Vince Campbell, Sr. - Trumansburg, NY Boatbuilder
Boatbuilding was once an important industry along Cayuga Lake. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 generated strong demand for vessels that could convey commerce and passengers between Cayuga's various lake ports and on through the canal system. The advent of the automobile in the early 20th century diminished the importance of commercial marine navigation, and the emphasis switched to the building of recreational watercraft. Builders such as George Morehouse and his sons (Seneca Falls), Fred Brainard (Trumansburg), and several others turned out a wide variety of pleasure craft during the first half of the last century. Notable among them was Vince Campbell, Sr. who built and repaired boats in a shop outside of Trumansburg, NY for nearly forty years, beginning shortly after WWII.
Vince was born in Ithaca, NY in 1919. While attending Ithaca High School, he played baseball and hockey, and continued to be an avid fan of both sports throughout his life. Part time employment after school and on weekends in Ithaca's boatyards and marinas stimulated an interest in boatbuilding, and upon graduation he took a job with the newly established Brainard Boat Company in Trumansburg. Fred Brainard, owner of the company, had been employed by several notable boat companies within the Finger Lakes region, including the Penn Yan Boat Company, Skaneateles Boats, Inc. and the Rochester Boat Works. He applied this experience within his new firm, building a range of recreational watercraft. Vince remained with Brainard until that company closed its doors shortly after the beginning of WWII.
Poor circulation in one leg prevented service in the Armed Forces during in WWII. However, during the war Vince was employed as a machinist at the Ithaca Gun Company, building guns for the war effort. Shortly after the armistice, Vince resumed his boatbuilding career. Along with his brother Bill, he opened a business known locally as The Boat Shop, on property outside of Trumansburg that had been in the family for nearly 150 years.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s the Campbell brothers turned out several hundred boats, ranging from prams and 12 foot row/outboards to cruisers. Vince Campbell, Jr. believes that his father obtained the design for his boats from a 1940s article in Popular Science or Popular Mechanics magazine. Campbell boats typically incorporated a hard chine deep "V" design, and were constructed of 3/8 inch marine plywood screw fastened to white oak frames backed with butt blocks. Decks were offered in either fir or mahogany plywood, and most boats were outfitted with a sprayrail. The boats were shipped to customers throughout the USA.
In the late 1960s, as the demand for wooden boats waned in favor of fiberglass and aluminum hull construction, The Boat Shop concentrated primarily on repair work. Vince continued to operate the business for another 20 years, finally closing it in 1987. He and his wife moved to Oak Ridge, TN to be near family. He died there in 2010, two days before his 91st birthday.
I am indebted to Vince Campbell, Jr. for providing the photos and much of the information contained in this article. Earlier this year (2011), Nate Campbell, grandson of Vince Campbell Sr., donated one of his grandfather's boats to our Finger Lakes Boating Museum collection.
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