by Ed Neal
You might not know anything about boats. Your knowledge of them might be limited to one end is pointy, some use a sail to move around, and all of them can sink, so beware. If that is the case, then you have probably completely overlooked the Wischmeyer Model Boat Collection in the basement of Rose Hill. Let’s change that.
Here is a short guide that can help you understand the models and how they provide a window into the Bay Village waterfront from a by-gone era.
Henry Wischmeyer, who died in 1959 at age 86, built the models. His family owned a small Bay Village summer hotel on the north side of Lake Rd at the intersection of Glen Park. The hotel offered a sandy beach where guests could swim or pull up a boat to enjoy the summer lake.
Henry likely took an avid interest in the variety of boats that appeared on the beach. Eventually, he began to plan and draw boats of his own design and he built models showing in accurate detail how the boat would be constructed.
Here is a bit of background on each boat in the collection.
Great Lakes Schooner
In the early 1900’s when the Wischmeyer family first operated the hotel, some aging, decaying sail powered freighters continued to haul cargo on the lake. These three masted commercial vessels had sails aligned with the center line of the hull rather than across the hull like a clipper ship. This type of boat design is called a schooner and in its glory days prior to the 20th century there were a few thousand operating on the Great Lakes.
A young Henry Wischmeyer possibly standing on the Wischmeyer hotel beach could see the last, decaying examples of these vessels on their way to a Lake Erie port.
Pile Driver Boat
If you want to build a pier out into the water, you need some way of driving posts down into the mud to support the pier beams. A pile driver boat is just the thing for the job. In its simplest form it is a derrick on a raft.
The derrick would lift long wooden pier posts vertically in the water. Atop the derrick, a very heavy weight guided on a slide could be raised a few feet above the post. When released, the weight crashed down on the post ramming it into the mud. With each strike the post would be driven deeper until its end reaches the desired height above the water.
Lake Erie fishermen often used a pile driver boat to drive thin posts into the lake shallows on which they would vertically string nets to guide fish into a holding pen.
It is very reasonable to think that Henry saw pile driving boats at work along the Bay Village coast or operating on the Rocky River waterfront.
Lake Erie Pound Net Boat
The technique of catching fish by guiding them along vertically strung nets to a holding pen is called pound net fishing. It is aptly named because the posts on which the nets were strung were ‘pounded’ vertically into the lake bed mud.
As hundreds of fish accumulated in the holding pen they had to be lifted out and into a boat which could take the catch to shore. A boat evolved for this specific task.
The Lake Erie Pound Net Boat was wide so it wouldn’t tip over when a catch of hundreds of pounds was pulled in over its side. It had a unique way of setting large sails so the boat could be easily powered when the wind was light. It was also simple to build. It was not unusual for fishermen of the late 19th and early 20th century to build their own boats over the winter.
The bounty of the Lake Erie fishery was far greater in the past than it is today. Most rivers and creeks along the lakeshore housed at least one commercial fisherman. Members of the Cahoon family themselves were in the fish business and had a fish house at the mouth of Cahoon Creek.
It is easy to imagine a young Henry being sent on an errand to buy fish from a pound net boat spotted making its way to the Cahoon fish house dock.
The Mackinaw boat was the delivery van of its day. It could shuttle light cargo and passengers or be used for commercial fishing. The able, seaworthy boat could handle the wind and wave conditions of the Great Lakes. The boat set sails on two masts and a bowsprit and ranged in length from 25 – 35 feet.
Henry’s boat appears to be an experimental fishing version of a Mackinaw boat. It appears to be shorter than conventionally built and is accented with fish totes.
Amateur backyard boatbuilders would find a small v-bottomed boat with a single sail to be a very appealing first project. A cat-rigged boat describes the sailing rig of one mast set very far forward at the bow. It is easy to speculate that this boat may have been designed by Henry and the model developed to proof the construction process.
Lake Erie Sharpie
The final model in the collection presents a recreational boat version of a typical American sharpie: a flat-bottomed, slab sided, long and narrow hull with a uniquely shaped horizontal rudder. A cat-ketch sailing rig of two masts drove the boat. Built as work boats for fishing and oyster harvesting, sharpies ranged from 24 – 36 ft.
The Wischmeyer model presents sharpie attributes on a shortened hull possibly done to gauge the feasibility of scaling a sharpie down to a recreational boat length under 20 ft.
Now that you know what you are looking at take a closer look at the Wischmeyer collection. It tells a story of lake transportation, lake fishing, and lake recreational boating. It is more than the work of a hobbyist model builder. These boats reflect the reality of day-to-day life along the Bay Village lakefront from years gone by. Thank you, Henry!
First launch of the Wischmeyer Pram (built from plans drawn by Henry Wischmeyer and currently in the Bay Village Historical Society collections) is planned for Wednesday, September 27, 2023, on what would have been Henry’s 151st birthday. The event will take place at Huntington Beach, by Porter Creek, at 6:30 PM. Guests will have to use the parking lot and walk down to the launch/beach area. There will be a ceremonial cake and refreshments for guests. All enthusiasts are welcome to attend. Note: This is a weather dependent event. If lake conditions are too rough or there is rain, it will be postponed.
If objects such as these are important to you, please consider a donation to the Bay Village Historical Society. Find out more on our website Support Us Page. You may also contact us by phone at (216) 319-4634 or email email@example.com.
To view all of the Henry Wischmeyer’s boat models in person and see other artifacts from the old Wischmeyer Hotel, please visit the Rose Hill Museum from 2:00-4:30 p.m. every Sunday, April through December. Our docent guides will be happy to direct you. We hope to see you soon!