charles Coleman Jr. was running strong in the Cooperstown merchants popularity election, President Herbert Hoover was running scared against Franklin D. Roosevelt and the 27-year-old Mohican was running out of steam.

When the Mohican was first launched, automobiles were scarce and unreliable novelties at best. Roads were dusty or muddy depending upon the weather. The stage from Fort Plain off-loaded at Springfield Landing and passengers could continue to Cooperstown by boat . The many hotels in the village filled with tourists each summer, cottages and camps were springing up on both sides of the Lake. An excursion around the Lake was a much sought-after diversion, and moonlight cruises were long remembered. Many a night saw the lights of the Mohican shimmering on the Glimmerglass and heard the strains of music and laughter floating to shore as a birthday or even a “hole-in-one” was celebrated.

The Mohican steamed right on through the ’20s, a delightful convenience, but it was beginning to age when the ’30s arrived. Wall Street was emptying the hotels, but Detroit was filling the roads.

In July of ’32, the Otesaga didn’t open, and the Mohican was facing increasing losses in the face of motor car competition. The Mohican also leaked. When it leaked too fast, manure and straw were thrown in the lake around it to get sucked into the large cracks; the pump could handle the rest. On alternate years it was hauled out, patched and left to stand in its cradle at the foot of Fair Street. The Lakefront Motel was not there. Andrews boat livery and Fish’s landing were -unpainted and ramshackled. The lighthouse wasn’t there. There was no seawall, no park, no statue. The Mohican’s ticket office and the Lake Front Park where Smalley ran dances and Lippitt stored row boats stood over near Pioneer Street. Alphonso Trent and his Twelve Brown-skinned Marvels played for dancing that July. And Tom Mix was up at the theater.

The Otesaga, The Country Club, Three Mile, Over the Top, Five Mile, Hutter’s Point, Stile’s, Hickory Grove, Natoma, The Hermitage, Ogontz, Public Landing, Hyde’s, Rathbun’s, The Dugway, Pathfinder Lodge and Camp Chenango, at one time or another, raised a small white flag to signal the Mohican to their docks.

Hi Michaels (of Michael’s Market) would pack orders and take then to Fair Street for deliveries around the Lake.

Greg Lippitt would push hundred-pound blocks of ice overboard at the Boy Scout Camp where it was too shallow to dock, and Bob Atwell might swim them to shore.

Junie Nevil might sneak on at Three Mile and jump off after it left, or the swimming counselor at Chenango would thrill his charges with a swan dive from the top deck. To the youngsters it was like the Mauretania; to the camps it was a godsend; to the tourist, a delight; and to everyone but the Otsego Lake Transportation Co. it was as permanent as Shadow Brook.

That summer Pete Jones, Ralph Strafford, Stan Murdock and Carl Johnson, the Cooperstown Male Quartet, sang for the Rotary at the Fenimore Hotel. There was a polo match at Iroquois Farm. And an ad for Harry Cook’s garage read, “Even Bobby Jones didn’t know the thrill of a perfect drive until he gripped the wheel of a Chrysler.”

If he had gripped the wheel of the Mohican, it might have come off in his hands.

The Mohican was through. Tied up for the last time after Labor Day in 1932, it would not sail on its own again. It was sold for five dollars and sold again. It was towed away the following summer to Three Mile Point. A small headline read “August Busch buys Mohican for Daughter – Last of Otsego Lake Craft to be Fitted as Amusing Houseboat.” But, once again, it never happened. This time the Mohican wouldn’t stay out of the water. It kept filling up and sinking at its mooring.

Finally it was stripped and burned to the waterline. Its skeleton lies just north of Three Mile Point.

Next time: The Badger salvages Flotsam of the Mohican.


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