Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Bicentennial Moment: Colorful Men of the Sea

History shows us that Fairport's location at the mouth of the Grand River resulted in many maritime moments.  The USLSS established in 1876 at Fairport is unique in that only two chiefs, both from Fairport served. Their names Babcock and Rasmussen still live on.  USCG - Station Fairport has served the lake shipping needs since 1915.  The explorer LaSalle, The Griffith, Samuel Butler,  and Ed Binden all share local sea-faring chapters in maritime history of Fairport.  Even the legend of a 'Great Water God' has a place in local Indian lore.

Two of Fairport's most unusual sea faring men were Mr. (Frenchy the Pirate) Thompson, and Tom (Sundown) Bowden.  'Frenchy' was a recluse and lived in a drift-wood shack on Huntington Beach.  Lore has it that he arrived in Fairport during a shipwreck, having swum ashore.  'Frenchy' earned his living peddling Lake Erie waters in barrels.  A familiar site in town, he was seen plodding about town on his riggety horse-drawn wagon.  The arrival of the water plant at the turn of the century forced 'Frenchy' into a new endeavour as a sand vendor.  He continued in that trade until his death in 1914.  He was found dead in his familiar beach shack.

'Sundown' lived in Richmond (now Grand River) but spent his days visiting Fairport.  Tom Bowden was a sailor of the old school, it was said he rounded the 'Horn' six times and sailed the Cape of Good Hope five times.  Born on the Brooklyn waterfront in 1839, he shipped out at the age of ten.  He was in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War.  Tom was also a crew member of several convict ships that traveled down under.  He remained a daily fixture in the village spinning yarns until his death at the age of 94.

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