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The North Boat Shed is one of the two exhibit halls where some of the more than 500 historic watercraft in the Museum’s collection are displayed under cover. The current exhibition is called “Our Grandfather’s Boats.”
The small boats in this exhibit were built during the century from 1850 to 1950 and represent tremendous changes in the way Americans lived and went boating. In 1850, boats were built one at a time in small shops, for fishermen and others who worked for their living on the water. By 1950, small boats were being built by the hundreds in factories, and sold like automobiles to Americans who just wanted to get out on the water and have fun. In 1850, traditional small craft were either pushed by the wind or pulled along by the strength of the rower. By 1950, these types had been overtaken by wave after wave of high-tech motor boats, powered by steam, naphtha, and then gasoline. Every boat in this exhibit has its unique history and its own stories to tell, stories about other times and other places and about people like our grandfathers.
Of special interest are a progression of powerboats: the elegant 1872 steam launch Nellie; the naphtha launch Lillian Russell, which used volatile naphtha instead of steam to power its engine; and the Thompson outboard runabout of the 1950s. Sailing craft include the sailing canoe Patsy Green in which Henry Wise Wood and his wife made a 900-mile ocean passage; the trophy-winning International Star Class racing yacht Ace; and the 25-foot sloop Vireo, bought by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1920 and used by the Roosevelt family at Campobello Island. FDR sailed in the Vireo the day before he was stricken with polio in 1921.