I wanna tell you when the late William J. McLaughlin came up with the idea 46 years ago to hold a guideboat race to honor the boatbuilder Willard Hanmer, he may have guessed, but I certainly did not, that it would become one of many fun-filled, rip-roaring July 4th celebrations in Saranac Lake.
Starting with that July 4th weekend in 1963, the event just kept growing, with participants and spectators coming from all over the North County and New England. Crowd estimates went over the thousand count for many years for those spectacular races. Cars lined the Bloomingdale Road on both sides near the Fish and Game Club, where great crowds gathered to watch the finish and to attend the Saranac Lake Rotary Club picnic. The race started at Baldwin Park and went the three-and-one-half miles to the Fish and Game Club with a 100-yard carry across the Main Street bridge.
It was the perfect spectator sport as hundreds lined the bridges and the banks of the Saranac River. Youngsters climbed down the steep bank at the Pine Street railroad trestle and ended up with the best seats, located, as they were, just before the racers entered the rapids under the old Pine Street Bridge.
The handsome attorney Thomas Cantwell is on the left, decked out in his best commodore’s outfit, with Howard Ellithorpe of the chamber’s Sports Council presenting a certificate to Glenn Corl, on the right, the first winner of the Hanmer Classic.
(Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library – 95.144)
The most entertaining craft to hit the waves, and one which everyone waited to view, was the "float" carrying the Bloomingdale Fire Department volunteers. They had washtubs, wooden rafts and rubber rafts all lashed together, sails flying from a pole on the bow of the structure, and some of those guys actually had paddles as they came careening down the river.
I was a new mayor at the time, and the boys at the Water Department gave me a lesson as to how the village had to carefully regulate the water flow over the dam, raising it enough to smooth out the river but not enough to cause a shortage above the dam. So I entered that first race with my friend Michael Luce, then a student at Plattsburgh State. We were in the "Tin Can" class in an 18-foot aluminum canoe on loan to us from Milo "Sonny" and Wesley "Slugger" Moody of Moody's Marina.
The first annual
The winner of the guideboat race (single oarsman - doubles were added later) received a $100 cash prize and a trophy donated by the Paul Smith's Power Company. Glenn Corl won the event that first year.
The canoes were all clumped together: racing canoes, aluminum canoes, wooden canoes short ones and long ones, and the winner received the Duso Trophy, with medals and paddles as second and third prizes. I do not have the names of the winners of the canoe events.
The other entries that first year were for Folboats with assorted prizes, single and double. The entry fee for guideboats was $10 and $2 each for the other boats.
A brief history
A 10-year recap of the races appeared in a June 28, 1973 Enterprise story contained in the files of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library. Here are some excerpts:
"Tony Duprey won in 1964 and 1965. Glenn Corl was a repeat winner in 1966 adding a second gold medal to his 1963 trophy. Duprey was leading again in 1967 when he snapped an oar in the rapids of the Saranac River.
"That year a new champion was crowned and his name was Roger Hesseltine. His brother Ronnie placed second in the race giving the family a measure of charisma that was difficult to tarnish by pretenders to the throne who found them both to retain a bulldog tenacity when the chips were down."
The title was later won by John Seaman of Long Lake and by Billy Frenette of Tupper Lake in 1968, who was second in the race in 1971.
Two-man event added
"In 1967 it was decided to schedule a race on Lake Flower which would bring out many of the treasured shells deemed too valuable to race over the river rapids course which was lined with rocks.
"The crafts, each carrying two men, all started at the roar of a cannon. The guide boats were visible at all points of a circular course. It involved an exchange of oarsmen at two points during the contest which presented the hazard of capsizing while shifting positions."
Here are some of the winners in the two-man event: brothers Tony and Gary Duprey, brothers Ronnie and Roger Hesseltine, and brothers Barry and Billy Cantwell; also, Bill Frenette and Dr. Ted Blackmer, and Peter Day and Doug Corl.
The guideboat coverage in the story ended with this paragraph:
"Over the years several fine women oarsmen have entered the singles event. Both Natalie Corl (Leduc) and Keela Rogers comported themselves well in the earlier 1960 races."
The great Hanmer Races of the past were under the "auspices of the Saranac Lake Chamber of Commerce," but summer events of that magnitude are probably a thing of the past. There was then an active Sports Council within the chamber whose members were Reg Perras, chairman (who was also president of the chamber), Dick Gladd, Angus Voudren, Dale Huyck, Jerry Branch, Howard Ellithorpe, Carl Hathaway, Ed Duso, Marty Watson, Frank Houck, Henry Favro, Francis Gladd and Dick Bomyea.