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Hidden Heroes - Hiram McDonald - Master Boat Builder

With his wife Rhoda and their six children, Hiram McDonald (1807-1890) arrived in Union Springs sometime in the 1840's. Over time, another six children would join the family here. Hiram also brought with him his keen knowledge of boat building which had been honed around the boat yards of Ludlowville in Tompkins County.

On several census records for Springport, Hiram's listed occupation was that of ship carpenter, boat builder and manufacturer. He also served several terms as a school and village trustee. But Hiram's greatest connections were his ties to the Howland's, a wealthy New Bedford whaling family who saw great possibility for growth in this area. It was the patriarch, George, who built the iconic stone mill at the North Pond realizing the potential value of a pond which never froze in the cold winter months.

George's son, Charles, engaged in a local ferry boat operation and in boat building. By the 1850's, McDonald joined Charles Howland in his boat building yard located adjacent to the canal leading from the North Pond and Cayuga Lake. It is noted as "Dock House" on the 1859 map of Union Springs.

In advertisements dating to the 1850's which appeared in Albany newspapers, it is clear that McDonald's intention was to attract commercial buyers from all over New York State. To tempt these buyers, McDonald cleverly moored one of his boats, the "Adriatic," at a dock in Brooklyn. The Adriatic, a cargo ship built by the Union Springs' lakeside, offered a tonnage of 86.68 tons.

Noted Haverford College graduate, philanthropist and area entrepreneur, Robert Howland, stated in a 1902 edition of the Union Springs Advertiser that "Hiram McDonald built the best boats every floated in the Erie Canal in a yard west of the mill" referring the mill at the North Pond.

Following his retirement from boat building, Hiram worked for Howland Bending Works. In 1861 he was granted Patent No. 31,182 for a device which created a more secure means of bending wood. In 1981, IBM applied for a patent entitled Dynamic Send Queue Modification System which was a data communications system providing for the dynamic modification of a queue of documents arranged sequentially for transmission. This patent and 14 later patents all cited McDonald's original patent in their applications. Hiram and Rhoda McDonald removed from Union Springs to Shortsville, NY to be near family and where he died in 1890.

We are indebted to Alan McDonald, three greats grandson of Hiram McDonald for the source information for this article. Alan presented the museum with copies of a biography of Hiram which he completed in 2016. Hiram's History. Copies of this biography are available in the Lake Room of the museum.


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