AKRON, Ohio – Jerry Welch’s father Ed has been dead for about 27 years, but Jerry can restore his memories with just a ride in a very special canoe.
It’s a 17-foot, canvas-and-cedar canoe made in 1913 by the B.N. Morris Canoe Co. of Veazie, Maine. Most of its time was spent in the Akron area as the Portage Lakes, Tuscarawas River and Ohio & Erie Canal went through decade after decade of change.
The canoe shows its age with a few cracks, but it still was able to draw attention as one of the attractions of the 38th Annual Portage Lakes Antique and Classic Boat Show on Saturday at the On Tap at the Harbor restaurant.
The show featured several “Century” boats with sleek mahogany woodwork and powerful engines, but Welch’s boat still garnered its share of attention.
“It’s all original.” Welch said. “I varnish it each year before the boat show. I touch it up here and there. I painted it all a few years ago.”
The canoe formerly was the personal boat of Donna Cooper, the daughter of the man who owned Anchor Canoe Livery on the Ohio Canal just north of Summit Lake. Interstate 76/77 runs over that land now.
Ed Welch became friendly with the Cooper family and was allowed to skip the mundane fiberglass and aluminum boats and rent the B.N. Morris craft.
Years passed and in 1968 Ed took his young son Jerry to Donna Cooper’s home to buy his favorite canoe. By then, the livery was closed and what was left was stored in her home. She said yes, but he had to promise to keep it in the family or sell it back to her.
The canoe includes a special seat that allows a passenger to sit riding backward while another person paddles. That’s one of the reasons it is known as a “courting canoe” and is perfect for leisurely rides on a calm lake.
For Jerry Welch, it’s the vehicle he and his father used to travel from Nesmith Lake, through the Ohio Canal and eventually to Summit Lake for a weekend outing.
“We just enjoyed paddling it and things like that,” he said. “Just enjoying the time.”
That was in the 1960s and ’70s. The water is much cleaner now.
“That canal was, unfortunately, still being used as a dumping ground by the rubber companies,” he said. “The water was pretty ugly and it smelled real bad. The joke when we were growing up was Summit Lake could never freeze because it was so polluted.”
There are disputes about how the canoe got its name. “Lena” is written on the bow and Jerry Welch said that it’s because his father enjoyed the music of Lena Horne. There also is the idea that it was a re-working of the letters in his mother’s name, Helen.
The Welches are sure of one thing: The boat will stay in the family.
“My father passed away in 1986 and one of the last things he told me the night before he passed away was to keep the canoe and always keep it in the family,” Jerry Welch said.
Next in line is Chloe Welch, his college-age daughter.
Distributed by MCT Information Services