A piece of living history
by Steve Targo
October 04, 2007 -- Geneva, Linn Township
There aren't many boats like the Normandie anymore.
That's why Linn Township resident Larry Larkin wants to restore his 63-foot-long Lake Geneva Day Yacht, which he believes is a piece of living history.
Built in 1913, the wooden boat is a reminder of a time when boats were a primary means of transportation around Geneva Lake, before a little thing called the automobile was invented.
Larkin said these boats were used by lakeshore residents to travel back and forth to railroad stations.
"These boats ended up here at Lake Geneva about the time the Chicago North Western Railway was completed," he said. "They were used by lakeshore residents to go home from the railroad. When the automobiles came, the need for the boats disappeared."
Boats like the Normandie played an important role in the development of Lake Geneva.
"In that sense, they are an important part of the fabric of early Lake Geneva life," Larkin said. "The Normandie was the last of these boats to be built."
For 53 years, he has owned the Normandie, which was owned by several well-known people who also played key roles in the development of Lake Geneva and surrounding areas, including Norman Harris, who built the home now known as the Driehaus Estate; L.E. Myers, president of Wisconsin Power and Light and who built the home currently occupied by E.C. Styberg; and Nate Hunt, owner of Starling Manufacturing Co. in Harvard, Ill.
But now, the baton has been passed to Larkin, who decided in 1990 he wanted to preserve the Normandie.
He hopes to restore it in the next five years.
"I see myself as sort of a steward for this boat," Larkin said. "I've had it for such a long time. I want to see it preserved. ... It sort of represents the end of an era."
On Sept. 27, Larkin hired a truck and two cranes to lift the Normandie out of Geneva Lake near Big Foot Beach State Park. The 18-ton boat was transported to the farm owned by Larry's brother, Walter, and dismantled.
"We carefully unscrewed and numbered all the mahogany parts that made up the cabin, took the engine and other machinery out and took off all the hardware," Larry said.
He's considering one of two restoration plans for the Normandie -- either he will fix it up as a workable watercraft for the next 100 years or he will reassemble the craft and give it to a museum.
"I still have the original engine, so it could be restored (to its) 100 percent original (state)," he said.
But he would prefer to make it usable once more.
"I would like to keep the boat here on Lake Geneva, where everyone can see it cruising on the lake as a piece of living history," Larkin said.
Larkin wrote the following to a friend:
Just a few notes...
You can get the details on the NORMANDIE's history from my book, Grand and Glorious, or the January, 2004 issue of Classic Boating magazine I dropped off.
There are three reasons I want to restore/rehabilitate the boat.
1. The NORMANDIE was built in 1913 and qualifies on that basis as an historic water craft. There aren't very many boats from 1913 that still exist, and it would merit preservation on that basis alone. The details in the NORMANDIE's design and construction make it an exquisite example of naval architecture from that era.
2. The NORMANDIE is important because of the well-known people who have owned it over the years and who, in their own way, helped Lake Geneva become the place it is today: Norman Harris (the person who built the home that is today known as the Driehaus Estate), John Borden (Covenant Harbor Camp), L. E. Myers (President of Wisconsin Power and Light and builder of the home currently occupied by E. C. Styberg), and Nate Hunt (owner of Starline Manufacturing Company in Harvard), all people who are well known in Lake Geneva history. It was part of their life and life-style and deserves preservation on that basis.
3. The NORMANDIE is important in terms of Lake Geneva history because it is one of the few surviving examples of the famed Lake Geneva Steam Yachts, boats that traveled like elegant swans back and forth across the lake in the 1870 - 1920 era. They were the primary means of transportation around Geneva Lake before the automobile was invented. In that sense, they are an important part of the fabric of early Lake Geneva life. The NORMANDIE was the last of these boats to be built.
This boat means a lot to me, I have owned it and maintained it for 53 years. I feel I am a steward of this piece of history and I want to rehabilitate it to pass it along to the next generation so they can enjoy and experience something of the life style unique to Lake Geneva of one-hundred years ago.
So I dismantled the NORMANDIE to the essentials. We carefully unscrewed and numbered all the mahogany parts that made up the cabin, took the engine and other machinery out, and took all the hardware off.
Then last Thursday I hired a truck and two cranes, launched the NORMANDIE'S hull, towed it to the road by the state park, lifted it from the water and took it to my brother Walter's farm for storage and a place I can work on it.
Plan A: Over the next five to ten years, I hope to rehabilitate the NORMANDIE if I am able to do so. I'd like to fix it up with a new hull so it will last another 100 years and pass it along to someone else who would appreciate its historic importance and continue to preserve it for posterity.
Plan B: If I don't make Plan A, the NORMANDIE can be reassembled and given to a museum for preservation. I still have the original engine so it could be restored 100% original. I have discussed this with people involved with the Lake Geneva history museum, but they don't have the space right now. And I've talked with the good folks at Mystic Seaport Museum where they have an active boat restoration program going. The boat was built in New York City so they have an interest from that perspective.
Obviously I would prefer Plan A, I would like to keep the boat here on Lake Geneva where everyone can see it cruising on the lake as a piece of living history.
Please give me a call if I can help further. XXX-XXXX. I can send you this text by e-mail if it would help you....
In April, 2012 Larry's son John sent some photos taken at
the ACBS fall show, 2007 (and Bing Maps provided a few more recent.) "It was the Normandie's last season and I begged Larry to let me bring it into the harbor. After much hounding he finally gave in. I had a small crew ready to lower and raise the masts quickly so that when made the turn in the harbor the masts and flags were up and people were left wondering how we got in there."
of new aluminum hull
enroute to Lake Geneva
Normandie, May, 2014
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