Era of Romance  Boats on the Hudson

Era of Romance 

Boats on the Hudson

This series of articles ran in the Greene County Examiner-Recorder Newspaper from May 28, 1959 to August 27, 1959. Articles transcribed by Scott Wichmann.

Many thanks to Seward Osborn, who contributed the picture of the Mary Powell, Robert Cummings, who contributed the postcard on the Dewitt Clinton, Tom Mallery for a picture of the Albany and Barbara Bartley for the postcard of the Kaaterskill.

May 28, 1959

The Mary Powell


From the time Hendrick Hudson first discovered the Hudson River and its “loving people,” there have been boats of every size and description on that long, shimmering ribbon of water which cuts its path so cleanly through the rolling hills of the Hudson Valley, curving quietly along the high, shadowed palisades, whirling wrathfully at Spuyten Duyvil, until it empties at least into the vast reaches of the Atlantic.

First came the sailing vessels:  the schooners and sloops.  They were slim and lithe and beautiful, and they played their parts well.  But they had no choice but to see their bellying sails reefed forever before the terrific onslaught of steam power.  A young new Hendrick Hudson, a young new “Halve Maene” moved on the long river as Robert Fulton brought the first teamship (sic), CLERMONT, up the Hudson.  It was the beginning of a wonderful era.  Steam power was here to stay.  Yet steampower could not kill the inborn love of a true sailor for his vessel . . . there are still sailors who look with disgust on even an auxiliary engine, for they know the satisfaction of moving against the breeze by no other method than spilling wind in the practiced art of tacking, with no clank of piston or grind of gears, only the quick ripple of water at the bow, the creak of rigging, the music of a swinging boom.

In the early 1800’s the steamers were floating palaces.  They served meals as sumptuous as any whipped up in exclusive hotels.  Cotillions were danced on their decks.  And to never have taken a steamboat ride up the Hudson literally ostracized one from society.

But the pleasure boats gave way to commerce.  The steamers, now, although they worked hard to remain beautiful, concentrated on speed.  And there were mad races and grim captains who would not be beaten, and collisions and wrecks, and fire in the night.  The Hudson River steamers were famous by then, and known the world over.  There was the ALIDA and the FRANCIS SKIDDY, the HENRY CLAY, the DEAN RICHMOND, the REINDEER.

And there was the MARY POWELL.

Carl Carmer, in his excellent book, “The Hudson” sums up in a few fervent words the whole nature of the POWELL;  “The other boats with their drippings of cheap ornament were fancy girls beside the “river queen.”  And she was the river queen for nearly 60 years.

A few fantastic legends grew up about her, but she ignored them proudly.  And there was pride in her.   For any man who knows and loves a boat will tell you they live and breathe and feel just as their captains do.  Of all the boats on the river she was the fastest and the cleanest and the smoothest, and to handle the wheel of the MARY POWELL was to pilot the most majestic vessel of them all.

The hull of the River Queen was built by shipbuilder Michael Allison in Jersey City.  wpe3.gif (4356761 bytes)Captain Absalom Anderson planned her in 1861, and her equipment was constructed by W.A. Fletcher Company, North River Iron Works.  Her engine was a standard American Beam, with cylinders 72 inches in diameter and a 12 foot piston stroke.  Steam was conveyed to the engine by two tubular steel boilers built by Townsend Downey Ship Building Company, Shooker Island, N. Y., each 10 feet 8 inches in diameter of shell.  They were constructed for a working pressure of 45 pounds to the square inch.  A donkey boiler was used as an auxiliary, and a large Worthington steam pump, constantly running while the vessel was in service, insured safety in the event of collision or fire.  Her dimensions were:  length on the water line, 288 feet, 9 inches; length over all, 3,000 feet; breadth of beam molder, 34 feet, 4 inches; draft of water, 6 feet; gross tonnage, 983.59.  She sat long and low in the water, so as to present as little surface for wind resistance as possible.

The MARY POWELL’s reputation for cleanliness and order was entirely due to Captain Anderson.  He never sold liquor on her, and he never permitted anyone who was already three sheets to the wind up her gangway.  Like a well dressed woman she wore plainness and smartness well, without spoiling the effect with the lacquered and gilded trappings of her sister boats.  Carmer says that “Absalom sold her once, and her new owners decked her out in lavish wooden laces.”  His heart broke until he got her back and stripped her clean of the gaudy finery that had put her in the same class with the “fancy girls.”

Seymour Darling was her Negro deckhand for 34 seasons.  For years Guernsey Betts was her pilot, and many area men also served on her including Albertus Van Schaack, at one time chief engineer.  Betts was a splendid pilot, and he knew every whim of the MARY POWELL.  He found her tractable, but he always swore he could never get her past Rondout without a fight, for that was her home dock, and she naturally tried to nose n whenever she passed.  But she must have been a sweet ship to handle, and Betts one of the best, for more often than not he would not bother to dock her to pick up passengers . . . he would simply hold her up along the wharf while the gangway was run up and her human cargo came aboard.  She saved time that way:  no lines to be made fast or cast off

The POWELL was beaten on the river only once, when a yacht, the STILLETO, was brought to Albany from Rhode Island expressly to race her.  The steamer carried her full cargo and passengers as usual, forfeiting the race to Sing Sing by five minutes.  She was 25 years old at the time, and Anderson always said she could have out distanced the STILLETO had she been put in condition for racing.

Never once did she lose a passenger, and it was seldom that you couldn’t set your watch by her.  On one occasion, when a bad storm struck, she skittered down the river broadside, one stack blown over, but she came in with minutes to spare.  There was even a sly little story to the effect that the West Point plebes told time by her, rather than by the Academy clocks, kept running, no doubt, by upper classmen.

The POWELL made her fastest time between New York and Rondout, leaving New York at 3:33 p.m., and arriving at Rondout at 7:45 p.m., making eight landings in a distance of 100 miles, far outdoing any steamboat record on that course.  She averaged  20 miles per hour at all times, and several times was pushed to 26.

Passengers taking the MARY POWELL found that there was a charge for dogs and baby carriages, but bicycles would be taken aboard free, at the owner’s risk.

The Powell Brings Custer Home

On June 25, 1876, Major General George A. Custer, in command of 225 Seventh Cavalry troopers, took his defensive stand on what is now Custer Hill, in Montana.  Facing him were 5,000 Northern Cheyenne and Teton Sioux Indians.

The Ohio-born Custer had divided his command into three battalions:  his own; one under Major Marcus A. Reno; and one under Captain Frederick W. Benteen.  Reno’s battalion was almost completely wiped out.  Custer, surrounded on his hill, was outnumbered 20 to 1.  By the time the survivors of Reno’s force had found Benteen’s troopers and were on their way to aid Custer, it was all over. Every man of his Seventh Cavalry Balttalion was killed, and at the very crest of the hill the stripped body of the General lay dead. Only one survivor emerged from the encounter. He was Comanche, Captain Keough's horse.

In 1877, the MARY POWELL made one of the proudest and most sorrowful runs of her career. In a flag draped coffin, she bore the remains of the yellow-haired Indian fighter to their final grave at the West Point Military Academy. The Battle of the Little Bighorn had long since been confirmed to the annals of history, and at the other end of the continent, the Queen of the River had quietly played her small part in the winning of the west. 

End of the Run

Captain E.A. Anderson took over the MARY POWELL on the death of his father and ran wpeA.gif (398179 bytes)her faithful in the tradition of his river family. The last years of her life were spent peacefully, plying the Hudson for the Day Lines, in company with the WASHINGTON IRVING, the ROBERT FULTON, and the ALBANY. Then during the First World War, John Fisher, a junk dealer, bought her. Burt R. Greenison of West Coxsackie, last chief engineer to serve on her laid her up at Sunflower Dock in Rondout Creek for dismantling.

Yet the MARY POWELL never really died. Her pilot wheel went to the Senate Museum at Kingston, her bell to the park at Indian Point, her whistle, still resonant and rich, to be installed in the ROBERT FULTON. But more of her lives than these material leavings. Ask the rivermen who knew her, the people of the river towns who watched the proud, slender prow whisper through the shining waters.

As long as the history of the river boats endures, the Queen of the Hudson will be remembered the longest ... and loved the most.

June 4, 1959


During the early years of the river towns, transportation was by river boat, stage line, horse and wagon, and none of these modes of travel plays a more interesting or romantic part in the history of Coxsackie and New Baltimore village than the old boating days on the Hudson River.

There were the packet sloops which carried both passengers and light freight, the steamboats, which carried passengers, and the freight boats which conveyed the manufactured wares and produce from the river towns to New York City.

Among the early packet sloops were the Ann Eliza, Captain Richard Hill, 1807; the Sally Ann, Captain Van Loan; the Jefferson, Captain James Bogardus; The Ranger, Captain Grant, 1809; the Delaware, Edmond, Superior and Lewis, about 1818; the James Monroe, Alfred, Shakespeare, Superior and Delaware about 1825; the Catskill, Greene County, Tanner, James Monroe, General Livingston and Bucktail, about 1833.  An experimental packet, owned by Crittenden and Hathaway, ran between Catskill and Hudson in 1809, but was not retained.

The Steamboat, a steamer captained by J. Wiswell, ran in 1808.  She “passed Catskill every Wednesday morning on the way to New York, and on Sunday evening on the way up river.”  The fare between Catskill and New York at that time was $5.00, including berth and meals, and the trip took 24 hours.

By 1814 there were three steamboats on the river, the Paragon, Captain Wiswell; Car of Neptune, Captain Roorbach; and the North River, Captain Bartholomew.  The Richmond, captained by Charles Porter, was put on the line in 1828, and made semi-weekly runs to New York.  In 1837 the Frank was put on the route, in 1841 the M.Y. Beach was added, and in 1842 the Washington began to run.  Twenty years later the Thomas Powell became a part of the little fleet.

On April 25, 1877 the New York-Catskill-Athens Steamboat Company Limited was organized by H.O. Nichols, William H. Morton, George M. Snyder, Edwin Snyder and Weston L. Snyder.  Running on the company line were the Escort, later enlarged to 206 feet keel length, the Charlotte Vanderbilt, 207 feet, the Andrew Harder and the Walter Brett, 220 feet.  The Harder was later sold from the line and replaced by the City of Catskill.  The Catskill was launched May 29, 1880 at Athens and is recorded as one of the “largest and finest boats ever built on the upper Hudson.”  Two hundred and fifty feet on the keel, she burned at Kingston in 1882.

The Kaaterskill, also built at Athens, replaced the City of Catskill.  She was 269 feet on the keel and contained 115 staterooms.

The City of Hudson ran daily between Hudson and Albany, and belonged to the Albany-Hudson-Catskill line, established in 1835 by Captain William Allen of Hudson, an old sloop captain.  The Advocate, first steamer on the line was later exchanged for the Hope.  The Hope ran for three years.  In 1843 the Shepard Knapp joined the line, and was succeeded in 1852 by the P. G. Coffin, which ran for 10 years.  Captain Abe Miller, an area pilot of note served at one time or another on all these vessels.

In 1881, with a capital stock of $15,000, the Catskill and Hudson Steam Ferry Company was organized by George H. Power, Wm. Donahue, Wm. J. Hughes, Ed. J. Hamilton & C. Whitbeck, for the purpose of running a ferry between Catskill and Hudson.  The little propellers Isabella and Eloise were used on the line and made hourly trips during the day to Hudson and return.

It is difficult to ascertain just when ferry service on the river in this section was first actually established.  At the turn of the century Henry Van Gordon was granted the right to run a ferry from a point near the Susquehanna turnpike entrance into the river to any convenient landing place on the opposite side.  This grant prohibited the establishing of any other ferry service within a mile above or below this ferry and was “good forever” unless the State revoked it.  Rates of ferriage were appointed by the Court of Common Pleas.

An awkward vessel at best and resembling a scow more than anything else, the first ferry was constructed with a mast, and a sail on one side for propulsion.  In case of a calm, long oars were used to row the vessel, and a broad bladed oar which served as a rudder was placed in the stern of the craft to steer it.  This clumsy vessel was replaced by the treadmill horse power method of operation, and that in turn gave way to the steam ferry boat.

June 18, 1959


In 1878 the New Baltimore shipyards turned out a little ferry named the COXSACKIE, delivered it to William H. Thomas, her owner, in the village of the same name, and went back to its duties of constructing barges, propellers, and occasionally a yacht or two.

Coxsackie’s ferry, the W. V. B. HEERMANCE, was tired and old, and the spanking new COXSACKIE was built especially to replace her.  The HEERMANCE was tied at the dock and held for a time as an extra boat, but she never ran again.

Incredible as it sounds, the ferry in use before the HEERMANCE was propelled by horsepower . . . not the kind which is imprisoned in power plants these days, but actual HORSE horsepower.  The vessel incorporated a tread mill, one on port and one on starboard, similar to those on old time threshing machines.  Horses drew whatever vehicles were to come aboard on the ferry and then took their positions as power operators.

When the new Day Liner ALBANY first appeared in 1880, Coxsackians gave her a real welcome.  Decked in bunting and flags, with a cannon mounted on her bow, and the “Citizen’s Band” blaring cheerfully on her upper deck, the COXSACKIE, already nicknamed “The Fried Egg”, moved out to meet the ALBANY.  The cannon was fired and the ferry whistle blew a gallant, if somewhat raucous salute.  The ALBANY dipped her colors in response and everybody went home happy.

The Stuyvesant Fire 

The little COXSACKIE was to prove a great deal more than a miniature transport vessel, however.  The same year that the ALBANY was so grandly welcomed, residents of Coxsackie, looking across the Hudson, saw with horror that the town of Stuyvesant was ablaze.  Within minutes the Hudson River Engine Company hand engine and the D. M. Hamilton Steamer Company engine were aboard the COXSACKIE and their way across the river.

It was the quick action and willing aid of the two companies which saved half of Stuyvesant from burning to the ground.  Property of more than the value of the “Fried Egg” and all the fire fighting equipment used there was saved on that historic day.

The Rescue of the KAATERSKILL 

On a hot Sunday afternoon the Kennedy Valve Company whistle sounded the dread alarm:  fire.  Residents rushing to the scene found the Reed & Powell store house afire. wpeC.jpg (12842 bytes) Tied to the dock was the KAATERSKILL, her engine dead and consequently unable to get up any steam.  The COXSACKIE and her crew were on the job at once, towing the KAATERSKILL to a place of safety . . . another time when she saved property many times her own cost.

Politics and the Fried Egg  

In the good old days when political issues sometimes got to be knock-down and drag-out affairs, the COXSACKIE, strangely enough, got well bawled up in the proceedings.  Politicians and would be politicians used her for traveling purposes.  In the campaigns of 1884-1888 and 1892 there were barbecues, parades, speeches (good, bad and indifferent), hair pulling and mud slinging as it has seldom been slung before.  (If you are well acquainted with Mark Richtmyer, he may verify for you the story that he was once guilty of stationing himself in the crowd, along with other boys his age, for the sole purpose of exploding small bags of flour on members of the opposition.  This well-synchronized, simultaneously executed operation was touched off by one boy or another signaling his companions by bellowing like a bull moose).

The COXSACKIE, at least once, felt the heavy tread of indignant, parental feet.  This was during the Grover Cleveland campaign, and the Coxsackie Republicans held a big rally and parade in Athens.  Armed with their “Log Cabin” and “Ma, Ma, Where Is Pa?’ banners, they trooped aboard the Fried Egg.  (This latter slogan referred to the widely spread story, since found groundless, that Cleveland had an illegitimate son).

Coxsackie youngsters in the 12 year or so bracket were all prepared to go along on this exciting trip, equipped with smoky torches so the members of the Citizen’s Band could see to read its music, when an abrupt halt was called to any such notions.  The prospect of a good feed had made them forgetful of their politics, if they had any.

Just as the COXSACKIE was preparing to cast off, up the gangway marched several irate Democratic fathers.  The general tone of the hue and cry was “You don’t think I’d allow my boy to run around with you Republicans, do you?”  Held firmly by their starched collars, the erstwhile torch-bearers were immediately dragged down the gangway and back to terra firma.

The New Fried Egg 

When a new COXSACKIE, managed by William H. Thomas and commanded by Captain Donald Clark of Shelter Island came on the line on August 8, 1930 it was a great day for the town.  For five years Coxsackie had had no ferry service.  The horse powered vessel the HEERMANCE, and the old “Fried Egg”, which had given such long and tireless service, were gone.  But a new “Fried Egg” was re-establishing service from Coxsackie to Newton Hook, and the occasion called for an all day celebration in which an estimated 1,000 persons participated.

The new COXSACKIE, with a capacity of 12 automobiles and 50 passengers, made the initial crossing after she had been christened by Miss Dorothy Van Slyke, (now Mrs. Albert Parisi).  She operated on a 15 minute schedule, crossing the river in three and a half to four minutes, the shortest crossing between New York and Albany.

A parade, headed by the Tenth Infantry Band of Albany and consisting of more than 50 floats was a feature of the celebration, and Charles Pendell, then editor of the Union-News, was the principal speaker.  A block dance wound up the affair.

Then, in 1936 came the spring freshet which moved the ice out of the Hudson and piled it in great, dirty mountains all along the shore.  The “Fried Egg” received a few bumps and bruises, but the ferry slip sustained great damage, and this was the main reason for the proposed discontinuation of ferry service from Coxsackie.

In 1937 Captain Clark brought the ferry SOUTH SIDE from Shelter Island, and she ran until November 5, 1938.  She is still running at Shelter Island.

June 25, 1959


It is immaterial what the size, shape or tonnage of a vessel may be . . . even the smallest and slowest craft had its moment on the Hudson, and the safety barge must also be remembered, for though she ranks with the humbler conveyance craft, she too had her brief hour of glory in the era of steam navigation.

This particular type vessel was introduced in 1825 by “some enterprising persons” whose names are not recorded.  And enterprising they appear to have been.

The business of water transportation had dropped considerably about this time, due to the number of accidents and fatal explosions on the river.  A man took his life in his hands, or seemed to feel that he did, when he boarded a steamer.  If she got to her destination and deposited her passengers safely, there was a general sigh of relief.  It got so that even the crews began to get a bit shaky-kneed when they saw a rival steamer gliding up with the challenge to a race.  But, like their captains, they would not be beaten.  They cheerfully went about the business of ripping out berths and smashing up tables and knocking chairs apart to feed their already roaring fires.  Then it was, more often as not, not only a race with a rival, but a race with death.  And often death won that grueling contest.  There would be a sudden terrible wavering, a shower of sparks, and then the fiery blast of exploding boilers.  More than one of the old timers . . . and their passengers . . . burned to the waterline on the spot.  Or, if you didn’t burn to death you got drowned, and sometimes you didn’t even get a chance to choose your fate.  If you were lucky, however, you were right over the boiler when the explosion occurred.  And if you were really lucky, you stayed home that run.

It was no secret that some of the most enthusiastic backers of river navigation had decided they would rather get jounced apart by stage coach than by a boiler on the loose. Something had to be done quickly, or the steamboat company would be a thing of the past.  But the State Legislature remained inactive, at least in this matter, the captains kept racing, and the steamers kept ramming or getting rammed by rivals, or being torn to pieces by the addition of one pine log too many in the boiler room.

Then those nameless, enterprising persons appeared, and with them came the safety barges.

The safety barges were constructed very much like small steamboats, but they had no engines.  There were two of them, the LADY VAN RENSSELAER and the LADY CLINTON, and they were towed from New York to Albany and return by the COMMERCE and the SWIFTSURE.  Like a mother hen followed by a devoted chick, the big steamers would puff proudly up the river, towing the safety barges well astern.

The fare on the barges was much higher than that on the mother steamer.  One advertisement of the day proclaimed that “passengers on board the safety barges will not be in the least exposed to any accident by reason of fire or steam on board the steamboats.  The noise of the machinery, the trembling of the boat, the heat from the furnace boilers and kitchen, and everything which may be considered unpleasant on board a steamboat are entirely avoided”.  This was enticing to say the least, but the main purpose of the barges could not be disguised.  Briefly, it was “never mind if we blow up, you will be perfectly safe”.  This was very reassuring to everybody but the poor devils who had to travel on the steamers.

The barges helped immeasurably in increasing the importance and the safety of river travel.  But her hour of glory was brief.  She was an extremely slow moving vessel and she hampered the big steamers to such an extent that an Albany to New York trip took many hours more than was either enjoyable or practical.

It was not long before the safety barge had lived her life span and a short life and a merry one it was while it lasted.  Within months the LADY VAN RENSSELAER and the LADY CLINTON were converted into freight barges and relegated to the ranks of the freighting industry.  Yet in some strange way they had restored the faith of the public in river travel.

The steamers kept right on blowing up and racing at full steam and over until the terrible fate of the HENRY CLAY moved the State Legislature to shocked action, but somehow the luster of the steamboat era was not dimmed nor tarnished by disaster.  River navigation went on to greater days, thanks to the short, important interlude the safety barges played in its long and exciting history.

July 2, 1959


On July 28, 1852 the Henry Clay and the Armenia left Albany on the downriver run.  There were rumors of a race in the offing, but the more stout hearted on the passenger lists were excited rather than frightened at the prospects, although there had been several bad wrecks due to racing in the past few years.

The Henry Clay cast off first and was moving out when the Armenia slipped her lines and started in pursuit.  Both boats were sidewheelers with horizontal working beams.  Thomas Collyer, builder and owner of the Clay was aboard her.  He had also built the Armenia, but she now belonged to Captain Isaac Smith.  John Tallman, Captain of the Clay, lay ill in his cabin, and Collyer was commanding the steamer.

The Race Begins

Once out into the river the race was on!  At the Hudson landing the first signs of treachery became evident.  While the Clay swung in to take her passengers aboard, the Armenia, leaving her passengers howling on the wharf, headed lickety-split down the channel.  She was over a mile ahead when the Clay pulled out again, passing Dooper Rock, where the little Swallow was so tragically wrecked seven years before.

At the Catskill landing the Armenia, Isaac Polhemus, pilot, docked and was out again, three-quarters of a mile ahead, but the Clay’s crew would not give up.  Sparks shot from her stacks and blew skyward, soot settled the decks, and the increased tempo of her throbbing engines set the whole vessel to shuddering and shaking.  By now the passengers were thoroughly frightened, but attempts to stop the race failed.  Captain Tallman was too ill to see anyone.

The Crash 

About five miles above Kingston the Clay overtook the Armenia and pulled ahead of her.  In the wheelhouse of the Clay, pilot Jim Elmendorf, guided by some maniacal impulse, threw his wheel and shot the Clay’s bow across the Armenia’s path, splintering the hull and deck forward of the wheelhouse, and forcing the Armenia shoreward, broadside.  The Armenia had either to reduce steam and drop behind, or be run aground.  Her Captain wisely chose the former alternative, and the Clay steamed proudly downriver with a triumphant toot of her whistle.

But her passengers were still alarmed.  The pounding of her engines had not lessened, despite the decrease in steam.  The sparks and soot still flew, and her hull still shivered to the wracking engines.

The Disaster 

Near Riverdale the terrible moment came.  A fireman, his clothing ablaze, suddenly lurched from the boiler room and leaped for the deck.  From the hatchway midship, a steady, mounting flame licked up and out.  Seeing it, Elmendorf spun his wheel and nosed the Clay toward the east bank with full throttle.

She struck the bank at full speed, sliding up 25 feet into a railroad embankment.  A few passengers and crew, including Elmendorf and his wife, who were lucky enough to be on the forward, were thrown ashore.

By now the whole midsection was a funeral pyre of leaping, surging flame.  The majority of the passengers were aft, and the fireswept midsection had completely cut off their escape.  The Clay’s stern lay over deep water, a dreadful prospect for those who could not swim.

There was a horrible choice of fates:  drown or burn, but most preferred to take their chances in the water.  Within minutes the river was filled with screaming, struggling humanity, the few who could swim striving desperately to save those who could not . . . and some bent on saving their own necks first and foremost.  Some reached shore by clinging to bits of wood, chairs and furniture from the Clay, logs which those on shore threw to them.  A Newfoundland dog raced into the water and saved a child who was drowning.  Captain Tallman, so sick he could hardly stand, was waist deep in the river, staying on his feet by sheer will power alone, handing one passenger after another to safety.  A train came to a grating halt on the embankment and its passengers rushed to the scene of the disaster.

Four men in a small sloop appeared seemingly out of nowhere, but instead of picking up the Clay’s victims, the men calmly went about their intended business: giving added push to the drowning, stripping rings from hands extended for help, robbing and looting wherever they could.  Two men boarded the pirate craft and managed to throw the despicable crew overboard.

In 20 minutes there was nothing left of the Clay but a slow burning section of her bow.  All along the shore lay the bodies of the recovered corpses; stumbled the dazed, stunned survivors searching for the bodies of family and friends.  The Armenia hovered on the scene, picking up survivors.  Under a full moon, passengers dragged the river all night long.

Eighty were dead.

A Law Is Passed 

In Westchester County Court the owners and officers of the Henry Clay faced charges of manslaughter.  They were tried on November 22, 1852 . . . and acquitted.

The verdict was a surprising one in the light of known circumstances.  This was the worst disaster in the history of the river boats, the result of criminal negligence and carelessness.  The terrible climax to what might have been a beautiful and peaceful cruise down the Hudson.  But here were men who loved their boats above even human life, and no other boat on the river must ever be allowed to win a race. The owners, officers and crew of the CLAY went free, but how did they live with themselves and their consciences from that day forward?

Only one good thing came out of the fatal race. Several months later the New York State Legislature passed the law which prohibited the racing of steamers on the Hudson River.

It was the end of a proud, fast and dangerous era.

July 16, 1959


In July of 1929 the steamboat JACOB H. TREMPER made her last run.  She was dismantled by a Newburgh junk dealer who purchased her from the Hudson River steamboat company when it took over the Central Hudson Steamboat Company.

The TREMPER was built in 1855 at Greenpoint, N. Y., and grossed 571 tons.  During her more than two score years of service on the Hudson the steamboat became widely known and will long be remembered by the old river men.  She carried both passengers and freight, and in later years was used on the Albany-Newburgh route by the Central Hudson Line.

The passing of the TREMPER brought to mind many of the well known vessels which by 1929 had all been succeeded by larger, faster and more modern boats – the sloops, the packets, the ferrys (sic) and steamers.  For by then a whole new era of river shipping had begun.

The TREMPER was one of the last old boats on the river.

A Captain Puts One Over on “Uncle Dan” 

The bartender slid the glass across the bar and the Captain had already lifted it to his lips when he realized that a gentleman with an incredulous stare was appraising his contemplated demonstration of how, successfully, to tilt a shot glass without spilling a drop.  He turned and looked directly at “Uncle” Daniel Drew, owner of the steamer which he was supposed to be captain-ing.

Without batting an eyelash, the Captain downed his snort, reached into his pocket, and carefully deposited a quarter on the oak bar.

The steamer was midway between Albany and New York, running smoothly and on time, but a Captain’s place was not in the bar, and most assuredly not wetting his whistle.

After Uncle Daniel’s surprise had worn off, he viewed his Captain with a jaundiced eye.  The old financier already had more money than he knew what to do with, and had had two steamers (the two Daniel Drews) and a seminary (Drew Theological) named for him.  He had been prepared to give the Captain dressing down until that quarter made its appearance.

Uncle Daniel snorted, again incredulous.  “What?  You don’t mean to stand there and tell me you pay for drinks on your own boat?”

The Captain, who was well aware that it was “his” boat from Albany to New York and return, and Uncle Daneil’s (sic) boat most of the time, was calm, cool, and collected.

“I certainly do,” he said earnestly.  “It’s sort of a control measure, you see.  If I could just walk in and have a drink whenever I wanted one, and for free, this vessel would be in a sorry mess, wouldn’t it?  But if I have to pay . . . why my natural tendencies are sufficiently curbed.”

Uncle Daniel, reassured that his boat was in capable and non-alcoholic hands, left the salon with the Captain.

It was not until nightfall that the bartender managed to return the Captain’s quarter to him.

July 23, 1959


(The following is a letter from the late Herbert A. Newbury of Marion, Mass., sent to the newspaper in 1951.)


I am enclosing some data regarding the boats running on the Hudson River in 1885 and the years previously.

The City of Troy and the Saratoga were the boats operated by the Citizen Line from Troy to N. Y., nights at that time.  About 1900 they were replaced by the Trojan and the Rensselaer.  These boats ran until the line was abandoned.

The Peoples Line operated the Albany Night Line as they called it.  When I first remember this line they ran the Drew and the St. John.  These boats were the largest boats that ever ran on the river.

The Drew was much larger than any of the others.  The St. John I have been told was much larger than the Drew, and was scrapped about 1883.  The Dean Richmond, then an old boat, took her place.

About 1895 the Drew was retired and a new boat, the Adirondack, took her place.  She was the first of the night boats to use a search light.  Then a new boat was planned to replace the Richmond.  This boat was to have been the Saranac.  However, when she appeared she was the C. W. Morse.  After a short time she was renamed the Fort Orange.  Later the Berkshire was built.  The Fort Orange and the Berkshire operated on this route until it was discontinued.

The Thomas McManus and the William C. Redfield were built to run from Athens to New York to form an outlet for what was called the White Elephant Rail Road.  This R. R. did not last long as it never paid.

When it closed David M. Hamilton bought the “Mack” as we always called it in those days.  The Reed & Powell firm bought the Redfield.

These boats ran nights between Coxsackie and New York Redfield from the Middle Land- for many years.  The “Mack” from the Lower Landing.  The Redfield from the Middle Landing.  They also landed at Hudson and Stockport.

These boats were later bought by the Catskill Evening Line which took over its operation.  The Catskill Line owned The Kaaterskill, the Walter Brett and the Catskill.

The Catskill was the Escort when built in 1863.  This line had a boat at one time named The City of Catskill.  This boat burned.  When it did the Escort’s name was changed to the Catskill.  Years later her name was again changed.  This time to the City of Hudson.

The first City of Hudson of the Catskill Albany Day Line having been previously scrapped.

These boats wore out and deteriorated as they did not get much care.  They also got out of date as the patrons called for modern comforts.  New boats were a must.  The Onteora was built and later the Clermont.  These boats operated a number of years when the passenger business declined so much they could not meet the cost of operating.  Then they were sold to run on the Bear Mountain to New York route.  The Clermont still does I believe.  Later this line ran some freight boats.  The Storm King and others.

Athens Built Boats 

Some of the most well known river boats were built in the shipyard of Van Loon and Magee in Athens during the fabulous era when the Hudson was the queen of rivers, and Athens was the busiest shipyard on her shores.  Among them were the G. S. Hardy, barge; A. H. Peary, three masted schooner; The Marriquita, steam yacht; the tugboats G. H. Harding, G. H. Pratt, Walter Betty, Lafayette, General Newton, Thomas Purcell Jr., The Richard, The Excellsior, The Millard, The Groton, and the Exchange.

Some of the steamboats launched at Athens were the Minnie Cornell, New Brunswick, Belle Horton, City of Catskill, Kaaterskill, Pierre C. Van Wyck and The Flushing.

Among others were the yacht Isabella, the ferryboat A. F. Beach, the annex boat Fillmore, the tugs Fuller, H. W. Temple and Z. W. Wilson, the yacht Dashaway, and the ice barge Robert Scott.

July 30, 1959


(Picture Caption:  CAPT. ISAAC SCHERMERHORN and his ship the Onteora which he piloted on the Hudson River for many years.  Capt. Schermerhorn, a native of Coxsackie, died Feb. 22, 1922.  The skippers of the Hudson River boats are men of high standing in the community, mostly of aristocratic old families.  They were the hosts on board, and were great entertainers, with many a tale of the sea.”  From the Examiner-Recorder’s Centennial Edition.  (Pictures from the collection of Mrs. C. Parsons, New Baltimore).]

The old Hudson is changing.  Gone are the long tows of “canalers” with the peeping faces of children from the windows in the stern and the occasional horse looking out from his stall admidships (sic).  The old intimate names on the stern, “Hattie”, “Emma”, “Susan”, “Mary”, are rarely seen.  The wash hanging on the line swinging in the summer breezes gave a domestic touch to these floating homes that seem now to have belonged to another age, so seldom are they seen.

The life of these canalers in itself was one of the features of old time river life.  At the end of the season old Coenties slip in New York was filled with them tied up for the winter.  Many families knew no other homes.  Children were born on them, brought up and were married to seek new homes of their own on another canaler.  Many of them tied up in the quiet waters of the canal from which they originated and the home in winter was exchanged for a house on the mainland till the season opened again, when the old life was resumed.  It was a peaceful life.  One day followed another much the same.  If it grew monotonous you would never know it from a canaler.

Another industry which depended on the canal boat was the bum boat.  When a tow hove in sight this descendant of the Hanseatic League put off from shore to meet the oncoming flotilla with his little boat loaded to the gunwales with many of the odds and ends the housewife needed.  There were clothes pins, candles, hair pins, needles, thread, shoe laces, thimbles, knives forks, spoons, pots, pans, kettles, wash boards, tubs, etc., and all sorts of knick-knacks needed for the family work box.  Then there were eatables and drinkables.  Tea, coffee, sugar, molasses, salt, pepper, bread, flour, cakes, stick candy, oranges, apples, bananas.

The bum boat man did a flourishing business and no doubt his visit to the little floating villages did much to enliven life aboard the ships.  He was the main contact with life ashore and besides his stock in trade brought the latest news from the great world beyond the river banks and brought many a message from those ashore.  His was a picturesque figure along the river. 

The isolation of the canaler and his family could not have been at all disagreeable.  Certainly on a bright summer day the life of a canaler seemed to be all sunshine.  And the numerous families that were raised aboard were certainly no indication that the life had any unusual degree of hardship.  Even now it is hard to feel anything but envy for the glorious evenness of such a career and its freedom from many contacts on land that could scarcely be called desirable in comparison.       --  Salmagundi, 1927

August 20, 1959


When the Catskill Evening Line went into the hands of receivers in 1918, the “Gala Era of River Transportation” in the local area – Catskill, Athens, Coxsackie – was over.  Although the receivership and the reorganized company continued to operate boats on the Hudson until about 1931, the Catskill Evening Line never again “controlled water transportation above Catskill” and its docks, warehouses, and facilities were gradually abandoned.

For more than 50 years, from the ESCORT and the CHARLOTTE VANDERBILT in 1877 to the STORM KING and RESERVE in 1931, the boats of the company provided passenger and freight service for Greene County.  The company first came into being as “The New York, Catskill & Athens Steamboat Company, Limited” on April 25, 1877 when H. O. Nichols, William H. Morton, George M. Snyder, Edwin Snyder, and Weston Snyder signed articles of association to run a steamboat line between Catskill and New York City.  Upon incorporation on May 11, 1879, George M. Snyder became its first president and William Donahue, secretary and treasurer.

Operations were started at once with the ESCORT and in October of the same year the CHARLOTTE VANDERBILT was added.  On March 4, 1878, the company bought the interest of the Black & Donahue Company and the steamboat ANDREW HARDER and in August purchased the 220 foot WALTER BRETT.  Of these four boats, the ESCORT ran the longest – until the fall of 1910 – but under other names.  In 1883, she was rebuilt and renamed the CATSKILL.  She ran under that name until September 15, 1897, when opposite Fifty-Eighth street, New York City, she was in a collision with the steamboat “St. John” and was cut down and sunk.  Two lives were lost at the time.  The vessel was raised and towed to Athens and rebuilt by Peter Magee and name the CITY OF HUDSON, in 1898.  She was broken up at Port Ewen in 1911.  The ANDREW HARDER was sold to Homer Ramsdell, of Newburgh, in the spring of 1879 and the WALTER BRETT to John Hennessy, a New York junkman, in 1897.  On July 14, 1882, the CHARLOTTE VANDERBILT, while on a trip down the river and about one mile above Esopus Light was cut into at the forward gangway and sunk by the steam yacht “Yosemite”.  She was being used at the time as a spare boat and employed in carrying freight.

The CITY OF CATSKILL and the KAATERSKILL were the first boats built for the company.  They were built at Athens by Van Loan & Magee – The CITY OF CATSKILL in the year 1880 and the KAATERSKILL in 1882.  The KAATERSKILL, a much larger and better appointed vessel than had ever been on the route before, was placed in service in August, 1882, and had been running less than a month when, on a trip down the river in the vicinity of Stony Point, her engine was disabled by the breaking of the strap of the walking beam and the connecting rod, in falling, broke the main steam pipe.  One person died from inhaling the escaping steam and several were severely scalded.  She was repaired and ran until 1914 when she was dismantled at Newburgh.  Misfortune seemed “to dog” the company during this period.  On February 11, 1883, while under charter to run to Rondout, the CITY OF CATSKILL was destroyed by fire at her dock in Rondout Creek.

The first steel hull vessel owned by the company was built for it in 1898 by the T. S. Marvel Company, at Newburgh, and named the ONTEORA.  In the first summer of her service, she made the trip from New York to Catskill, with one landing, in five hours and 25 minutes and earned her place as Queen of the State-Room Boats of the Hudson River.  Her sister state-room boat, the CLERMONT, was also built for the company at Newburgh, in the year 1911.  They last ran on the Catskill Evening Line in 1917.  They were converted to excusion (sic) boats and in 1920 placed in service between New York and Bear Mountain.  The Onteora was destroyed by fire at her Bear Mountain dock on September 21, 1936.  The CLERMONT was renamed BEAR MOUNTAIN and ran her last trip in 1948.  She was subsequently broken up and removed from documentation in 1951.

The name “Catskill Evening Line’, was acquired at the purchase of the New York and Hudson Line boats – the propellers WILLIAM C. REDFIELD In 1890 and the THOMAS MCMANUS in 1892.  The WILLIAM C. REDFIELD was destroyed by fire at the Athens Flats on June 20, 1910 and the THOMAS MCMANUS at her North River dock on August 28, 1902.

The wooden hull steamer STORM KING was built at Wilmington, Delaware, in 1911 and in 1912, the company bought the steamer “John Lenox” and renamed her the RESERVE when she was put in operation on July 14, 1913.  They were the last two steamboats to run on the Catskill Evening Line, which ceased operations in 1931.  Both boats were laid aside in 1931 and never ran again.  The STORM KING was broken up in 1936.  Her pilot house is now an office building in the rear of the Brady Funeral Home, Mansion Street, and her hull rotted away at the old Catskill Evening Line dock in Coxsackie. The RESERVE, too, rotted away.

As of 1939, only one of this proud line of boats is still running – the CATSKILL.  The CATSKILL is a steam propeller with steel hull built for the company at Staten Island by the Staten Island Shipbuilding Company in the year 1923.  She made her maiden trip from New York to Catskill on Monday, August 6, 1923, under command of Capt. William H. Burlingham, of New Baltimore.  In 1928, the CATSKILL was taken to Long Island Sound and converted into a passenger and car ferry and ran on a route between New London, Conn. And Greenport, Long Island.  In 1941, she was sold to the U.S. Army Engineers and named the “Col. George M. Grimes.”  After the war, she was purchased by the Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamboat Co. and her name changed back to the CATSKILL.  She is still in service between Bridgeport, Conn. And Port Jefferson, Long Island.

August 27, 1959


The five big steamers of the Hudson River Day Lines, which for so many years were an integral part of life in the river towns, did not just happen.  They emanated, as a new and improved type steamer, from a long line of courageous old vessels which in turn evolved from the Clermont and her sister ships.

wpe7.jpg (105310 bytes)Some of the notable steamers from 1826 to 1835, when a second era of fine boats was inaugurated, were the Robert L. Stevens boats Victory, DeWitt Clinton, Ohio, Novelty, Erie and Champlain, built in the order.

The Novelty  

One of the most interesting was the Novelty, credited with having made as good speed as any of the steamboats on the river at the time she was built, (1830).  Yet she proved to be a total failure, making only a few runs and being subjected to many useless alterations in her short career.

The Champlain and the Erie  

Two of the best were the Champlain and the Erie (not to be confused with the Iron Witch Erie).  Originally these two steamers were both 180 feet long, but they were several times increased in length by the addition of false sterns and new bows.  They each carried two-beam engines and had four smoke stacks.  The Champlain, in 1832, made the New York to Albany run in nine hours and forty nine minutes.  These two vessels ran as both day and night boats.

The machinery for the Erie and Champlain came from the West Point Foundry.

Ten Steamers In 1833  

In 1833 there were ten steamers of the large class running on the river, beside numerous smaller steamers on short routes and towing services.

Ten years before there were only three running on the Fulton-Livingston Line.

Daniel Drew  

About this time Captain Daniel Drew, one of the great leaders in the field of river navigation emerged.  With Captain A. J. St. John and others he formed the People’s Line and began operation on the Hudson.

Drew’s first two steamers were the Westchester and the Emerald, both inferior to the steamboats of their day.  But the line prospered, nevertheless, and with the acquisition of the Rochester and the Swallow, Drew’s place in the long history of the river boats was assured.  The Rochester, a great racer, ran until 1849, but the Swallow met her fate near Athens . . . a fate which over took many of the river steamers.

Years later Drew was to gain fame as a financier and to have two vessels named for him.  Drew Theological Seminary in New Jersey also bears his name.

Lesser Steamers  

Among lesser steamers between 1835 and 1840 were the Utica, Diamond, Balloon, John Mason, Columbus, Union, General Jackson, Robert L. Stevens, Jonas C. Heartt, Illinois (formerly the Constellation), Sandusky, United States, Henry Eckford, New London, James Fairlee, John Jay, Washington, Huntress, Thorn and Napoleon.  But though they are listed as lesser, they still played their part in the growth of steam navigation.

The First Big Steamers  

Prior to 1845 the Empire was the largest steamer in the world, but that year the Hendrick Hudson (not the Day Line steamer of recent years) was launched.  She was the first on the river to measure 1,000 tons.  The Oregon, fastest on the river in her day, and weighing 1,050 tons, came out about the same time.

The St. John, launched in 1863, was the first vessel to weigh over 2,000 tons.  She made the record by scoring 645 tons more than that required 2,000.

The Adirondack, weighing 3,644 and launched in 1896, was the first to weigh over 3,000 tons.

The C. W. Morse was first over 4,000 tons.  She was launched in 1904 and weighed 4,307 tons.

A Remarkable Record  

When the Alida was at the height of her popularity, she chalked up a record which is of singular interest today.  Racing with the Hendrick Hudson, she left New York at 7 a.m. and reached Albany at 2:55 p.m., a total time of 7 hours and 55 minutes.  The Hudson came in 15 minutes later.

The most important point, today, concerning this race, is that the Hudson River Day Liners only made 9 hours and 30 minutes on their regular runs.

August 27, 1959


[(April 7, 1845) By the late Kate Loomis]

One of the most thrilling events connected with the history of the village of Athens was the wreck of the steamboat SWALLOW, made famous by the Currier and Ives lithograph of the disaster.  Reproduced photographically, this picture of the wreck has been circulated in recent years on souvenir postcards, and the story of the wreck has become a tradition in this locality.

Below the photograph its accompanying legend is repeated in bold lettering:  “Loss of the steamboat Swallow while on her trip from Albany to New York on Monday evening, April 7, 1845.  When opposite Athens she struck a large rock, took fire, broke in two and sank.  By which melancholy occurrence it is supposed that nearly 40 lives were lost.”

The following eye-witness account was given me by Miss Nellie McKnight, whose father, Captain Nelson McKnight, born in 1836, was present at the scene.  Captain McKnight, in spite of this horrible introduction to river tragedy followed the river to a ripe old age, becoming one of the most beloved and respected of Hudson River captains.

As told by Captain McKnight, the story runs:  “I was about nine years old when the Swallow was wrecked.  A school election was being held that night.  It was pitch-black and blustery, and there were occasional snow squalls, but I hung around the school house wondering who would be elected.  About 8 o’clock a shocking sound came from the direction of the river and the ground shook under me.  Everybody rushed out of the school house and we all ran to the river together.  Church bells were beginning to ring the alarm.

“It was a dreadful sight we saw when we got there.  The boat was in flames, steam enveloping everything, and people were jumping into the water.  There were awful screams and cries for help.

“Rowboats put out from the shores and two steamers in the river (the Rochester and the Express) sent life boats to the wreck, saving most of the passengers and crew.  No one need have been lost.  If the people had only rushed to the bow and stayed there!  But in the wild confusion many rushed toward the stern and jumped overboard or were swept off by the current.  Passengers who took refuge on the promenade and stateroom decks were rescued and taken aboard the steamers in the river.

“Next day some of my friends and I got hold of a rowboat and made quite a bit of money taking people from Hudson and Athens, at 25 cents a piece, to see the wreck.”

14 Knots an Hour 

According to Beer’s History of Greene County, the Swallow had started from Albany at 6 p.m. and the steamers Rochester and Express started soon after.  There was a rivalry as to which would make the quickest trip.  Newspapers of the time show that such rivalry was not frowned upon.

The Swallow was going at the rate of 14 knots an hour when she struck Drooper Island, a rock off the Athens shore, 60 to 75 feet across and 10 feet above water at high tide.  The water was about two-thirds ebb tide and the bow of the boat ran to a height of 20 feet above the rock before she broke in two.  The little island, long ago blasted away, lost its ancient name after the disaster and was henceforth known as “Swallow Rock”.

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