Boat Display

SHS MuseumBoat Building Industry

Since the early 19th century, pleasure craft have plied the waters of Skaneateles Lake, driven by oar, sail, steam, diesel fuel and gasoline.

In the 1840s, sails became a common sight on the lake, with the Julia and the Jilt, the Leslie and the Isabella. In the 1850s they were joined by a dozen more sailboats, including the Laura, for 80 years the Queen of Skaneateles Lake.





Nelson and Edward Bowdish, father and son, came to Skaneateles in 1876 and soon after were building boats – rowboats, skiffs and canoes – beginning an era here that would last until 1965. Following Bowdish, were the Skaneateles Boat and Canoe Co., Skaneateles Boats, Inc. and the Edson Boat Co. in nearby Mottville.

Skaneateles made history in 1938 when the first Lightning sailboat took its inaugural sail here, and again in 1945 when the first Rhodes Bantam was launched.

Thousands of boats, thousands of people have sailed, fished, played and earned a livelihood on these waters. The Museum is dedicated to keeping their memory and spirit alive.

Bowdish and Skaneateles Boat and Canoe Co. rowboats

Wood Wins - a locally made and famous winning Rhodes Bantam

Wood Wins – a locally made and famous winning Rhodes Bantam

Designed at the request of the Barnes brothers, of Skaneateles Boats Co., by Olin Stephens, this boat (below) began one of the most successful class of sailboats worldwide. Built in 1938, Lightning #1 exceeded all expectations and was the first of more than 1500 wood boats built in Skaneateles. Today there are more than 300 fleets around the world sailing some of the more than 16,000 Lightnings that were built by many firms and individuals.