1905 photo


HATHOR was built by the Racine Boat Manufacturing Company in Racine, Wisconsin, for Martin A. Ryerson of Chicago in 1898. It was designed by George Warrington, a naval architect who was later appointed Director of Lighthouses and Light Ships by Teddy Roosevelt. Hathor is 73 feet long with a beam of 13 feet and displaces about 30 tons. The hull is made of steel, 1/4 inch thick along the keel and 3/16 inch thick on the sides. It was originally powered by a triple-expansion steam engine that developed two hundred horsepower which was also built by the Racine Boat Manufacturing Company using a design developed by Nathaniel Herreshoff. There was a separate steam-driven electric generator for lighting, a rarity for this era. The deck was white pine and the cabin was mahogany on the inside and pine with a white enamel finish on the outside.

The June 30, 1898 Lake Geneva News carried the following article describing HATHOR:

"The new Ryerson steel boat, "Hathor," the latest addition to Lake Geneva's fleet of steam crafts, was brought to this port the start of the week, and the force of Racine builders have been putting on the finishing touches preparatory to the trial trip. Practically the same in build as the new steel boat "Olivette," by the owner Otto Young, of the east shore, there are some changes in the construction of the large roomy cabin, eleven feet long, finished in mahogany and handsomely fitted up with lounges, sideboards and other conveniences of the modern pleasure boat.

The "Hathor" is seventy-two (sic) feet in length, built with a flush deck, and draws four feet of water. It has a triple expansion engine of sufficient power to give a lively brush to some of the older boats on the lake, but whether there will be any rivalry in this line remains to be seen."

Another contemporary newspaper account describes HATHOR saying:

"The Ryerson's $30,000 steam yacht is a glory of mahogany with brass and silver fittings, having great crimson silk cushions in the cabin bearing the name HATHOR woven in to the fabric, and a complete electric system installed at a cost of over $1,000."

The Racine Boat Company catalog published circa 1900 describes HATHOR:

This steam yacht is of our own creation being built for pleasure purposes on Lake Geneva. It is constructed entirely of steel with five watertight compartments. The machinery consists of a Racine water tube boiler and one of our 6, 10, & 16 x 9-inch stroke triple expansion engines developing 200 indicated horsepower giving a speed of 15 miles per hour. Mahogany finish throughout; electric lights and modern conveniences. Very beautiful, speedy, safe, economical craft that will meet the views of the most fastidious in every particular.

These images from the Racine Boat Manufacturing Company catalog show the triple-expansion steam engine and boiler originally used in HATHOR.


HATHOR is the name of the Egyptian goddess of love, music, and beauty. The name came to the Ryersons' attention as the name of the steamer that took them up the Nile River from Cairo to the Valley of the Kings at Luxor when they visited Egypt on an art buying trip in 1894. In Egyptian mythology, HATHOR dates from the earliest time and is usually shown as a beautiful woman. In later years the goddess took on the role of wife, mother, and lover and is often shown in this role symbolically with the head of a stylized cow. According to Wikipedia, HATHOR became essentially the goddess of joy and was deeply loved by the people, and truly revered by women who worshiped her with music and dance.

The features and especially the headdress representing two cow horns (fertility) with a red sun disk between them (light) are characteristic of the way HATHOR is usually represented.

Image of Egyptian goddess Hathor surrounded by her symbols. In her left hand, she is holding an ankh, an artifact representing life, often used in burial rituals to guide the holder to the after-life.

This stela, circa 2050 BC, on display at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, reads "A gift that the king gives to Osiris that he may give offerings of bread and beer to the Seal Bearer of Upper Egypt, the Carpenter of Nekhen who makes boats for Hathor, Mistress of Dendera, Neferse-shempepi, whose good name is Senni. In his right hand he holds a saber which only the most important people had, the length of the staff in his left hand is a measure of his importance.

This particular type of boat is unique to Lake Geneva. The design has its origins in the early 1870's when the Chicago and North Western Railroad was completed through to Lake Geneva and wealthy Chicagoans discovered the lake as a vacation paradise as well as a place where their families could find refuge following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 while their city homes were rebuilt. This style of boat evolved as an expedient means of meeting the numerous trains and transporting Chicagoans and their guests to their lake shore estates, for scenic excursions, and for entertaining. They quickly became focal points for early Lake Geneva social life and became the preferred means of transportation during this golden age. In a more utilitarian mode, the boats also provided basic transportation for those employed on lake shore estates as well as delivering groceries, newspapers and mail.

But with the development of the automobile in the early 1900's, the need for this type of conveyance diminished and none were built after 1913. Because of HATHOR'S age, because of the uniqueness of this particular design together with the rarity of the boat itself, and because of the role HATHOR and its owners played in the lifestyle of early Lake Geneva, the boat is historically important and worthy of preservation.

The Racine Boat Manufacturing Company had its day from 1895 to 1903. Prior to 1895, antecedents of the company were in business as the Racine Hardware Manufacturing Company, but in 1895 the boat manufacturing company was organized. In 1903, the company burned to the ground in the largest fire in Racine's history. During the eight years the company was in the boat manufacturing business in Racine, it made dozens of boats of all sizes and types for people in Milwaukee, Chicago, Lake Geneva, and other parts of the United States. The boats were all robust and were fine models of naval architecture. Indeed, some of the finest steam yachts on Lake Geneva came from their building ways and, of the five of these early yachts that survive from this era in their original form, three are Racine boats: MATRIARK, POLARIS, and HATHOR. For those interested, there are two histories of the Racine Boat Manufacturing Company. One is a private history of collected pictures and newspaper articles from the period that was assembled by Fred Gunther and can be seen at the Racine Public Library. The other is a scholarly work by Steve Wheeler that has been published as a series of four articles in the Nautical Research Journal.

Martin A. Ryerson was the scion of a Michigan lumber fortune. Ryerson's father had vast timber holdings and sawmills in Michigan and, after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, his company provided much of the lumber used to rebuild Chicago. At age 36 in 1888 when his father died, Martin Ryerson was described in a contemporary newspaper article as the wealthiest young man in Chicago. During the seven years he spent going to school in Switzerland and living in Paris, he became a friend of Monet, Renoir, Cezanne and other Impressionist artists. He also began an art collecting career that would continue throughout his life.

Contemporary newspaper accounts describe Ryerson as a "distinguished philanthropist and art connoisseur known for his discriminating taste." He was a founding trustee of the Chicago Art Institute and was recently recognized by the Art Institute in a 2010 publication saying "Ryerson is remembered as an astute discriminating collector who remains to this day the single most important donor in the history of the Art Institute." While his collection of impressionist paintings would form the nucleus of the museum's impressionist collection, he was an eclectic collector and his knowledgeable acquisitions can be seen in every area. Ryerson was also president of the University of Chicago for many years. He was interested in the sciences as well as the arts and he gave the University of Chicago the Ryerson Physical Laboratory buildings which, in the 1940's, became the center for nuclear research and the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction. He personally funded the research of Albert Michelson (Nobel Prize for the speed of light) and Robert Millikan (Nobel Prize for the charge on an electron). Ryerson was a director of the Northern Trust Company, the Field Museum, the Carnegie Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. An article in the June 26, 1901 Lake Geneva News tells of a visit by John D. Rockefeller to Ryerson's north shore estate and HATHOR making trips to the Lake Geneva Country Club; John D. Jr. visiting a few years later. The Ryersons were major supporters of the Chicago Civic Opera, often hosting receptions for guests after the performances. They also sponsored aspiring opera singers such as Vivian Della Chiesa, a soprano whose voice training and early career were underwritten by the Ryerson's. Henry Bates recalls the Ryerson's Sunday afternoon tea cruises aboard HATHOR when there would be a red carpet laid on the Ryerson pier for their many visitors and friends.

In 1897, Ryerson purchased Bonnie Brae, his 100-acre Lake Geneva estate with 1200 feet of lake frontage. In addition to the main residence and adjacent guest quarters, there was housing for twenty families who maintained the estate including a place for the HATHOR'S captain and engineer in the boathouse. A telephone system in the house had a label and a push button to call the captain of HATHOR.

A photo taken in 2000 reconstructs the scene of HATHOR positioned in the bay where she was moored a hundred years earlier and photographed from the front porch of the Ryerson mansion. Bonnie and Owen Deutsch, the owners of the Ryerson estate at that time, are shown in the foreground, Bill Sills, the owner of HATHOR at the time of the photo, can be seen at the vessel's controls.

The original boat house for HATHOR, with living quarters for the captain on the east side, was located on the western edge of the Ryerson estate and still exists today as shown in this 2008 photograph. However, the living quarters have been expanded and the launching ways from the boathouse to the lake have been covered over with grass and rocks now line the shore.

The Lake Geneva News ran a squib on August 19, 1898 saying:
"M. A. Ryerson is building a large boathouse for his steam yacht, Hathor."

This was followed by another article in the October 28, 1898 issue saying:
"During the past summer Mr. M. A. Ryerson had a Chicago architect come up here to get the lay of the land and the dimensions of his steam yacht, the Hathor, for the purpose of making plans for a new boat house. The plans were finished according to the most approved ideas of architectural beauty and Mr. Samuel Forrest proceeded to build the boat house. When he had finished and an effort was made to get the boat under cover, it was found that the boat was larger than the house and it could not be got inside until considerable alteration had been made in the structure.

We venture to state that any of our Lake Geneva carpenters could have drawn plans for a house large enough to admit the boat without any special fuss."

Martin A. Ryerson died in 1932 at age 75, and his wife, Carrie, in 1938, without heirs. They had been unable to use HATHOR for many years and the boat had been kept in storage in their boathouse. Much of the cabin and super-structure of HATHOR was in sorry condition. I was told HATHOR had not been used since the early 1930's and at one time had been vandalized with much of the mahogany woodwork being damaged. Brass parts were also removed and presumably sold. But HATHOR had a sound metal hull that did not leak, an appealing aspect of the boat that continues to this day.

HATHOR was purchased from the Ryerson's estate in 1938 by Garnet McKee, owner of Eclipse Fuel Engineering in Rockford and a Lake Geneva summer resident. McKee was Canadian, born in Toronto in 1877. He earned a masters degree in chemical engineering from University of Toronto in 1904. A successful entrepreneur, he subsequently moved to Rockford to develop and market a natural gas burner he invented.

His niece, Lorna Thompson, described Garnet as "Always well dressed, very much a gentleman, soft-spoken, very proper, generous, and highly respected." She recalls that upon meeting someone, he usually invited them to spend a weekend at his Lake Geneva estate where the 13 bedrooms in the house were always full. Saturday evening dinners for twenty or more people were common. "But it wasn't just anybody that was included. The guests had to be interesting, accomplished, professional people; the dinner table discussions were very intellectual. Often the guests were artists or authors or otherwise erudite personalities."

Garnet McKee and his wife Lulu, about 1936.

McKee had purchased the Sidney Smith (creator of the Andy Gump comic strip) home and boathouse including the 81-foot steam yacht DOREEN a few years earlier. The boat house was located on the south shore of the lake at pier number 760, a few houses west of McKee's summer estate. He built a new boathouse for HATHOR adjacent to and on the west side of the existing boathouse and installed a marine railroad complete with a new steel cradle for the HATHOR.

The HATHOR boat house, added in 1938, is on the left side with the open door. The right side is the DOREEN'S old boathouse, now converted into two apartments.

Then McKee set about rehabilitating HATHOR. He removed the old steam engine and boiler and replaced them with a Gray Marine gasoline engine. He recast the missing brass hardware, installed new forward and aft decks, and he replaced the rear cabin windows in the pantry and head with portholes. Because the original mahogany paneling in the cabin had been damaged, McKee replaced that with blond plywood formed into curving wall panels that were accented with dark mahogany horizontal strip moldings in the then popular art-deco style. He also installed a Kohler electric generator, refurbished the electrical system, and generally spruced up the boat. He painted the cabin exterior a light brown simulating varnished wood and the smoke stack red so it would resemble the DOREEN for the 1940 season when he had both boats in the water. He later changed the cabin exterior color and the smokestack color back to the traditional white. Much of the work was done by machinists and shop labor from his company, Eclipse Fuel Engineering, in Rockford.

Gray Marine Super 8 Model 160 installed in HATHOR.

McKee had a number of boats and interesting water craft. His nephew, Douglas Perks, described a submarine Garnet built out of an old boiler. There was also a swimming raft with a room built suspended under it with windows and a bench where you could sit and watch the fish. While McKee enjoyed entertaining friends aboard HATHOR with regular Sunday afternoon cruises, what he enjoyed best was skeet shooting off the stern of the boat as they were cruising down the lake.

Garnet and Lulu McKee departing for a Sunday cruise, about 1936.

In 1948, after Lulu McKee passed away, HATHOR was purchased by Alben F. (Peter) Bates, Jr., an attorney from Elmhurst, IL. Peter had served in the army for almost four years during World War II when he was stationed in the South Pacific on Espiritu Santo Island, a U.S. Navy base. Peter, as he was universally known, was a man ahead of his time. Somehow he had the vision, the imagination, to discover new and interesting things in many areas that he explored. He owned a half-dozen or so boats in his lifetime, all unique and with special features. The Bates' home was located in Rainbow Bay about a mile east of Fontana on the south shore where HATHOR would be moored for the next 25 years.

Peter drove up to the lake most weekends in the spring, going to the old boathouse to work on Hathor. His son, Beau, often went with him and recalls that Peter wanted to do everything himself, partly for the pleasure and satisfaction in doing the work, but also to be sure things were done right. He had a well-equipped machine shop in the basement of his home in Elmhurst and made many parts and fittings himself, often working until 1 or 2 in the morning while he listened to opera music.

Peter painted the boat navy blue saying that white made boats look larger which, in his opinion, this boat didn't need, and he preferred the darker color. He also added the mast.

HATHOR in 1950

Peter was always a natty dresser when afloat and, when he took HATHOR out for a cruise, he dressed for the occasion, usually with a tie and blazer.

Peter Bates, shown here aboard HATHOR in 1948.

The main steering station in front of the engine box was removed from the boat in the 1930's and disappeared. This steering station was a secondary one located behind the engine compartment and was originally intended as a place where the engineer could steer the boat while he got the steam engine up and running. There were forward-reverse controls here as well as a speed control (throttle) for the steam engine. After the steam engine was replaced with a gasoline engine, the HATHOR was still controlled from this location until the 1950's when Peter took the forward steering stand from the DOREEN and put it in place ahead of the engine room where the original had been. It was always a challenge to stand here trying to steer the boat and look around the smoke stack and see over people seated on the front deck.

HATHOR at Bates pier in Rainbow Bay with many family
members aboard preparing for a cruise in 1948.

Peter felt HATHOR was under-powered with the Gray Marine engine and he replaced it with a Lathrop Engineer's Model 115 engine. Peter chose this particular engine because L. Francis Herreshoff, in his book The Common Sense of Yacht Design, recommended it as the finest marine engine built because every part was accessible and could be repaired in the boat while at sea.

This engine is magnificent. Almost eight feet long, with a 6-inch bore and 7-inch stroke, the 6-cylinder engine displaced 1188 cubic inches. Top engine speed is 1000 rpm and, swinging a 36 x 36 propeller, easily pushed the boat to its hull speed of 14 knots. Unfortunately the Lathrop engine never lived up to its potential and had numerous problems.

William Sills III
Captain of HATHOR, 2004.

HATHOR was purchased in 1972 by William Sills III. Bill was active in both the Lake Geneva Yacht Club and in Scouts, and used the boat regularly, when he could get it running, as a spectator boat for yacht club races and for the Sea Scout Boy Scout Troup. Bill described a voyage on HATHOR as "... always exciting because you never knew when something was going to happen." He often said his times aboard HATHOR were among the happiest in his life. "I have HATHOR because of a combination of being very lucky and very persistent. To me, the steamer has always represented excitement, fun, and a sense of freedom. One of the best parts of my life has been the good fortune to be able to bring some of the joy I have felt about these Geneva Lake steamboats to so many others who have been aboard HATHOR."

HATHOR in 2004

When Bill Sills sold his lake home in 2004 and moved to Idaho, he asked me if I would look after HATHOR. I said I would, and in mid-October, Bill left the boat at my dock.