Wooden canoe form a tradition born on Moosehead Lake
The Moosehead Lake region has a great history of renowned builders of traditional wooden canoes. The 20-foot Templeton canoe fit the requirements of hunting and fishing the region’s great waters: it was lightweight, could carry a very heavy load, and ably managed swift waters due to its wide, steady beam. Many of the men who built these canoes lived along the Moose River in Rockwood. They built canoes more or less for a hobby, while making a living in other jobs. But the “hobby” turned into a small business as sportsmen and tourists kept buying up the one that was finished!
One of the best known wooden canoe forms was designed by Fred Templeton. Templeton was born in Willimantic on Feb. 15, 1876 and moved to Moosehead in 1898.
He guided from Mt. Kineo through 1945. He died in Greenville, Oct. 9, 1952. During the winter, Fred said some guides made a living by trapping and by collecting spruce gum, which was purchased by drug firms in Boston for as much as a dollar a pound. He recalled it garnered enough pay that a person could “break even” and, together with the sale of beaver pelts, a man could turn a small profit. Over the years, his canoe forms were handed down from builder to builder. In time, it was used by Merton Comstock, Fred Reckards, and Harold “Doc” Blanchard.
Merton Comstock’s daughter, Dorothy Comstock Judkins-Titcomb, now 89 years old, wrote a fine letter detailing how she remembers the journey of the Templeton forms.
Merton Comstock and his wife, Helen, lived in Farmington, Maine, all of their early lives, but lost a son in WWII. In 1948, the Comstocks decided to relocate to Moosehead Lake, where the fishing and hunting were great. They purchased land on the Moose River from Paul King, built a cottage, and enjoyed life. Merton was a guide, trapper, carpenter and mason. Helen worked for an elderly gentleman, Mr. Tom Addie. Their daughter Dorothy recounts a full life for her and sister Mabelle.
Merton purchased the Templeton canoe forms in the early 1960s, which included a 10-footer, 15-footer and 20-footer. Wife Helen died of cancer in 1969 and it was then that Fred Reckards came up to help him. Fred Reckards was Merton’s son-in-law who had married his daughter Mabelle “Connie” – known as great fly tyer.
Fred Reckards had already been building canoes for some years. Fred was considered a perfectionist and became known for his own clear cedar canoes. Merton eventually decided to move back to Farmington and sold his canoe business to Fred. When Fred lost Mabelle, he eventually married Betty, and together they built up the canoe business. The 20-footer became known as the “Moose River Taxi” for all of its steady attributes in plying these waters. Betty Reckards continues living along the Moose River. Many years later, Betty sold the forms and canoe business to one Peter Smith, and the Templeton forms passed out of the region. Mr. Smith, now of advanced years, recently called indicating that he would like to donate the Templeton forms back to the Moosehead Historical Society & Museums for permanent home. When Mr. Smith is ready, the Templeton forms will be the center of our new Moosehead Outdoor Heritage exhibition.