The maiden voyage of the Cangarda

The Cangarda was a luxury steam yacht that was constructed for millionaire Charles Canfield in 1901. The maiden voyage of the vessel included passengers Canfield, his wife Belle, and Robert and Kate Babcock. Several years later Charles and Kate were married.

The Cangarda was a luxury steam yacht that was constructed for millionaire Charles Canfield in 1901. The maiden voyage of the vessel included passengers Canfield, his wife Belle, and Robert and Kate Babcock. Several years later Charles and Kate were married.

By the turn of the 20th Century, the family members of millionaire lumberman John Canfield were in the midst of rigorous change.

In 1899, beloved son, brother and husband, Frank W., passed away at the age of 34. Later that year, patriarch John also passed away, leaving the family fortune (rumored to be between 10 to 12 million dollars) largely in the hands of his youngest son, Charles.

As Charles took over the reins of the family timber operations as well as other business interests, the 32-year-old also became a rising politician, and in the spring of 1900 was voted in as mayor of Manistee. However, his tenure as mayor was short lived when restraints were put on him by the state tax commission. He moved to Chicago to avoid having additional taxes placed on him due to the large sum of money he had inherited and was continually generating.

Even though Charles, his wife Belle (Gardner), and their two children would eventually make a semi-permanent move to Chicago, they would still spend a great deal of time visiting family and friends in Manistee.

Among the many acquaintances of Charles Canfield was Robert S. Babcock, son of lumber baron Simeon Babcock. Besides the obvious connections of both men being the same age and both being the next generation in lumber dynasties, Charles and Robert were also staunch Republicans and were heavily involved in local politics.

In addition, they were also connected (lightly) through family as Charles’ brother, Frank, had married Harriet Winn, a cousin of Robert’s wife, Kate.

With the means to spend money as he saw fit, Charles decided to have a new yacht constructed for himself in 1900. Canfield turned to New York designer Henry Wintringham to draw up plans for a luxurious steam yacht, and by early 1901, the pleasure boat began to be constructed by Wilmington, Delaware “boat” builders, Pusey and Jones.

Approximately five months later, the lavish yacht was completed and was christened Cangarda (a title joining the last name of its owner ‘Canfield’ with his wife’s maiden name ‘Gardner’). Measuring roughly 126 feet in length, Cangarda was equipped with a dining room and a drawing room on the main deck with two single staterooms, a double stateroom and an owner’s stateroom below deck. In addition, the craft also featured not one, but two Tiffany skylights located in the lower level.

With Canfield eager to take his newly constructed pleasure boat on a trip, he and his wife were accompanied by Robert and Kate Babcock, as well as George Swigart (a lumber dealer and business partner of Canfield’s) and his wife on a trip to pick up the boat and travel back to Manistee via the St. Lawrence River.

In a series of brief mentions, the Manistee Daily News followed the happenings of the maiden voyage of the Cangarda :

“June 6, 1901: The new steam yacht Cangarda has left New York for Manistee. Mr. and Mrs. Canfield will join her at Boston. In ordinary weather she will be pushed hard as far as the mouth of the St. Lawrence and by steaming night and day it is expected that she will cover 300 miles in 24 hours. This speed compares very favorably with the average speed of transatlantic steamers.”

“June 17, 1901: The steam yacht Cangarda was at Quebec today. Mr. and Mrs. Charles J. Canfield, Mr. and Mrs. Robert S. Babcock, and Mr. and Mrs. George W. Swigart and Miss Gail Gardner are on board. It will take something like a week’s steaming to bring the yacht to Buffalo where the party will visit the Pan-American.”

Speculation has always persisted as to what actually transpired aboard the Cangarda, and the answers to certain questions are somewhat unknown. However, what is known is that roughly six years after the maiden voyage of the Cangarda, Charles Canfield and Kate Babcock were married.

Rumors and conjecture still persist as to how the couple actually got together. One would assume that they knew each other because of Harriet Canfield, the wife of Frank Canfield, who was a cousin to Kate Babcock. In addition, with the various goings on amongst Manistee’s high society circles, it would probably be difficult to not be acquainted with the wife of a peer. But whether or not a tryst happened before or aboard the Cangarda is uncertain.

After a trip of approximately three weeks, the sojourners (with an eight member crew and chef aboard) eventually made their way back to their respective homes and their former lives.

In Oct. 1905 it was reported that Belle Canfield had divorced Charles in a Chicago court on the grounds of desertion. According to an article published in the Chicago newspaper, The Inter-Ocean, Charles and family moved into a large house located on Grand Boulevard. Shortly after that, Charles moved out and took a suite at the Auditorium Annex Hotel (today’s Congress Plaza Hotel). Belle and their children later moved into the Annex as well and “Although the estranged couple lived under the same roof, they were never seen to speak to each other.”

Custody of the couple’s two children was given exclusively to Belle and with the divorce, a large settlement (not only including money but also ownership of the extravagant Canfield Mansion) was granted to her. She then returned to Manistee with both her daughter and son and later took up residence at the Canfield family home. Records show that a year later she and her children were traveling in Europe, quite possibly visiting her sister, Gail, who was a world-renowned opera singer.

According to the bill of complaint regarding the divorce of Robert and Kate Babcock “…from the time of said marriage until the first day of January, 1904, he lived and cohabited with the said Kate W. Babcock as her husband.” In 1907, Robert Babcock divorced Kate on the grounds of “desertion” with Robert gaining custody of the couple’s then 10-year-old son, Robert Jr.

Much can be (and has been) written about the further adventures of the Cangarda , but as the story goes, in 1904, a Canadian Senator named George Taylor Fulford purchased the boat for $100,000. Fulford changed the name of the vessel to Magedoma, and it was largely used by the Fulford family to entertain guests. In 1941 Magedoma, was loaned to the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve as a training vessel for the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II.

The boat changed hands many more times over the decades, experiencing various damages and repairs during those years. In 2004, a large concentrated effort to salvage and refurbish the once magnificent craft was put underway. By 2009, the formerly named Cangarda was lovingly restored and is one of the last luxury steam yachts in the country.

Due to the decrease in timber production, by the early 1910s, Manistee’s economy was not on solid ground. Sensing that he would fare better in the “great wide north”, Robert S. Babcock moved to Vancouver, British Columbia where he lived until his untimely (and somewhat) questionable death.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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