Historic dugout canoe returns home to Holderness

An important historical artifact returned home this week after more than 75 years away from Squam Lake, where it was originally discovered. On August 18, 1939, Harold B. Smith, James King and Horace Wheaton, all of Tilton, were fishing in Veerie Cove when one of them snagged their hook on the lake bottom. They were fishing in about 14 feet of water and thinking they had gotten caught on a log, pulled up on the line only to discover that the log was actually an old dugout canoe. After diving 15 times to remove the stones which held the craft on the bottom of the lake, Mr. Wheaton hauled the canoe out of the water.

Luckily, after its removal from the lake, various institutions were consulted as to how to preserve the canoe, and it was carefully dried and stored in a cool place, away from sunlight. The canoe was displayed at a store in Tilton until it was moved to the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, where it sat in climate-controlled storage for many decades. However, this week an official transfer took place in which the Shelburne Museum gave the canoe to the Holderness Historical Society, returning the canoe to the place it was discovered.

The canoe is about 14 feet long and 3 feet wide and despite a few holes in the hull, the vessel is in good condition, thanks to the natural preservation which resulted from being submerged in water for most of its life. A newspaper clipping dated August 18, 1939 states, “Expert treemen believe the tree from which it was made was at least 300 years old when cut”. However, this has yet to be verified. In fact, no one has been able to determine the age of the canoe. The Holderness Historical Society is working to secure funds to use radiocarbon dating to determine the age, and thus, the origin of the canoe.

Theories, estimates of age, the type of wood and reasons why the boat was filled with stones have been discussed over the years, but no concrete evidence has been found. Based on other examples of dugout canoes found in the region, it can be assumed that this canoe was crafted by Indiginous Americans, however, this has yet to be verified. Many artifacts of the Cowasuck Band of the Penacook-Abenaki People have been found at sites near the Squam Lakes and on the Squam River. There are only a handful of ancient dugout canoes in existence in this region, so if the origins of the canoe can be confirmed, the information will provide important context to local history.

The canoe is on display at the Holderness Historical Society and can be viewed, along with other local artifacts, on Saturdays from 10 am to noon, June through September. If you would like to support the Holderness Historical Society in their efforts, please stop by when the museum is open or contact them at holdernesshistsoc@yahoo.com.