A large audience crowded the Charlevoix Depot Museum’s assembly room to hear Geoffrey Reynolds present a program on Charlevoix’s Foster Boat Company on September 26, 2011. Mr. Reynold’s is the Director of the Joint Archives of Holland at Hope College and formerly attended Charlevoix Public Schools.
In the 1930s Harry Foster, an Alden Michigan native, founded the Foster Boat Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Company relocated to Charlevoix in 1940, occupying the former Ferry Seed Company building on Ferry Avenue. Production began on small wooden recreation boats. By the spring of 1941 the Company had 15 employees but was struggling financially.
After the entry of the United States into the war in December 1941 the Company quickly changed to war production. In 1942 it was awarded a contract to build aircraft rearming boats – craft used to ferry men and munitions to seaplanes. Soon work expanded to construction of sailing dinghies for the Navy and dinghies for the Coast Guard. The Company’s sail and canvas division made portable arctic shelters. After the Battle of the Bulge the Company hired extra workers and manufactured hundreds of storm boats intended for river crossings in Germany. At its peak 175 employees labored in the Company’s 3 plants (2 in Charlevoix and 1 in Petoskey).
After the war the Company returned to the recreational boat market, supplementing its line of row boats and other small craft with a 26 foot cruiser designed by Charlevoix native, Jim Bellinger. The transition back to wooden recreational boats proved difficult and the Company expanded its offerings to include toboggans, snow scooters (a ski with seat attached), kapok life vests, oars, and a variety of canvas products. Though many of its products were well received, ultimately its efforts were unsuccessful.
In 1953 the Company relocated to Conway, Arkansas where it continued to make oars and paddles for the world market until the 1990s. The Ferry Avenue building, now housing the Foster Boat Works condominiums was sold to Robert Schleman’s South Bend Tools & Die company and used to manufacture fiberglass recreational equipment for a number of years.
Mr. Reynold’s review of this fascinating history was illustrated by numerous projected photographs tracking the development of the Company, its products, and personnel.
This was a wonderful and well attended event! Below are a few photos of the event.
- Geoffrey with Tony Duerr and a Foster Boat Works Bump Jumper
Who is Geoffrey Reynolds?
Geoffrey D. Reynolds has been the Director of the Joint Archives of Holland at Hope College since July 2001. Previous to that he served as the collections archivist since January 1997.
He graduated from Wayne State University with a Masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS) and an Archival Administration Certificate in 1995.
He has worked at various times for Infoflo as a records management specialist, Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, General Motors Media Archives and Little Caesar’s Enterprises on its Detroit Tiger baseball club archival materials.
He currently serves as the treasurer of the Dutch-American Historical Commission, membership chairperson for the Association for the Advancement of Dutch American Studies, webmaster of the Michigan Oral History Association, Executive Director of the Holland Area Historical Society, newsletter and yearbook editor of the Water Wonderland Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society, and member of the History Advisory Council for Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.
His research and writing interests include the pleasure boat building industry of Holland and vintage race boat history.