Reelfoot Lake boat-builder, Tiptonville
National Heritage Fellowship (1998)
For the last fifty years of his life, Dale Calhoun (1935-2007) was the principle maker of the unique Tennessee watercraft associated with Reelfoot Lake in the northwest corner of the state. The “lakeboat” or “stumpjumper” evolved in the 1800s to navigate this flooded cypress swamp created by earthquakes early in the century. Dale’s great-grandfather Joseph was a blacksmith who’d become involved in boat-building by the early 1900s. By Dale’s lifetime the Calhoun shop dominated this local tradition, and the pirogue-like boat had attained its modern features, with an unusual forward-facing oar system, inboard motor, and lever-operated rudder. Dale constantly built boats in his spare time during a long career with the Tennessee Department of Corrections. He was featured in the Tennessee program at the 1986 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife, and for over twenty years he served as a cultural ambassador for Reelfoot by doing demonstrations of his craft at events throughout Tennessee.