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Little Giant arrives at the museum

BY: Kori Sciandra | December 12, 2012

NORTH TONAWANDA - On its way to restoring history in North Tonawanda, The North Tonawanda History Museum continues to preserve historical images, items and artifacts dating back further than the 1800s.

It’s newest addition is a Little Giant, a 1935 hand-crafted wooden boat created was handmade out of wood by a North Tonawanda craftsman and sold by the Richardson Boat Company.

The 78-year-old Little Giant, is a 25-foot-long wooden boat, which has been housed in the Town of Tonawanda for many years.

After nearly one-year of attempting to gain ownership of the Richardson boat, adding this boat to the history museum’s collection was no easy task.

After measuring the boat and doorways for nine months, the doors and windows of the front entrance had to be removed in order to get the boat inside the museum.

“This boat is one of the smaller ones, but its the biggest boat would could fit in here. It has spent its entire life on the water or sitting outside exposed to the elements,” said Executive Director Donna Zellner Neal. “The fact that it’s still in one piece is amazing. It’s a sign of how well made they were.”

The Richardson Boat Company started making boats in 1909, and continued making them up until the 1960s when the company was then bought out.

Last spring, Neal was offered 200 large Richardson Boat Company ads that appeared in magazines for boaters at a cost of $617. From there, donations were made to the history museum and they were able to purchase the ads. Through conversations about the ads, a donor mentioned a Richardson boat that was housed locally was for sale.

After crossing their T’s and dotting their I’s, the boat was donated to the museum on behalf of the Niagara Frontier Antique and Classic Boats Club.

“This is so valuable, because our whole purpose in starting a history museum was to create a museum filled with the history of the immigrants who came here to work in a factory and the industries, because we were an Erie Canal and a Niagara River City,” said Neal. “How perfect is this? We are an Erie Canal and National Heritage partner, and that’s our city. To have this boat on display and be able to tell their story, along with our story, will help us along in drawing people back to the canal.”

Neal added that according to history, there was no other place around the canal that had a Richardson Boat Company and they [Richardson Boat Company] were known around the world.

“There are people that still have one and have kept them in perfect condition from the 1960s and are still using them,” said Neal. “This is the centerpiece. We never dreamed we would ever get one.”

In the future the history museum and volunteers plan to create a Richardson Boat Company exhibit that will sit along side the boat, which will explain the history of the company and family history in North Tonawanda.

A five-foot Erie Canal diorama dating back to the 1880s will be built and include images of the dam, locks, and bridges that once surrounded the canal, and will then lead into the early 1900s and 1920s featuring how the Richardson Boat Company displayed its boats along the canal in preparation for sale.

“They [The Niagara Frontier Antique and Classic Boats Club] are going to totally restore the whole boat,” said Neal. “A lot of the people who are going to help restore the boat worked for Richardson. They are excited to this.”

Stop by the North Tonawanda History Museum at 54 Webster St., North Tonawanda, too see its latest addition.

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