Old Timers Sloops of the Hudson 1964

Old Timers - Boats 
of the Hudson River


Articles were published in the Greene County News from December 1963 to April 1966 and were written by F. Van Loon Ryder.

Transcribed by Sylvia Hasenkopf

January 2, 1964 

The Loss of the “Swallow” – 1

The fate which overtook the steamboat SWALLOW had never before been equaled and has seldom occurred since in the annals of Hudson River steamboat disasters. In this catastrophe several elements, each conducive to disaster, were present – racing, collision fire and finally sinking with subsequent loss of life.

The steamboat SWALLOW under command of Captain A.H. Squires, left Albany on a stormy evening April 7, 1845, at 6 pm on her scheduled run to New York City followed by her rivals, the ROCHESTER under Captain Crittenden and the EXPRESS under Captain Hitchcock. The spirited sidewheeelers were quite evenly matched in size and speed and each was considered the epitome of elegance, comfort and speed as well as safety in river travel of their day. Truly these vessels were the forerunners of the great “palace Steamers” that followed.

The SWALLOW and ROCHESTER were known as “Hudson River Flyers “ and racing between the two sidewheelers was almost daily occurrence. In normal running either vessel would consume between 18 and 20 cords of wood from Albany to New York but when racing, the consumption would be from 23 to 25 cords – not counting the pine lighter knots and tar.

For several seasons competition had been very keen, the fare finally dropping to 25¢ for the 150 mile trip. The SWALLOW was crowded with approximately 350 passengers on this fateful trip, many of whom had unknowingly bought tickets to their death. It was a tempestuous night, unusually dark and cold for April: a heavy gale was in progress, with snow squalls obscuring the usual landmarks familiar to rivermen.

After passing the Four Mile Point light and upon nearing the village of Athens, 28 miles below Albany, the 2nd pilot, then at the wheel, because confused in his bearings as the vessel entered the Athens west channel. At this crucial moment first pilot Burnett returned from his supper below and immediately saw that they were off course. However, before any correction could be made, there was a shattering and terrific crash as the steamboat struck Deeper Island head on.

The impact, heard over a mile away, was so great that the bow was forced up on the rocky island at an angle of 30 degrees. The back of the vessel then broke near the forward gangway, and the stern slowly began settling. Passengers who had retired for the night barely had time to leap from their berths before the water was upon them. The boiler furnaces were almost immediately flooded and sheets of steam mingled with smoke and flame shot upward.

Although the fire spread rapidly it was only a dew minutes before the flames were extinguished by the fast sinking stern, only the hurricane deck of which remained above water before the appalling darkness again enveloped the tragic scene. While a few of the passengers escaped to the bow and dropped ground most of them were shrieking in terror and praying to be saved, greatly adding to the confusion and panic which followed. The water was dotted with people swimming and splashing around the vessel, unable in the dark to make out the shore, only a few rods distant. Those with cooler heads smashed at the large skylight above the after saloon, releasing many of those trapped below. Settees, deck chairs and anything buoyant were thrown to those struggling in the water. In a matter of minutes hundreds of people had rallied from the village and lined the shore. Large bonfires were built which weirdly lit the scene and small boats manned by willing and heroic hands put out from the shore rescuing many of the victims from the cold water who otherwise would have perished. Church bells in Athens, and across the river in Hudson, tolled and spread the alarm.

Shortly after this chaotic scene of desolation the ROCHESTER hove into view followed minutes later by the EXPRESS.  Under the skillful guidance of Captain Squires, Captains Crittenden and Hitchcock soon maneuvered their vessels alongside the ill-fated SWALLOW. With considerable danger to both crew and vessels, the ROCHESTER succeeded in rescuing 94 victims and the EXPRESS 40. Within an hour the work of rescue was completed and darkness fell for the final time on the tragic scene.

When the final tabulation was made it was ascertained that at least 40 lives were lost in this tragic accident. The exact number will never be confirmed for in this early period of steamboating no passenger records were kept.

(Continued next week)

January 9, 1964

The Loss of the Swallow II

(This is the conclusion of two articles on the loss of the steamboat SWALLOW. The first appeared last week)

Many acts of heroism were shown that eventful night as well as frailty of human nature. Among the incidents that appeared in local newspapers was that of “A gentleman rushing up from the lower cabin with valise in hand while his wife, with a baby in her arms and another child by her side, shrieked at him as he hurried by, never turning his head to view her fate – Husband! Husband! In God’s name drop your valise and save your wife and children!” A gentleman, although he had lost everything except for clothing on his back, did not make an effort for himself until he had secured the safety of that family.

The SWALLOW disaster caused much consternation and excitement not only along the river but in New York City and Albany. Racing was generally conceded to be the most culpable factoring causing the tragedy in the New York to Albany route in particular rivalry among the steamboat companies and their captains ran high. For eight months of the year 95 per cent of all travel between these cities was performed by steamboats. The railroads were still in a primitive stage of development and it was not until 1851 that the Hudson River Railroad was completed from New York to Albany.

The steamboat companies did not own their own wharfs at the harbor landings and the first vessel to reach the waiting passengers remained in business. Realizing this, owners often preferred to overlook racing, and in some cases, actually encouraged it. This fact, together with the lack of efficient steamboat inspection service, was indirectly the cause of many boiler explosions and other forms of steamboat accidents. After steam appeared, people were no longer content to travel by slow sloop or over rough roads by stage coach.

The fact that in racing the SWALLOW had shown a speed of better than 15 miles an hour, together with the fact that she had left Albany at 6 pm and the accident occurred at 8:10 pm a distance of 25 miles down the river, leads one to conclude she had been intent upon maintaining the lead over her rivals despite unfavorable weather conditions. However, as the ROCHESTER headed for New York, the 94 rescued passengers aboard drew up and signed a set of resolutions in which they not only exonerated Captain Squires and the crew of racing, but attributed the preservation of their lives to the Captain’s presence of mind and skillful management during the trying scene.  

The Captain was further exculpated as follows: “That the SWALLOW at the time of the happening at the melancholy accident this evening, in the Athens Channel, was running considerably below her usual speed, it being very dark and the snow falling in such quantities as to render it very difficult for the pilot to discover the shore.”

The SWALLOW was built by William Capes at Brooklyn in 1835 for Anthony Hoffman of New York City and others for operation on the New York – Albany run. The vessel had a gross tonnage of 425; length on deck of 233 feet; beam 22 feet six inches, depth of hold 8 feet six inches and a draft of 3 feet nine inches. The West Point Foundry Company vertical beam engine had a 46 inch diameter cylinder with a piston stroke of ten feet. The paddlewheels were 24 feet in diameter, had a width of paddles 11 feet, and turned at 24 r.p.m. The two iron boilers were placed on the guards or sponsons. After the first season of operation the vessel’s length was increased to 256 feet and the engine cylinder diameter to 52 inches.

The SWALLOW’S engine was salvaged and sold to Burden’s of South Troy and was later installed in their steel mill where it rendered many more years of service. The remains of the wreck was then purchased by Ira Buckman who dismantled the remaining planking and superstructure, including the main spiral staircase which had escaped the flames. This material he ferried across the river and hauled by ox teams seven miles in the village of Valatia on the Albany post road. Here he constructed a two story home which soon became known as the “Swallow House”. This home still stands today as one of the village show places, and a nostalgic reminder of a bygone era.

Dooper Island, in early times referred to as Noah’s Brig, consisted of a rocky ledge about 60 feet long, rising ten feet, above the water. Originally a tide mill stood on this site and at the time of the SWALLOW tragedy, the ruins of an old dock were in evidence. In 1875 the Knickerbocker Ice Company acquired ownership and blasted the rock away, building a dock in its place. A little known fact is that this was the only out-cropping of rock in the river between Four Mile Point and Catskill – a distance of nine miles.

Certainly no one will know what fate drove the SWALLOW to this point when, had she struck 50 feet above or below this point, she would have plowed harmlessly into mud flats.

January 16, 1964

Early Boiler Development

Some interesting facts are revealed in the study of early steamboat boilers. Today, at this late period, it is difficult for us to realize the problems that Fulton, Stevens, Allaire and their followers had to overcome in developing a boiler that would withstand even the low pressure then in use. Due to poor grades of iron, and steel unheard of, it was the belief that copper was stronger than iron and being less subject to corrosion this was metal was used in all the early boilers of Fulton’s and Steven’s steamboats.

In 1817 Gilbert Brewster had the small steamboat JOHN HANCOCK built in Norwich and installed in this vessel a wooden BOILER OF HIS OWN DESIGN. This boiler, as to be expected, exploded on the first trial, an excursion from Norwich to New London, injuring several people. From records it appears the rear of the boiler blew out, practically destroying the after part of the vessel. The pressure was doubtless very little, and today one wonders at the audacity of the idea, and of the man!

The, in 1825, the OLIVER ELLSWORTH made her debut and had the dubious distinction of being the first steamboat to have a CAST IRON boiler. In March, 1827 her boiler exploded, killing one fireman and injuring a few other persons in the blast.

In the New York area alone, during the 1823-1834 decade, there were more than a dozen boiler explosions, in most of which fatalities occurred. The more important, with dates were the AETNA 1825; LEGISLATURE 1825; CONSTITUTION 1825; OLIVER ELLSWORTH 1827; UNITED STATES 1830; CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL 1830; OHIO1832; and NEW ENGLAND 1833. Eight catastrophes which alone cost more than fifty lives. The fear of bursting boilers in this era of steamboating was very real and justified. One might even say the engineers had temporarily accepted defeat, for it was during this crucial period that the safety of “Lady” barges came into existence.

On the western rivers boiler disasters were even more serious and frequent – particularly during the period from 1812 to 1850, when an average of twenty-five boats a year were blown up and more than four thousand persons killed. The greatest of all marine disasters in this country, occurred in the spring of 1865 when the boilers of the SULTANA exploded costing the lives of 1,647 persons. This tragedy occurred on the Mississippi River near Memphis. During these years, an intense period of experimentation, the wonder is that there were so few disasters, not so many, when one considers the great number of vessels and the fact that there was a complete lack of any Government supervision.

Copper boilers were considered the safest, the principle drawback to their general use being their high cost. The new copper boiler which replaced the cast iron boiler in the ELLSWORTH weighed 28,000 pounds or fourteen tons, that of the JAMES KENT in 1823 weighed 66,000 pounds. It was nor unusual for the boiler alone to equal more than one third the total cost of the steamboat. When worn out, and if replaced with those of iron, the scrap copper would often cover the cost of the new boilers. For nine years the public were educated to believe in the safety of copper boilers and, where iron boilers were placed in view on the guards, there is at least one instance where an unscrupulous captain had the boilers covered with copper paint and then advertised this boat as having copper boilers!

This innovation of placing the boilers on the guards (or sponsons) above the water was introduced by Robert Stevens on his new PHILADELPHIA in 1825. It was reasoned that in the event of an explosion the force would be extended upward and outward without tearing the hull apart. In a number of instances this probably did prevent loss of life. Actually, because all river boats have very little freeboard, the boilers on the guards were vulnerable in heavy rolling or in case of collision were potentially more dangerous than if placed in the hold. In later years this was more fully realized and laws were passed prohibiting this practice.

Looking back, it was a long, hard and costly struggle before the magic of improved quality steel and the vigilance of a Steamboat Inspection Service relegated the hazards of boiler explosions to the reminiscences of the Old Timers. The copper pipe or tubular boilers of Fulton’s era have been developed into the efficient high pressure oil burning boilers of today.  

January 23, 1964

Horse-operated Ferry Boats

Periaugers, keel boats, current ferries, chain ferries, and team boats. Of all the early ferryboats the latter is, many respects the most interesting. The TEAM BOAT, sometimes called the horse boat or horse ferry, was essentially a barge with paddlewheels operated by horses whether walking a treadmill or around a capstan.

In 1723 Count Sax proposed to the French Academy a method whereby the power of horses could be applied to paddlewheels by using a circular treadmill with the capstan principle. However 2000 years earlier we find a similar and equally accurate account of a team boat in an ancient manuscript in the National Library in France which states “that the boats in which the Roman army under Claudius Caudex, about 325 B.C. were propelled by paddlewheels which received their motion from a capstan pulled by oxen” and carried the Roman troops across to Sicily.

There is some controversy as to the first successful team boat in this country, It is generally conceded that the Catherine Street boat, built by Moses Rogers in 1814 and operating between Brooklyn and Manhattan should be thus be recognized. Eight horses were required for the treadmills and on the first day of operation it made twelve crossings at an average of thirteen minutes each way. A few days later 543 passengers were carried on a single trip. It appears that Brooklyn, then as today, had its commuter problem. The new Team Ferry at this crossing was welcomed as a great improvement over previous ferry service.

On the other side of Manhattan at the crossing from Vesey Street to Hoboken, and in the same year, Colonel John Stevens’ team boat operated with equal success. This ferry was ninety feet long and had three hulls with two paddlewheels between. These team boats, not being driven by steam, were not required to pay royalties to the Fulton – Livingston steamboat monopoly, and could therefore compete with the steam ferries which were already appearing on the Hudson and East Rivers.

Although seven years had passed since the CLERMONT’S famous trip up the Hudson, the steamboat was still looked upon as unproven and team boats continued to be a common sight at many crossings throughout the country. And this was to remain so for many more years.

The Hudson, like so many other streams, had its share of team boat ferries. In the late 1830’s the village of Athens had its third new ferry built for the Athens-Hudson crossing. This was a single hull vessel of the treadmill type requiring six horses for power. The treadmills, on either side, were each trod by three horses always facing in the same direction. To reverse the paddlewheels it was only necessary to stop the horses a minute, and withdraw a drop pin that would reverse the gearing.

Another type of team boat had a circular track, and the horses operated a capstan, placed in the center of the deck, which, through bevel gears, turned the paddlewheels. In this design the deck would generally be extended out from the hull several feet to give additional space for the wheels. Quite often the twin hull or catamaran design was in use, with one large paddlewheel operating in a well in the center of the deck. The objection to the use of the twin hull in northern waters was the danger of ice accumulating between them and damaging the paddlewheel Invariably some form of shelter was provided for the horses or, as in some cases, the mules.

Compared to the steam ferries that followed, steamboats were very slow. This disadvantage was more than offset by the low initial cost and low maintenance; the smaller team boats could be operated with from two to four horses. Due to this economy of both low cost and low maintenance the team boat ferry was often in use at crossings that otherwise would be without service. Historians agree that the team ferries were an important and decided factor in the development of our country.

January 30, 1964

Hudson River Showboats

TEMPLE OF MUSES – Before becoming a Hudson River Showboat this vessel saw many years of service on Chesapeake Bay and the James River as VIRGINIA. Completed in August 1817 the steamboat was placed on the Norfolk-Baltimore run where she remained until 1833 with few interruptions. In that year the sidewheeler underwent a major rebuilding, being lengthened twenty-three feet and then placed in the Norfolk-Charleston route. There then followed a number of changes in ownership until, in 1845, the VIRGINIA was acquired by interests in New York City with plans to promote a SHOWBOAT to play New York City and the Hudson River towns. The vessel was then completely rebuilt, this time as a floating theatre, and redocumented as the TEMPLE OF MUSES. I am indebted to Erik Heyl for much of the following data obtained from an early copy of “Illustrated London News”.

When completed the showboat reminded one of two floating Greek temples, the effect only being marred by the huge smokestack amidships. On the after half of the hull a pit was sunk through the main deck for the auditorium and a tier of boxes raised above this deck. Beneath the stage, 42 feet wide with a 27 foot opening, were a dining room and bedrooms for the entire company and crew, also the actor’s dressing rooms, while at the back of the stage were the dressing rooms for the actresses. Four private proscenium boxes were at the sides of the stage. The boxes, loges, pit and gallery had a seating capacity of twelve hundred persons.

Forward of the paddlewheels on the main deck was a ten foot entrance from which access was had to a reception saloon with restaurant and two bars. This saloon was decorated by large ornate mirrors, paintings and statuary, all illuminated by a profusion of lamps with cut-glass shades. The furniture consisted of marble-topped tables, chairs and settees. Liquors and wines were dispensed at one bar, while the other bar served lunches, ices and confectionery. This room was 40 feet long and 35 feet wide.

A “Drummond Light” atop of a tall spar surmounted the auditorium and by its dazzling light directed the play-goers to the theatre. Two stairways led from the entrance to the auditorium. Before the curtain rose and during intermission the audience was entertained by a nine piece orchestra in the restaurant. Admission was $3.00 for the box seats and loges, 50c for the dress-circle and 25c for the gallery and pit seats.

April 1, 1845 the show opened at the foot of Canal Street, New York, the play being :Our Flag” or “Nailed to the Mast.” It was preceded by an especially written opening address. The main play was followed by a comedy farce “A Lady and a Gentleman in a Peculiarly Perplexing Predicament”. The opening was very successful. In the following week the TEMPLE OF THE MUSES moved to the foot of Chambers Street, where the company played “Jack’ the Lad” and “The Pride of the Ocean”. The showboat continued playing at various spots for quite some time after she had been advertised to leave New York for the tour up the Hudson. This continued success was due to a rip-snorting, hair raising melodrama entitled “The Floating Beacon” or “The Wild Woman of the Wreck”, a play that had run one hundred and forty times in London.

Later the TEMPLE OF MUSES played at Delancey Street and various East River landings offering such pieces as “Black Eyed Susan”, “Jackets of Blue” the “Cherokee Chief” and other immortal opuses. Then the Steamboat left for her tour up the Hudson River.

It has not been possible to determine which landings along the river the TEMPLE OF MUSES played; apparently no advance billing and advertising preceded the Floating Theatre as it was called. However, starting July 2nd, 1845 and for several nights thereafter the Theatre played at Newburgh. Later there is a newspaper item that the Floating Theater played at Rondout on August 13th and remained there a week. That this was the TEMPLE OF MUSES is established by the reports of an accident found in the New York papers of August 13th. One of the actors returning to New York on the EXPRESS, stopped to pick up something from the deck, lost his balance, fell overboard and was drowned before help could reach him.

Rondout us thirty miles north of Newburgh and it seems unlikely that the TEMPLE OF MUSES would remain in that particular area six weeks. Presumably she paddled north after her Newburgh debut and visited Rondout upon her return. Inquiries at the libraries and historical societies at Troy, Albany, Catskill, Hudson, Saugerties, Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Peekskill and Yonkers have all failed to give any data on the TEMPLE OF THE MUSES.

She undoubtedly returned to New York and within the next year or two, was dismantled. But an anchorage was afforded the theatrical troupe for at 36 Canal Street in a hotel grandiloquently named “TEMPLE OF MUSES”, Cileman’s Minstrels played during the season of 1847 to 1848.

So ended the career of the TEMPLE OF THE MUSES, the only Hudson Rover showboat of which there is any authentic record.

STATISTICS: The original steamboat VIRGINIA was built by Flanagan & Beach at Baltimore in 1817. Dimensions were 135 feet in length; molded beam 25’6”; depth of hull 9 feet’ 289 tons. When rebuilt in 1833 dimensions were 158’6” length; 25’10” beam; 8’9” depth of hull; 340 tons. Throughout her career her power consisted of a 90 (nominal) horsepower cross-head engine with 20 foot diameter paddlewheels.

February 6, 1964

The Emeline – 1857-1917

EMELINE was a small wood sidewheeler built by Thomas Collyer in New York. Length 146 feet; beam 25 feet; depth of hull 8 feet with a vertical beam engine of 450 indicated horsepower. Her normal crew consisted of sixteen.

Built originally as NANTASKET she was a trim little vessel and first operated on the Boston-Hingham run where she was conceded to be the fastest steamboat in the Boston area.

April 2d, 1863, NANTASKET was sold to the United States Quartermaster’s Department for Civil War duty. During this service she underwent several alterations, including lengthening to 165 feet. When released from Government duty she was redocumented as July 28, 1866, and rechristened the EMELINE. She was then returned to the Boston-Gloucester route.

EMELINE made her appearance on the Hudson River in 1883 when Captain David C. Woolsey acquired the vessel to run excursions on the Hudson and later, on the regular schedule between New York City and Haverstraw.

Of particular local interest was her accident which occurred in September 1893. EMELINE had been chartered by the “Big Six”, a fire department in Poughkeepsie and also in Hyde Park, to carry members to a Firemen’s Convention being held at Catskill. Late at night, when the convivial firemen finally ended the Convention, the steamboat, heavily loaded with returning men, struck a large rock near the mouth of the Catskill Creek. As the vessel struck, the human cargo rushed to the port side of the boat, causing her to immediately take water and settle in about 20 feet of water. Fortunately, and despite the fact that it was a dark night and raining, no lives were lost. This accident occurred between Hop’o Nose and the now non-existent Diamond Hill, on the south side of the Creek’s mouth. This landmark was removed when the Shale Brick Company built on the site.

The EMELINE was raised by the steam derrick RELIANCE a few days later and after an overhaul and renovation was back in service the following season. Although now 38 years old, the sturdy steamboat still had 23 more years of service ahead of her. In those days they knew how to build boats! During the following years the EMELINE ran on various routes between Albany and New York.

After an eventful career of sixty years of service, fate finally caught up with the EMELINE in the spring of 1917. While she was laid up at Haverstraw, the ice crushed her hull and she sank, too damaged to be rebuilt.

February 13, 1964

The St. John: 1863-1885

The flamboyant era of gigantic river paddle steamers with luxurious and imposing interiors received impetus when the ST. JOHN erupted in sudden splendor and slid from the ways to join the ever expanding fleet on the Hudson.

In 1862, the People’s Line, known as Uncle Daniel Drew’s “Hudson River Gold Mine” commissioned John Englis, a shipbuilder and large stockholder in the Line, to build a steamboat which would surpass anything afloat. From the vast experience and fertile imagination of Englis, the monarch, known on the yard records simply as “Hull No. 42”, grew rapidly in size, the progress of building followed closely by the interested public and competitive steamboat owners.

From the first indication of her proposed construction the public and the newspapers of that day, expressed unusual interest and curiosity as to what the leviathan would be named. At her launching, however, this was settled, the owners of the floating palace christened her ST. JOHN, honoring Captain A. P. St. John, a founder and executive of the People’s Line. The latter, together with notable personages such as Isaac Newton, Daniel Drew, Dean Richmond, and Erastus Corning, shrewdly invested considerable money in the Line which had its inception in 1835. A common practice of the period was to name a new steamboat after her owner, builder, or a prominent financial backer of the organization. All of these men had steamboats named after them.

Captain Fernand Frost was commander on the ST. JOHN’S maiden trip in the spring of 1864. The vessel soon became a great favorite among the fashionable set and countless socialites sailed on her to vacation at the resorts of Saratoga Springs, Lake George, the Catskills and the Adirondacks. In this era of spas and watering places the ST. JOHN set the fashion for night boats.

The magnificent splendor of the ST. JOHN’S interior was the talk of international visitors, many of whom admired the décor of this palatial vessel. Those who gazed in admiration were duly impressed by the double tier of elegantly furnished staterooms opening into elaborate galleries in the grand saloon which extended through two decks in its high domed ceiling supported by Grecian columns. The sprawling Grand Staircase of carved San Domingo mahogany, with its massive newell posts featuring double sta(i)rs, inlaid with white holly alone cost $25,000. She was looked upon as the ultimate in luxury travel.

The sidewheelers of that day presented a flat surface on their paddlebox sides and the elaborate decorations were limited only by the ingenuity of the artist. In the ST. JOHN, however, an astonishing effect was produced. Lines of perspective appeared in the design which gave the impression of looking into a long colonnaded room extending through the boat. These interesting results were heightened by painting a tiled floor of contrasting shades. Deep inside the composition, a pair of gates, built up as lattice work gave out into a painted landscape. This treatment must have given a startling impression to travelers on passing boats.

Built at a cost of $600,000 the ST. JOHN was unquestionable the largest Hudson River Steamboat built up to that time, and retained this title for 40 years until another People’s Night Boat, the C.W. MORSE made her appearance in 1904.

The day boats of 1864 were the fastest steamboats on the river, if not the world and it was generally conceded that the People’s Line operated the fastest night boats. The admirers of the New York and Troy Line’s C. VANDERBILT maintained otherwise and as the two boats conveniently ran on the same night a race was inevitable. The night of April 4th the ST. JOHN and C. VANDERBILT left their New York piers side by side. The ST. JOHN soon pulled ahead and C. VANDERBILT followed close astern, a maneuver rivermen will appreciate, as she was practically towed in the wake of the larger ST. JOHN. After Passing Stony Point, the ST. JOHN succeeded in shaking the VANDERBILT off her tail and soon the smaller boat was mile astern, the ST. JOHN reaching Albany in eight hours and 44 minutes. This was exceptionally good time considering that she was carrying a large number of passengers and more than 300 tons of freight.

It was during this same year, 1864, that Captain Absalon Anderson, owner of the famous MARY POWELL, had extreme confidence in the racing ability of his handsome craft and reckoned the published speed claims of both the Day and Night lines had been exaggerated. He suggested in print that a Grand Sweepstakes steamboat race be held in the fall with a purse composed of contributions ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, the money to be put up by the owners who believed their boat the best, and winner take all. The steamboat fraternity urged the Day Line to participate but the owners refused and the race never advanced any further than the talking stage. (the risk was too risk; at this point in the Day Line’s history; IF their vessels lost, the prestige lass would have been too great.)

On the morning of October 29, 1865, as the ST. JOHN was approaching her pier off Hoboken, the routine activity for miles around was interrupted by the terrifying sound of a tremendous explosions from the vicinity of the sidewheeler. Her post boiler had blown up without warning. Most of the passengers were still in their berths or staterooms. As the full impact of the impending disaster registered on their minds, still dulled with sleep, the passengers became panicky and rushed into the saloon only to be surrounded by scalding and suffocating steam and, in the ensuing chaos 11 lives were lost and 15 persons seriously injured died later. Several of the more seriously injured died later. Among the casualties was a young couple named Lyons who had recently been married in St. Lukes Church on Hudson Street and were returning from their bridal tour abroad. Both newlyweds had inhaled the scalding steam and died on that fateful day. Ironically the same minister who heard their nuptial vows was now called upon to preach a final sermon at their funeral.

(continued next week) 

February 20, 1964

When the cause of the disaster was investigated there was no evidence of a lack of water in the boiler or of an overpressure of steam, but it was supposed to have resulted from the continuous pulsations due to the immense height of the stacks. These boilers were later strengthened by additional rods and bracing. The ST. JOHN after complete restoration to her original elegance, was returned to service with no visible scars to remind one of the disaster.

Captain A.P. St. John had become a millionaire through his diversified enterprises but this wealth was no deterent to the tragedy that occurred in 1875 when, one morning in the steamboat’s barbershop he succeeded in taking his own life.

On Sunday morning, June 24th 1877, the ST. JOHN became involved in a minor collision with the noted “Ice King” – NORWICH. The NORWICH, southbound from Albany with a line of barges in tow, was passing another southbound tow just above Coxsackie. Here the channel is narrow and as the ST. JOHN approached, her pilot attempted to squeeze by the NORWICH to the eastward, but an error in judgement brought the vessels together. The ST. JOHN struck the NORWICH and ripped off more than fifteen feet of her post side guard. She hastily backed off and proceeded a bit westward, clearing the tow safely.

A three-cornered race took place on the night of Nov. 8, 1881, between the ST. JOHN, SARATOGA, and the CITY OF CATSKILL. Scheduled to leave at their regular time early in the evening, a dense fog delayed their departure. When the fog lifted the paddlewheelers steamed up the river under full power and soon made up for time lost. The CITY OF CATSKILL was the winner on this race and the Newburg paper of that date remarked:

“Considerable interest was excited along the river front at 1 o’clock, when the night boats ST. JOHN, CITY OF CATSKILL and SARATOGA passed this city at racing speed. Smoke was pouring out of their stacks, their wheels were churning the water into foam, leaving heavy swells behind them. Boatmen sought favorable points of observation and waived their hats at the contesting steamboats. When they came through the Highlands the ST. JOHN was leading and the CITY OF CATSKILL was last, but off the Pennsylvania coal dock the CITY passed the SARATOGA, and off long dock was several lengths ahead. The ST. JOHN was about a quarter of a mile ahead at the time and was sailing fast. ST. JOHN has always been considered the fastest of the “big” night boats, and the way she kept ahead of the smaller oats was greatly to her credit.” End quote.

The CITY OF CATSKILL overhauled the larger boat before Poughkeepsie was reached, passing that community one and a half minutes ahead of the ST. JOHN. Eight minutes ahead of the ST. JOHN. Eight minutes later the SARATOGA trailed in, the loser in this three-cornered race.

The ST. JOHN continued to run from Albany to New York for 21 consecutive years. A trip on the ST. JOHN was a gratifying experience for many honeymooners and was to them what Niagara Falls became later – a rich experience to be shared and treasured in their memories. It was with mixed feelings that the many friends she had earned through 21 seasons of service to the public, learned of her destruction by fire after her last trip of the 1884 season.

At 2am on Friday, Jan. 24 1885, while laid up in winter quarters at the foot of Canal Street, New York a fire of unknown origin broke out an raged unchecked throughout the wooden structure and costly fabrics decorating the ST. JOHN’S interior. The great palace steamer, then valued at $475,000 burned beyond repair and was purchased at public auction the following year by Cobanks & Theall. The burned vessel was towed to Port Washington, Long Island and there dismantled. Just prior to the fire the vessel had received new boilers and a new shaft; the boilers were placed in another palace steamer, the new People’s Line DREW.

Many of those who had sailed on her and come to regard the ST. JOHN as a friend, visited the funeral pyre of the charred hulk that was once the most stupendous sidewheeler that ever churned the waters, marking the end of another vessel that had unknowingly created an episode in the rich lore of early American Steamboats. 


John Englis, builder, New York. Wood hull, 2,645 tons. Length overall 417 feet; length on keel 393 feet; molded beam 51 feet; extreme beam 84 feet; depth of hull 10 feet. Powered with a T.F. Secor vertical beam engine, designed by Edward Tothill, having 76 in. diameter cylinder with the enormous stroke of 15 feet, which has never been surpassed. Four iron boilers mounted on the guards. Paddlewheels 40 feet in diameter, each having 30 buckets, 10 feet 6 in. in width with 32 in, dip, turning at 17 revolutions a minute. The T.F. Secor engine was inherited from the NEW WORLD but, before installation in the ST. JOHN, was completely rebuilt by the James P. Allaire engine works at which time the cylinder diameter was increased to 84 in.

February 27, 1964

Steamboat Disasters

“Burned to the waters edge”, “Destroyed by fire”, “Boiler exploded and sank”, “Sank in collision”, “Wrecked on rocky ledge” and “Stranded on sandbar.” These were the epitaphs of many of the old time sidewheelers that sailed the Hudson in bygone days. These, rather than the more prosaic “Deemed unfit for further service and dismantled”.

Following are listed, in chronological order, more than 100 such vessels that came to untimely ends. All are under the name the vessels carried at the time of disaster; it must be remembered many of these old steamboats had several or more names during their careers. Notable is the ANSONIA. This old steamboat was launched as such in 1848; became the WILLIAM KENT in 1860; the ANSONIA again in 1861; the ULSTER in 1892 and the ROBERT A. SNYDER in 1921. Finally, after 88 years of continual service she sank in Saugerties Creek in 1936.

Included in this compilation are a number of vessels, though once familiar on the Hudson, that met their fate in other waters. With but several exceptions, the list does not include the many old timers that survived fire and boiler explosions and were rebuilt and returned into service.

Large Sidewheelers:

PARAGON 1811 – Sank at the Overslaugh, 12 miles from below Albany 1820

CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON 1816 - Wrecked on rock in Boston Harbor 1834

CAROLINE 1822 – Burned on Niagara River 1837

OLIVER ELLSWORTH 1824 – Sunk by ice below New Hamburg 1853

CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL 1825 – Lost in Long Island Sound gale 1835

FANNY 1825 – Burned on Apalachicola River, Florida 1844

SUN 1825 – Burnt near the Narrows, New York Harbor 1828

NORTH AMERICA 1827 – (First) Sunk by ice a few miles below Albany 1839

JOHN JAY 1830 – Burned at Caldwell’s Landing 1854

SPLENDID 1832 – Burned at her Hoboken wharf 1856

SWALLOW 1836 – Wrecked and burned on Dooper Rock, Athens 1845

BROADWAY 1837 – a) ARROW, b) GEORGE WASHINGTON Boiler explosion off 20th Street, New York – total loss 1865

TELEGRAPH 1837 - Rammed and sank near West Camp 1870

OSEOLA 1838 – Sank in the Delaware River 1855

WAVE 1838 – Wrecked but no data as to location 1860

BALLOON 1839 – Sank in Delaware River at Camden 1872

EUREKA 1840 – Burnt in the East River 1850

NORTH AMERICA 1840 - (second) Burnt at Algiers, Louisiana 1863

COLUMBIA 1841 – Burnt at the Watervliet Arsenal Dock 1875

EXPRESS 1841 – Burned and sank on the Potomac River 1878

MEDORA 1841 – b) HERALD  Boiler burst on trial trip killing 26 persons, on Chesapeake Bay. Rebuilt into the HERALD 1842

TROJAN 1842 – Burned at her New York City wharf 1851

CURTIS PECK 1842 – Sank in the James River 1862

EMPIRE (OF TROY) 1843 - Sunk in collision at New Hamburg 1853

KNICKERBOCKER 1843 – Sunk in gale on the Potomac River 1865

OREGON 1845 – Sunk by collision off her New York City pier 1863

HERO 1846 – Foundered on the Orinoco River, Venezuela 1870

RIP VAN WINKLE 1845 – Struck the Albany Railroad Bridge; sank 1872

SHEPHERD KNAPP 1845 – Burned near Rondout Light 1850

ISAAC NEWTON 1846 – Burned near Yonkers 1863

RIVER BELLE 1846 – a) CRICKET b) L. BOARDMAN c) RIVER BELLE again. Foundered near West Point (Another RIVER BELLE was built in 1872, which burned several years later) 1880

ST. NICHOLAS 1846 – Burned while South; a war casualty 1862

ARMENIA 1847 – Burned at her wharf at Alexandria, Virginia 1886

NEW WORLD 1847 – “Torpedoed from within!” In New York Harbor, the gallows frame gave way, the walking beam dropped and the connecting rod tore through her bottom 1864

BALTIC 1848 – Burned near Van Wie’s Point, below Albany. 1876

COMMODORE 1848 – Lost in a Long Island Sound gale 1865

ROBERT A. SNYDER 1848 – a) ANSONIA b) WILLIAM KENT c) ANSONIA d) ULSTER e) ROBERT A. SNYDER  Crushed by ice in Saugerties Cr. 1936

CONNECTICUT 1848 – While opposite Coxsackie. Boiler explosion, raised and then dismantled in Perth Amboy by F.H. Gregory. 1890

REINDEER 1850 – Burned at Bristol Landing, now Malden 1852

THOMAS E. HULSE 1851 – Crushed by ice and sank near Yonkers 1875

HENRY CLAY 1851 – Burned near Riverdale, 60 lives lost 1852

GOLDEN GATE 1852 – Burned at the Federal Bridge, Troy 1879

EAGLE 1852 – Burned near Milton 1884

FRANCIS SKIDDY 1852 – Struck a rock just below Albany and sank 1864

RIVERDALE 1852 – a) PETER G. COFFIN b) ALEXIS  Boiler explosion shortly after leaving her New York pier. Sunk, total loss 1884

GRANITE STATE 1853 – Burned on Connecticut River 1883

GLEN COVE 1854 – Burned at Richmond, Virginia 1861

March 5, 1964

Steamboat Disasters Continued:

A list of steamboat disasters, begun in last week’s paper, is continued and concludes in this issue.

SHAWSHEEN 1855 – a) Young America  Sunk in James River, Va. 1864

EMELINE 1857 – Crushed by ice at Haverstraw 1917

SYLVAN GROVE 1858 – Burned at Wilmington, North Carolina 1891


RUGGLES 1859 – Burned at Nyack 1901

SANDY 1860 – a) SARAH E. BROWN Sunk by ice in Rondout Creek 1893

DANIEL DREW 1860 – Burned at Kingston Point while to its dock 1865

ISAAC SMITH 1860 – b) STONO  c) ISAAC SMITH  Burned at West Haven, Connecticut while lying at her wharf 1873

GEORGE T. OLYPHANT 1861 – Sunk in collision on East River 1880

SETH LOW 1861 – Burned at her wharf St. John’s River, Florida, 1888.

MONITOR 1862 – Burned at her Jersey City wharf 1882

GEORGE STARR 1862 – A) VIRGINIA SEYMOUR  Sank near Athens 1914.

CITY OF ALBANY 1863 – b) ADELPHI c) CITY OF ALBANY again. Burned while at her wharf in the Harlem River 1894.

JOHN TAYLOR 1863 – Burned at White Elephant fire in Athens 1876.

CITY OF HUDSON 1863 – Burned at her wharf at Catskill Point 1890

BERKSHIRE 1863 – b) NUPHA c) METROPOLITAN  As the BERKSHIRE she burned near Krum Elbo losing 40 lives. The hulk was salvaged and completely rebuilt into the NUPHA which later was rechristened the METROPOLITAN 1863

JAMES B. SCHUYLER 1863 – Burned at her New York Pier 1876.

THOMAS CORNELL 1863 – Wrecked on rocks near New Hemburg 1882

ST. JOHN 1863 – Burned at the foot of Canal Street, New York 1885

SILVER STAR 1863 – Burned at Charleston, South Carolina a) SENECA 1895

ANDREW FLETCHER 1864 – Burned at her Staten Island wharf 1872.

MELZINGAH 1864 – a) WILLIAM TITTAMER Burned at Pensacola, Florida 1888

ISABEL 1864 – a) EOLUS Wrecked near Sanford, Connecticut 1915

NEVERSINK 1865 – Burned at Fulton Street wharf, Brooklyn, 1878

CHRYSTENAH 1866 – Wrecked in a storm near New Rochelle 1920

DREW 1866 – Burned at Perth Arboy, New Jersey, while laid up 1902

SUNNYSIDE 1866 – Wrecked by ice near West Park 1875

CRYSTAL STREAM 1873 – a) NELSON K. HOPKINS  Burned on the St. John’s River, Canada 1907

IDLEWILD 1876 – Burned while laid up at Erie Basin, Brooklyn 1901

CITY OF TROY 1876 – Burned Near Dobbs Ferry 1907

ROSEDALE 1877 – Burned at Norfolk, Virginia 1922

GRAND REPUBLIC 1878 – Burned foot of W. 156th St., New York City 1924

MINNIE CORNELL 1879 – Burned at Keyport, New Jersey at wharf 1893

CITY OF CATSKILL 1880 – Burned at Rondout Creek 1883

BELLE HORTON 1881 – b) PINE BEACH  Burned at Alexandria, Virginia, 1906

SAUGERTIES 1882 – a) SHENANDOAH  Burned at Saugerties Creek 1906

PATROL 1882 – b) WILLIAM STOREY c) MEDIATOR Under this last name she sank, cut by ice at Commercial Wharf, Newark, New Jersey 1918

POINT COMFORT 1886 – a) NANTUCKET  Wrecked on Esopus Island 1918

NEW YORK 1886 – Burned at Marvel’s Shipyard, Newburgh, 1908

IROQUIS 1889 – a) KENNEBEC  Burned on Elizabeth River, N.C. 1924

GENERAL SLOCUM 1891 – Burned in East River, 1,021 lives lost, 1904

CLERMONT 1892 – a) CHARMAY c) BAY QUEEN Small sidewheeler yacht. As BAY QUEEN she burned on the Hillsboro River, Florida, 1921

FENNIMORE 1892 – a) FRANK JONES  Loaded with ammunition she blew up in the James River, Virginia 1918

ONTEORA 1898 – Burned at her Bear Mountain wharf 1936

NEW YORKER 1909 – a) TROJAN Burned at Roscoff’s Dock, Marlboro 1940

WASHINGTON IRVING 1912 – Sunk by collision when struck by two steel barges being towed by a Moran tug. Settled atop the Holland Tunnel, hurricane deck and pilot house remaining above water. Two lives were lost  - Mrs. Arthur Hoag and her three year old daughter, of Long Island City. June first 1926

Sidewheeler Ferryboats:

UNION 1844 – Burned at the foot of Washington Street, Newburgh 1878

FORT LEE 1867 – a) MASPETH Sank in her Fort Lee, N.J. slip 1898

NEW ROCHELLE 1877 – a) COLUMBIA b) KINGSTON  As the latter she was abandoned at sea on her voyage to her new owners in Houston, Texas 1945

A.F. BEACH  1878 – Burned in her Greendale slip while laid up 1936

G.V.S. QUACKENBUSH 1878 – a) J.S. SANDERS  Collided with Congress Street Bridge, Troy, and sank 1924

GARRISON 1887 – a) GENERAL HANCOCK  Sank by ice in her Garrison slip 1925

R.C. REYNOLDS 1896 – a) JOHN G. CARLISLE    Burned at Newburgh 1926

Propeller Steamboats:

THOMAS MCMANUS 1861 – a) DUTCHESS b) LANCER  Burnt at New York, 1902

POUGHKEEPSIE 1862 – a) DANIEL S. MILLER  Burned at Highland Dock 1910

PHILLIP D. LEFEVER 1863 – a) ANDREW HARDER  Burned at her Jersey City dock 1900

RESERVE 1865 – a) TRANSIT b) JOHN LENNOX  Burnt at Catskill Point 1937

WILLIAM C. REDFIELD 1865 – Burned at the Athens Dock, 1910

ALLESTON 1877 – a) HOMER RAMSDELL Burned on Elizabeth River, Va 1945

CITY OF HUDSON 1884 – Sank in collision on Puget Sound 1899

BENJAMIN B. ODELL 1911 – Burned at Roscoff’s Dock, Marlboro 1937

MANDALAY 1915 – a) EXPRESS  Originally the car ferry EXPRESS, the hull being rebuilt into an excursion steamer. Collided in New York Bay with the Acadia and sank, a total loss 1938

Small steamers (Water Taxis)

JOHN   MCCAUSLAND 1884 – Burned north of Rondout near Saugerties 1905

YOUNG AMERICA 1891 – b) RAMONA  In collision with ferry GEORGE H. POWER at Athens middleground. Raised and rebuilt into the RAMONA which operated between Hudson, Athens and Coxsackie for twenty years. The YOUNG AMERICA’s sinking occurred in 1905.

PETREL 1892 – Burned at the Peekskill dock 1923

ELTINGE ANDERSON 1882 – Burned at Four Mile Point below Coxsackie 1903

NOTE that more than half of these disasters were caused by fire. This is understandable when one considers that, due to the shallow draft of all river boats, the superstructure must, of necessity, be constructed of light materials and the many coats of paint applied through the years resulted in a highly inflammable vessel. When fire started it almost invariably spelt the doom of the steamboat and – too often – human life as well.

Lack of adequate Steamboat inspection in the early years and carelessness also contributed to the fire hazard. There is one case where a couple of men were passing the time on the trip from Albany to New York in making cartridges, and they had an open keg of powder on the deck between them. Had the breeze wafted a single live ember into the keg it would probably have been a rather spectacular end to that particular steamboat.

March 12, 1964

The Armenia: 1848-1886

Although not the largest steamboat on the Hudson, the ARMENIA was for many years the most popular and widely known. She was a familiar sight to all the river – folk and very readily recognized by her unusually large paddleboxes, tall gallows frame and proportionately large walking beam. Originally built for the New York Albany run by the Day Line. She remained on this route for more than 35 years, and in 1860 made the trip from Albany to New York in 7 hours and 44 minutes, including 11 landings – a distance of 150 miles.

The Day Line was no named because its boats made the trip between the two cities in daylight, affording the passengers a view of the beautiful Hudson – “the Rhine of America.” The only deviation from the ARMENIA’s regular run was in 1853 when she made daily trips between New York and Keyport.

One of the most notable innovations to attract passengers was a steam calliope of 34 whistles, installed on the ARMENIA in 1858. The keyboard of this steam organ was located at the after bulkhead of the engine space on the promenade deck. This instrument was operated by Professor Van de Wyde, a skillful player, and its range was about equal to the chimes of a church belfry. The reverberating echoes in the Highlands must have sounded somewhat weird and wonderful, for the folks on shore dropped their work and rushed to the riverbank for a view. However, when Commodore Van Santvoort bought the ARMENIA in 1864 he had the calliope removed. The great quantities of steam consumed by the organ and the resultant strain on the boiler (and the firemen!) made its continued use impractical. The Commodore’s venture into passenger carrying business must have been remunerative for with the addition of the ARMENIA his fleet now numbered three large passenger steamboats – ALIDA, DANIEL DREW, AND ARMENIA.

In the early 1850’s, racing between the ARMENIA and her opposition boat, the HENRY CLAY, was almost a daily occurrence; each strived to make landings ahead of the other, to secure the passengers. It was during such a race that the HENRY CLAY took fire near Yonkers – a catastrophe in which 60 lives were lost. The fire was reportedly caused by overheated boilers setting fire to the adjacent woodwork, and the vessel became a total loss.

In this disaster the renowned horticulturist, Jackson Downing of Newburgh, lost his life. Another casualty was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s sister. This catastrophe caused such a wave of indignation that Congress speedily enacted the Steamboat Inspection Bill to put an end to Steamboat Racing in United States waters.

The ARMENIA in time was surpassed by many finer and faster boats, and was finally succeeded in 1864 by the CHAUNCEY VIBBARD. She continued to be used as a spare boat by the Day Line, and during the season of 1878 ran out of Rondout for several weeks taking the place of the MARY POWELL which had broken her starboard paddlewheel shaft.

During her long and successful career the ARMENIA underwent but one major alteration. This occurred in 1852 when she was lengthened to 212 feet; two boilers and stacks replaced her singular stack and the typical guard posts and hog-framing was added.

In 1883 the ARMENIA was sold to interests in Washington, D.C. and ran a few years as an excursion boat on the Potomac River.

On January 5th, 1886, while in winter quarters at her Alexandria pier, she caught fire and became a total loss.

STATISTICS: Thomas Collyer, builder, New York. Wood hull. 391 tons. Length 185 feet; beam 28 feet; overguards 50 feet; depth 8 feet 6 inches. Henry Dunham vertical beam engine with the unusually long stroke of 14 feet. Paddlewheels 29 feet 4 inches diameter with 8 feet 3 inch face, turning 23 rpm. In 1852 ARMENIA was lengthened to 212 feet, increasing tonnage to 421; cylinder diameter increased to 42 inches; a second boiler added with second stack aft of the original stack and the typical guard posts and hog framing added.

March 19, 2008

Twin Engined Sidewheelers: Firsts in Early Steamboating

It is not generally known in this day and age, but during the experimental decades in steamboating there were quite a number of sidewheelers that boasted twin engines. Below is listed a number of the more famous:

WASHINGTON: 1825-1831

The first steamboat having a pair of steam engines, each connected by gearing and independent of one another, to its own paddleshaft. When desired it could go forward with one engine and re verse with the other – turning in its own length.


Having the same type engines as the WASHINGTON.

NORTH AMERICA: 1827-1839

Two engines, two walking beams and two stacks. This was the first vessel with this name.

PRESIDENT: 1829-1842
Twin engines, the fastest vessel on the New York-Providence run for many years.

OHIO: 1829-1840

Two engines, having 60” cylinders with 9’ stroke. Built at Albany, the OHIO was a Hudson River Day Line boat for many years. Finally sank by ice near Castleton.

NOVELTY: 1830-1842

Two engines having 39” cylinders with 10’ stroke. Steam was furnished by 12(!) boilers; she had four stacks and was, for many years, on the Albany run.

BOSTON: 1831-1857

Two engines and was the first steamboat that carried neither masts nor sails.

CHAMPLAIN: 1832-1843 and the ERIE: 1833-1842

Sister ships each having two engines and four stacks. Both ran as Day Boats on the Hudson until 1840.


Twin engines. New York-Providence run,

TROY: 1841-1850

Twin engines inherited from the ERIE above. On the Troy-New York run for more than twenty years.

EMPIRE: 1843-1856

Twin Lighthall inclined engines. Wrecked in Newburgh Bay.

OAKES AMES, later the CHAMPLAIN (not the vessel listed above): 1858-1875

Twin engines and beams. Wrecked at Split Rock, Lake Champlain.

Following is a list of a score or more “FIRSTS” in early steamboating:

1821 UNITED STATES        

First to have a pilot house. Previously either a tiller was used, or the wheel exposed.


First to have a cast iron boiler. Not so very foolish as steam pressure was probably 15 lbs. Or less. However the inevitable explosion occurred.

1824 UNITED STATES (again)
The first steamboat to sell tickets to passengers. Previously they were always “way billed”.


A ferryboat, was the first steamboat to have a skeleton iron walking beam. This became standard practice. Previously the walking beam consisted of an iron-bound timber. The iron beam was introduced by Robert Stevens. 


The first to have her boilers mounted on her sponsons or guards. This was considered a safety precaution in case of an explosion.


The first steamboat to have poppet valves, developed by Robert Stevens and later used on all beam engines.


The first to have tubular boilers; previously boilers were generally plain tanks or cylinders of copper.


The first steamboat without masts, depending upon steam alone.


Replaced her tiller ropes with chain. The burn of the LEXINGTON with great loss of life, was partly due to the burning of the tiller ropes, causing loss of steerage.


Argand came into use for lamps in the larger river boats.


The first steamboat to boast a whistle.


Are given credit as the first steamboats to burn anthracite coal, introduced by Isaac Newton. The burning of coal cut fuel costs in half and saved a great amount of deck space generally taken up by cord wood. Previously the CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON experimented with coal but because the grates then in use would not stand up, experiment was temporarily abandonded.


Was probably the first large steamboat in this country to be built of iron. She was 245’ in length.


Isaac Newton introduced gas illumination in this steamboat, which was soon generally adopted.


The first steamboat built specifically for towing. Previously towboats were invariably the older passenger boats cut down for this purpose.


The Morgan feathering paddlewheel first appeared, although it was many years before its general adoption. The advantage was considerably smaller diameter wheels with increased r.p.m.

The Steamboat Inspection Service was organized. The enraged public, following the HENRY CLAY disaster, compelled Congress to pass the bill which became effective within 30 days after the CLAY tragedy.


Was the first steamboat to have the main dining room on the after main deck, instead of in the hold, as was the custom previously.


Was the first steamboat to be lighted throughout by electricity. 

March 26, 1964

Travel was a Gamble – I

This generation little realizes the myriad and formidable problems Robert Fulton and his followers overcame in the development of the steamboat and its modern prototype.

Not only was it necessary to adapt a new mode of propulsion to vessels but also it required that new technologies of navigation be developed, which enabled the steamboat to flaunt the prevailing winds and tides.

The annals of steamboating in the early days are filled with tragic disasters most frequently caused by boiler explosions although fire and collusion are also well represented.

The following pictures show more vividly than words few of the more notable disasters of the 19th century.

These Steamboats Met an Untimely End


Built 1835. Burned off Eaton’s Neck, Long Island, while on the New York-Stonington run, January 13, 1840, with a loss of 156 lives. The origin of the fire is unknown since of the four saved none had any knowledge.


Built 1836. Burned off Fox Island while on the St. Johns-Portland (Maine) run, October 21, 1836, with a loss of 38 lives. At the time of the disaster the vessel was carrying the Burgess collection of circus animals. These included an elephant, a gnu, two dromedaries, two lionesses, a royal Bengal tiger, a pair of pelicans and six horses. All of which added greatly to the confusion. A few days later the body of the elephant was washed ashore near Brimestone Island.


Built 1837. Wrecked and burned on the Hudson River near Athens while on the Albany-New York run April 7, 1845 with a loss of 40 lives.

April 2, 1964 

Travel was a Gamble – II 

Last week we published a group of photos concerning tragic steamboat disasters compiled by F. Van Loon Ryder, of Coxsackie. This week we continue the series with another group of these rare and unusual photos, all taken from works owned by the Mariners’ Museum of Newport News, VA. 


Built 1851. Burned on the Hudson River near Yonkers, New York while on the Albany-New York run July 28, 1852 with a loss of 70 lives. It was this disaster, directly due to racing, that so enraged the public, that Congress was forced to pass the new bill for the Steamboat Inspection Service. 

Built 1836. Ferryboat. Burned on the Delaware River between Camden and Philadelphia March 15, 1856 while operating on that crossing, with a loss of 61 lives. 


Sister vessel built in 1866. While on the Stonington-New York run during a dense fog, the vessels collided near Cornfield Light the night of June 11, 1880. The NARRAGANSETT took fire and sank, and more than 50 lives are believed to have been lost. 


Built 1863. Destroyed by a boiler explosion and fore on the Mississippi April 27, 1865 while on the Louisville-New Orleans run, with a loss of 1,547 lives. This disaster occurred a short distance north of Memphis and is undoubtedly the greatest steamboat disaster in American riverboat history.

May 14, 1964 

The North America

The First Steamboat Having Twin Vertical Beam Engines

The NORTH AMERICA appeared at a time when river transportation was entering upon a new era of prosperity, bringing forth many new steamboats, and immediately took the lead among the swifter vessels. With her twin walking beams and twin stacks she made as imposing picture.

After several trial trips her regular scheduled run began July 27th, 1827, under Captain Cochran. The New York Evening Post described the event and the vessel thus:

“STEAMBOAT NORTH AMERICA – This boat built by Messrs. Stevens of Hoboken to ply between this city and Albany in the same line with the ALBANY and the NEW PHILADELPHIA, left the foot of Cortland Slip this morning under command of Captain W.I. Cochran, on her maiden trip, with a good number of passengers. She is elegantly fitted up, and is remarkable for an improvement in the paddlewheels…In a trial of speed last Saturday she performed the distance of 10 miles in 34 minutes; and it is estimated that her trips to Albany will not exceed 10 hours on an average.”

A description of Colonel Steven’s innovation in paddlewheel construction is worthy of note. Because an increase in the number of paddles is injurious in a steamboat paddlewheel the best procedure is to have one paddle strike the water just as the preceding one is leaving it. To cause less agitation and loss of power as well as less shock, smaller paddles are desirable. To understand Steven’s improvement consider the paddle of a wheel sawn into three parts each to be removed back one third of the original distance between the paddles – in short a triple wheel with stepped buckets. The force of each paddle striking the water is therefore one third less than the normal paddle but the striking by paddles is almost continuous and so rapid as to oppose practically a constant resistance to the engines. Such a wheel acts as its own flywheel – to such an extent that the large flywheels, of such vital importance in the Fulton boats, is entirely omitted in those of Stevens. The NORTH AMERICA engines were very similar to Watts; with the above difference in paddlewheels and a greatly improved air pump to maintain a greater vacuum in the condenser. The two boilers were also an improved type and of copper.

Operating as a night boat she would leave her New York pier at 5pm arriving in Albany about 7qm. The fare was $3.00 with meals extra. In 1830, under Captain Benson, the run was made in 10 hours and 26 minutes “having landed and received passengers at 11 different places and came along side and made fast at five different wharfs.” Still later, September 23, 1835, a record was made when the NORTH AMERICA made the trip in 8 hours and 51 minutes.

In 1832 the new steamboat CHAMPLAIN appeared on the river, also boasting twin beam engines. As was usual the owners claimed their vessel to be the fastest on the river, and the owners and Captain of the North America were awaiting the opportunity to prove otherwise. On the CHAMPLAIN’s maiden trip, June 12th, as she left her New York berth, she found the NORTH AMERICA “laying for her” so to speak. The CHAMPLAIN accepted the challenge, and the vessels were off for Albany at top speed. The NORTH AMERICA made it to Albany in 9 hours, 30 minutes. The CHAMPLAIN in 9 hours 54 minutes. The CHAMPLAIN adherents, however, would not concede defeat; a second race was therefore arranged for September 22, with almost identical results, the NORTH AMERICA beating the CHAMPLAIN by about 8 minutes.

In March, 1834, the Vanderbilt steamboat WESTCHESTER (later renamed HUDSON) appeared on the river as an opposition boat, cutting the fare to $2.00.To meet this challenge the NORTH AMERICA and several other boats cut the fare to $1.00 and in the latter part of August, the WESTCHESTER withdrew, seeking greener pastures.

Later in her career the NORTH AMERICA was lengthened 45 feet and a false bow and false stern were added, somewhat increasing her speed. These alterations were made by William Capes and brought her tonnage to 495 and her length to 216 feet. In this vessel Stevens had not only incorporated his improvised paddlewheels but also, in 1829, fitted her with hogframing, - the first steamboat having this truss work, which was designed from the trusses of the old wooden bridges.

In 1839 the career of the NORTH AMERICA ended. In January of that year, the river at Albany was in flood, due to the usual January thaw. While moored at Island Creek, just below Albany during a heavy rain she was torn loose from her moorings and carried down river. Her seams were opened by the sharp ice and the hull so badly damaged, that she was pronounced a total loss. Later one of the beam engines was salvaged and placed in the TEMPEST, a small vessel built in New York in 1849.

However, the name was carried on and the following year, 1840, a new NORTH AMERICA, larger and more luxurious, was built. This vessel, though having but a single vertical beam engine, continued in service until October 8, 1863, when destroyed by fire.



John And Robert Stevens, designers and builders, Hoboken. Wood hull. 430 tons. Original length 178 feet; beam 29 feet 6 inches; over guards 58 feet; depth of hull 8 feet; draft loaded 6 feet. TWO vertical beam engines, designed and built by Stevens, each having 44½ inch cylinders with 8 foot stroke, 85 h.p. each. Two copper boilers mounted on the guards. Paddlewheels, of unique design, 21 feet diameter with 13 feet 6 inch face, turning at 24 rpm.

May 21, 1964


The NORTH AMERICA appeared at a time when river transportation was entering upon a new era of prosperity, bringing forth many new steamboats, and immediately took the lead among the swifter vessels. With her twin walking beams and twin stacks she made an imposing picture.

After several trial trips her regular scheduled run began July 27th, 1827, under Captain Cochran. The New York Evening Post described the event and the vessel thus:

“STEAMBOAT NORTH AMERICA – This boat built by Messrs. Stevens of Hoboken, to ply between this city and Albany in the same line with the ALBANY and the NEW PHILADELPHIA, left the foot of Cortland Slip this morning under command of Captain W.L. Cochran, on her maiden trip, with a good number of passengers. She is elegantly fitted up, and is remarkable for an improvement in the paddlewheels…in a trial of speed last Saturday she performed the distance of 10 miles in 34 minutes; and it is estimated that her trips to Albany will not exceed 10 hours on an average.”

A description of Colonel Steven’s innovation in paddlewheel construction is worthy of note. Because an increase in the number of paddles is injurious in a steamboat paddlewheel the best procedure is to have one paddle strike the water just as the proceeding one is leaving the proceeding one is leaving it. To cause less agitation and loss of power as well as less shock, smaller paddles are desirable. To understand Steven’s improvement consider the paddle of a wheel sown into three parts each to be removed back one third of the original distance between the paddles – in short a triple wheel with stepped buckets. The force of each paddle striking the water is therefore one third less than the normal paddle but the striking by paddles is almost continuous and so rapid as to oppose practically a constant resistance to the engines. Such a wheel acts as its own flywheel – to such as extent that the large flywheels, of such vital importance in the Fulton boats, is entirely omitted in those of Stevens. The NORTH AMERICA engines were very similar to Watts’, with the above difference in paddlewheels and a greatly improved air pump to maintain a greater vacuum in the condenser. The two boilers were also an improved type and of copper. 

Operating as a night boat she would leave her New York pier at 5pm arriving in Albany about 7am. The fare was $3.00 with meals extra. In 1830, under Captain Benson, the run was made in 10 hours and 26 minutes “having landed and received passengers at 11 different places, and came along side and made fast at five different wharfs.” Still later, September 23, 1835, a record was made when the NORTH AMERICA made the trip in 8 hours and 51 minutes.

In 1832 the new steamboat CHAMPLAIN appeared on the river, also boasting twin beam engines. As was usual the owners claimed their vessel to be the fastest on the river, and the owners and Captain of the NORTH AMERICA were awaiting the opportunity to prove otherwise. On the CHAMPLAIN’S maiden trip, June 12th, as she left her New York berth, she found the NORTH AMERICA “laying for her” so to speak. The CHAMPLAIN accepted the challenge, and the vessels were off for Albany at top speed. The NORTH AMERICA made it to Albany in 9 hours, 30 minutes. The CHAMPLAIN in 9 hours, 54 minutes. The CHAMPLAIN adherents, however, would not concede defeat; a second race was therefore arranged for September 22, with almost identical results, the NORTH AMERICA beating the CHAMPLAIN by about 8 minutes.

In March, 1834, the Vanderbilt steamboat WESTCHESTER (later renamed HUDSON) appeared on the river as an opposition boat, cutting the fare to $2.00. To meet this challenge the NORTH AMERICA and several other boats cut the fare to $1.00 and in the latter part of August, the WESTCHESTER withdrew, seeking greener pastures.

Later in her career the NORTH AMERICA was lengthened 45 feet and a false bow and false stern were added, somewhat increasing her speed. These alterations were made by William Capes and brought her tonnage to 495 and her length to 216 feet. In this vessel Stevens, had not only incorporated his improved paddlewheels but also, in 1829, fitted her with hogframing, - the first steamboat having this truss work, which was designed from the trusses of the old wooden bridges.

In 1829 the career of the NORTH AMERICA ended. In January of that year, the river at Albany was in flood, due to the usual January thaw. While moored at Island Creek, just below Albany during a heavy rain she was torn loose from her moorings and carried down river. Her seams were opened by the sharp ice and the hull so badly damaged, that she was pronounced a total loss. Later one of the beam engines was salvaged and placed in the TEMPEST, a small vessel built in New York in 1849.

However, the name was carried on and the following year, 1840, a new NORTH AMERICA, larger and more luxurious, was built. This Vessel, though having but a single vertical beam engine, continued in service until October 8, 1863, when destroyed by fire.


NORTH AMERICA: 1827-1839

John and Robert Stevens designers and builders, Hoboken. Wood hull.. 430 tons. Original length 178 feet; beam 29 feet 6 inches; over guards 58 feet, depth of hull 8 feet; draft loaded 6 feet. Two vertical beam engines, designed and built by Stevens, each having 44½ inch cylinders with 8 foot stroke, 85 h.p. each. Two copper boilers mounted on the guards. Paddlewheels, of unique design, 21 foot diameter with 13 feet 6 inch face, turning at 24 rpm.

June 4, 1964

Catamarans on the Hudson

During the experimental stage of steamboating on the Hudson, many types of hulls were developed in an attempt to exceed in speed the prevailing types. Compared to the conventional craft of their day many of these pioneer steamboats might be justly called freaks, for until the basic principle of hull design was mastered, every shipbuilder worked entirely from original ideas.

In the course of this experimentation it was but natural that twin-hull or catamaran appeared. Commodore William Vooris of the New York Yacht Club first built a small twin hull vessel. Named the “NOVELTY” with the paddlewheel between the hulls. Not meeting with the success hoped for, he built a second vessel in 1880, named after the poet “HENRY W. LONGFELLOW”. For this vessel the Commodore held high hopes and when interviewed by reporters, stated, “I’ll give them rapid transit. I’ll take people down from Nyack to New York  - 27 miles – in one hour, and run away from everything on the river that has steam. The LONGFELLOW was planned to be a first class steamboat, having accommodations for 475 passengers. This was an iron vessel, the “hull” consisting of two 200 foot cylindrical pontoons, having but 5 foot six inch diameters and tapering to points at either ends. Each had five water-tight compartments and their purpose was for buoyancy only. They were placed nine feet apart and upon them rested the deck, 125 feet in length with a beam or width of 25 feet. All machinery, including the boilers, were placed on this deck, and all the superstructure. Unlike all previous catamaran vessels, the means of propulsion was a large propeller, eight blades which but half submerged, entered the water at a sharp angle. The Commodore was confident that, due to the angle of this propeller, the vessel, when underway would have a tendency to lift or plane, thus resulting in less body resistance and more speed. However, in the first trial run, July 28th, 1880, and in subsequent runs it was found that the propeller merely agitated or churned the water, but causing little headway. It was also discovered that the cylindrical shape of the pontoons caused a tendency to submerge, rather than to rise and increase the craft’s buoyancy.

Although the Commodore realized the “HENRY W. LONGFELLOW” was a failure, he continued for four years to make alterations both to the hull and machinery with but little success. Among other changes made was the shortening of the pontoons by ten feet and extending the main deck out fore and aft to cover them. New boilers and engines were installed and the screw propeller removed and replaced by a center paddlewheel. So, “from a propeller with hidden wheel and single funnel, she was metamorphosed into a double stack huge center paddlewheel boat.”  After these changes the Commodore intended to place the new “LONGFELLOW” in passenger service between Poughkeepsie and Albany, but even though the second trials were more satisfactory, she did not meet her investors expectations and was shortly thereafter retired from service.

Earlier in 1834, Henry Burden of Troy, built an 80 foot catamaran named the “HELEN” for Hudson River service. But, though she met expectations on trial runs, she was an ill-fated vessel, being damaged irrevocably on running into a dam and snapping off the forward ends of her pontoons. The engineer had misinterpreted his signal and went ahead instead of astern. Incidentally, this was the same Henry Burden who a few years later, purchased the vertical beam engine of the wrecked “SWALLOW” to operate machinery in his South Troy Iron Works.

It appears that the larger steam driven catamarans were unsuccessful on the Hudson, but the smaller vessels, particularly ferryboats and yachts were definitely so. Here are a few of the more prominent ones, listed in chronological order:

“JERSEY”, 1812, Fulton Ferry, New York to New Jersey

“YORK”, 1813, Fulton Ferry, New York to New Jersey

“NASSAU”, 1814, Fulton Ferry, New York to Brooklyn   

“DOUBLE TROUBLE”, 1820, Steven’s catamaran yacht

“WILLIAM CUTTING”, 1827, New York to Brooklyn

Floating Church for the port of New York, 1844

“NIGHTMARE”, 1881, Fearon racing catamaran

“DuPLEX”, 1882, Fearon racing catamaran

“PARADOX”, 1883, Coughtry racing catamaran

“HATTIE”, 1885, Fearon racing catamaran

“CORSAIR”, 1886, Fearon racing catamaran

“HIGHLAND BEACH”, 1894, New Jersey steam catamaran

“AMARYLLIS II”, 1933, Herreshoff racing catamaran

Whitney’s triple pontoon racing catamaran, 1935

June 11, 1964 

The Vertical Beam Engine

The vertical beam engine was undoubtedly the most efficient form of power ever developed for turning large paddlewheels at low speed. It was the heart of the steamboat and required over 500 square feet of deck space, extending from keel to hurricane deck. No more sprawling type of engine could have been invented but this primitive assembly ancestor of modern engines was economical on both steam and maintenance.

With very few changes it was in almost universal use for well over one hundred years. From a performance study of the various types of propulsion used on early steamboats it was determined that the initial cost of installing the walking beam engine was less than the cost of installing any other type, and that it consumed less fuel than other engine until the modern diesel electric appeared.

There are many older folks, like myself, who remember as a youth gazing fascinated through the large windows or through the open doors of the warm and pungent smelling engine room. Gazing and fascinated too, at the slowly moving masses of steel which transmitted the power of the lone single cylinder to the massive crank and paddlewheels.

It was unusual, although turning the heavy paddlewheels at only 17 to 20 revolutions a minute, for the boats to attain a cruising speed of 15 to 18 miles an hour and many of the boats, such as the ST. JOHN, CHAUNCEY VIBBARD, FRANCIS SKIDDY, ALIDA and the MARY POWELL to cruise at 18 to 20 miles an hour. The MARY POWELL on several occasions clocked 25 miles an hour on short runs.

Consider these figures, and this speed can be more readily understood: The average diameter of the paddlewheels on NEW York – Albany was 30 feet. Each wheel had 26 or 28 buckets or “paddles”. These measured 8 feet 6 inches across and generally 30 inches in depth. Turning at only 17 revolutions a minute means that 52 paddles, each having a surface of at least 20 square feet, struck the water at every revolution  - in every minute 800 and in every hour more than 50,000! Is it any wonder that the above speeds were common?

And massiveness? The walking beam alone would average 25 to 30 tons in weight – that of the PLYMOUTH, built in 1889 weighed 46 tons and the paddlewheels each weighed 100 tons. To produce this power many of these engines had steam cylinders from 60 inches to 70 inches in diameter and the average stroke was from 12 to 14 feet. One, built in 1854, had a cylinder 105 inches in diameter (nearly 15 feet) with a piston stroke of 14 feet. The immense casting was so large that when completed the builders had a banquet and dined 22 persons in it.

Operating on from only 50 to 60 pounds pressure, these engines would last almost indefinitely and it was not at all unusual for one to outlast several hulls.

(Continued next week)

June 18, 1964

The Vertical Bean Engine

These engines were simplicity itself as the following description will show. Main component parts were the cylinder, walking beam, crank, value gear, jet condenser and air pump. The walking beam was mounted in trundles atop the “A” frame or gallows. This was built of huge timbers extending up from the engine bed. This beam actuated the wheel crank and the air pump. The link rods and piston attached to the other end of the beam received power from the steam cylinder. An eccentric at each side of the crank connected with a rocker shaft in front of the cylinder, and by means of steel “hooks” were dropped to engage “toe” cranks. Four comma-shaped steel “wipers” were attached to the rocker shafts, and as they swung up and down they lifted the “toes” on the valve rods, which in turn operated the four poppet valves – top intake, top exhaust, bottom intake, bottom exhaust – when the wheels were in motion and turning fast enough to do the job. The greatest danger in operating these engines was whenever the crank would stop on dead-center. This is easily understood when one considers the one lone cylinder and no offset cranks. This is one reason why it required considerable skill and experience to operate one of these engines. If the engine stuck of center – and this was not infrequent – and if the vessel had not already rammed a pier and sank, it was necessary to break out the heavy wooden bar kept for that purpose, climb into the paddle box through an emergency door, and pry the wheel over past center by brute man power. This was not as simple or safe as it sounds for, if due to a leaking valve, there was still steam in the cylinder. The second the crank passed center, the wheel takes charge. Perhaps only a quarter turn, but that would be plenty for if the bar was not removed in time, there was a good chance that both the men and the bar would be hauled inside the paddlebox and broken legs would often be the result.

In the engine room on the operating platform were four valve stems for the single cylinder; two for the exhaust and two for the live steam. These stems were operated by cams driven by the eccentrics or by hand as required. Automatic valve motion was forward only, having to be hand-operated while backing. Starting, stopping and reversing required engine room calisthenics unknown today. The engine had to be “valved” by hand. Then the hooks were raised from their cranks and the rocker shaft hangs free. The engineer, by means of a “Johnston Bar” as long as himself, turns a shaft at floor plate level which opens simultaneously as intake valve and the opposite exhaust valve. There is a subdued roar of steam, and the piston moves. He watches carefully, and when he sees that it has reached the end of its stroke – the idling hooks are his best clue to this – he throws the bar in the opposite direction and thus reverses the pressure from one side of the piston to the other. Up bar! Far overhead one end of the walking beam rises to its limit. Down bar! And back it comes. In starting this goes on until the momentum of the wheels is sufficient – at half speed or better. Then the hooks are dropped onto the cranks, a movement which must be nicely timed, and the eccentrics relieve the engineer of his work.

This description of these old engines, together with the pictures, should give the reader an idea as to how ponderous they were and the skill required for their operation. Some of you will merely “browse” through this short article, not being too interested in what made the steamboats “tick”, but no true lover of the old sidewheelers will find anything herein except a recounting of things that were once simply taken for granted and, now gone, are but wonderful memories to recall.

August 6, 1964

The Clermont: 1807-1808

Statistics: The CLERMONT. Charles Brown, builder, New York. Constructed under the supervision of Robert Fulton. The first commercially successful steamboat. Most authorities agree that her original length was 133’ on keel and 140’ on deck; beam 14’ at chines; 16’ on deck; depth 7’ and draft 28 inches. The bell-crank engine, built in England by Boulton and Watts had a 24 inch cylinder with 49 inch stroke and developed approximately 20 horse power. The copper boiler, weighing 4,400 pounds, was encased in brick masonry. The paddlewheels were 15 feet in diameter, each having eight buckets with a 48 inch face and 24 inch dip.

Any schoolboy can tell you that the first steamboat was the Clermont and that its inventor was Robert Fulton. Unfortunately this legend is not true.

No less than 16 steamboats were built in America prior to the appearance of Fulton’s boat and a number of others in Europe. It is doubtful if the name “CLERMONT” ever appeared on her hull for at the time of her launching she was simply called “THE STEAMBOAT”. Being the only steamboat in existence at that time there was little need for any other name.

Actually there was no part of the CLERMONT that was the invention of Fulton, although patents at a subsequent date were obtained by Fulton for improvements. His success was due to his theoretical knowledge of steam engines and the adaptation of component parts to a practical purpose. In this he was superb and to have accomplished so much at one stroke was the mark of a mechanical genius. The location of the machinery in the hull so that the vessel would float on an even keel was a triumph in itself, as many builders could attest as they experimented with balances and distribution of weights.

Fulton was also the rare individual – an inventor with foresight. Realizing that he had neither the capital nor the ability at promotion to make a success of what he was attempting to accomplish, he allied himself with Robert Livingston, Chancellor of New York State, whose great wealth and enthusiasm were perfect complements for Fulton’s abilities. Livingston had been associated with earlier attempts to build a successful steamboat and, through Legislature powers, he obtained exclusive rights for the navigation of steam vessels on the waters of New York State – thereby creating a monopoly that was to last almost 20 years.

The STEAM BOAT was launched in the spring of 1807 and the next several months were employed in fitting out the vessel and in making various adjustments in the machinery. In August she was in readiness for her in trial trip and left her New York wharf with 51 adventurous passengers aboard, her paddlewheels churning noisily and clouds of smoke and sparks belching from her tall stack. She immediately caused a sensation and one incredulous native, staring in disbelief from the cliffs of the Palisades, fled homeward to recount that he had seen the devil on his way up the river on a sawmill. The vessel’s average speed on this memorable trip was close to five miles an hour.

Upon his return to New York, Fulton wrote his friend Joel Barlow “My steamboat voyage to Albany and back has turned out rather more favorably than I had calculated. The distance from Albany to New York is 150 miles and I ran it in 32 hours and down in 30. I had a light breeze against me the whole way, both going and coming, and the voyage was performed wholly by power of the steam engine. I overtook many sloops and parted with them as if they had been at anchor.” Shortly after this first trip the paddlewheels were covered over and the cabins, small as they were, fitted with berths and the steamboat was placed on regular schedule. The fare to Albany was advertised as $7.00 with rates at intermediate landings at one dollar for every 20 miles. Meals were pegged at 50c and three cents a pound was charged for all baggage above 60 pounds per person.

Sloops and other sailing vessels required from three days to a week to make the trip which the CLERMONT made in 30 hours. The captains of these vessels were not long in recognizing the steamboat as a threat to their economic existence and to rid themselves of this menacing contraption frequently resorted to drastic measures. Fulton’s boats were constantly set upon by the sailing vessels in attempts to ram the steamboats and in particular, the vulnerable paddlewheels. Finally, after many such incidents, the New York Legislature intervened and passed laws imposing severe penalties upon anyone attempting to damage steamboats and thereafter the steamboat was seldom molested.

An interesting incident of the first trip of the CLERMONT is said to have been the announcement of Fulton’s engagement to Harriet Livingston, daughter of Walter Livingston, brother of Robert Livingston, the Chancellor, and on January 7th, 1808 the marriage was performed.

STATISTICS: the North River. The CLERMONT was so extensively rebuilt in 1808 that she was redocumented under the name of North Rover. The vessel’s length was increased to 149’ and her beam to 17’11”. The depth remained at 7’ and other dimensions were little changed, although the hull was considerably strengthened.

Although the CLERMONT’S paddlewheels were covered during her 1st season of operation it was not until the ensuing winter she was entirely rebuilt. Major improvements, other than dimensions, were improvements made to the rudder, including replacing of the tiller with ropes and installing a steering wheel forward. Alterations also included flush decks from stem to stern and the below cabins were enlarged and fitted with 54 berths; a kitchen or galley and bar were installed and all wood work finished attractively. As a contemporary writer stated, “The North River” was fitted in a manner unexcelled for comfort.”

Shortly after the 1808 season began, the original boiler gave trouble and after considerable delay and expense, a new and larger boiler was installed. Other than this delay, the season proved prosperous and was completed without further mishap. Due to Fulton’ s continual adjustments to the machinery, the 32 hours required on her original run to Albany was cut considerably before the 1808 season closed.

August 13, 1964

De Witt Clinton: 1828-1843

During the hectic years of early steamboat navigation when sidewheelers were blossoming on the Hudson River like dandelions in spring, the many vessels participating for fame and glory were, for the most part, constructed by the old rule of thumb method – without were seldom anticipated and quite frequently a satisfactory solution was not reached until several “rebuildings” later. After a number of boiler explosions had made statistics of passengers, the boat-builders deviated from custom and placed the boiler on the guards or sponsors. This innovation first appeared on the steamboat NEW PHILADELPHIA, built by John Stevens in 1826. A New York City daily paper advertisement of August 26th, 1826 referred to the NEW PHILADEPHIA, stating:

“…She has a low pressure engine and her boilers are not on the boat (or in the hull) , but placed over the water, on her guards, which project from her sides, so as to render it almost impossible that any passengers should receive injury from an accident to her boilers…”

In time the fallacy of this theory was proven, as the steamboats had very little free-board and a vessel in a heavy swell, or that listed too sharply, had a tendency to ship water into the firebox with disastrous results.

A sidewheeler of this design was the DeWITT CLINTON, 373 tons, financed by Albany interests and built in 1828 by M. Kenyon who was also the builder of the steamboat VICTORY. The DeWITT CLINTON was the largest boat built in Albany and also had the distinction of having the largest vertical beam engine built up to this time. DeWITT CLINTON’S original measurements were 149 feet in length, 28 foot beam, and 10 feet depth of hold. The engine, built by the West Point Foundry had a 66 inch diameter cylinder with a ten foot stroke. With the boilers on her guards and her two tall smokestacks rising high above her decks, she presented a characteristic silhouette that was easily recognized by all who were familiar with the boats of her era.

The owners named her in honor of DeWitt Clinton, former New York Senator, Mayor of New York City, Lieutenant Governor and finally Governor until his death in 1828 – the year the vessel was launched. Governor Clinton was a key figure in the construction of “Clinton’s Ditch”, as the Erie Canal was nicknamed when opened to transportation in 1825. 

On September 29th, 1828, the DeWITT CLINTON undertook her maiden trip which followed the familiar route from Albany to New York. Under command of Captain Thomas Wiswall the entire trip, including landings, was made in 12 hours and 12 minutes. Although this was her first scheduled trip, several weeks previously, on September 7th she had made an excursion run to Hudson and return, carrying 350 friends and guests of the owners.

Two years later Captain Sherman became master of the CLINTON and on May 10th, 1830 when the CLINTON and the OHIO, commanded by Captain Bartholomew, raced from New York to Albany. The CLINTON won the race. But the crew of the OHIO, keeping to tradition established on the river, never admitted defeat.

A few weeks prior to this race, on the evening of April 2nd, the CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL of the Troy-New York Line, experienced a disastrous boiler explosion while leaving the wharf at Newburgh. The newspapers raised a howl of indignation against unnecessary risks and particularly pointed their editorial fingers at the many races and numerous accidents, injuries and deaths occurring. However, directors of the Hudson River Line, operating the Ohio and the Albany Steamboat Association which owned the CLINTON and the Captains of two steamboats emphatically stated that “there had been no race.” Unfortunately for the owners, an Albany newspaper editor had been a passenger on the CLINTON and testified that there had been a race; that the CLINTON had raced, and that everyone on board knew that the vessels were racing. He also described the eager anxiety of the crew, from the Captain down to the deckhands, as they watched their opponent trailing astern. A passenger on the Ohio also corroborated the editor’s statement, adding:

“Soon after the boats started it was distinctly stated by several of the crew aboard that the trip was a trial of speed; that it was the first opportunity these boats had to determine their relative speed, and much anxiety was manifested. We were not able to overtake the CLINTON but remained about the same distance behind as at the start.”

A correspondent for the Albany paper also wrote:

“The DeWITT CLINTON was pursuing her regular trips. The OHIO having made a trial of her speed several times with the NEW PHILDELPHIA, changed her day of sailing for the purpose of coping with the CLINTON. Monday evening was the first trial, and the commander of the CLINTON felt justified in preventing the OHIO from beating his boat, if possible and, under these circumstances, the trial was had, or if you please, the race was run.”

For the remainder of the season, both Captains exercised caution and no further races were reported.

The only “fast trip” of re(..text missing in original document…) place in April, 1831. On that occasion the CLINTON left Albany at 4:04 pm and arrived at the Barclay Street wharf in New York City at 2:48 am, the following morning. Her trip of ten hours and 44 minutes included five landings. At this time she was owned by the North River Steamboat Company. This company, the principle line on the river, was responsible for the merger of several independent owners, convincing them it would be advantageous for all parties concerned to agree to reasonable rates and avoid unprofitable effects from the frequent price wars.

A Day and Night Line was operated by the North River Steamboat Company, with the NEW PHILADELPHIA running as consort to the day boat NORTH AMERICA and the VICTORY as a consort to the night boat CLINTON.

Racing with boats of the competition were not conducted solely for the purpose of winning the contests. Although these events created the most colorful excitement, a more important feature, from a commercial standpoint was the fact that no specific berths or wharfs were assigned to any particular boat or line; first come, first served, being the order of the day. A sidewheeler that continually ran second soon found itself in bankruptcy. Passengers, many of them undoubtedly forebears of today’s subway commuters, formed the habit of boarding at the landing, the first steamboat going their way.

(Concluded next week)

August 20, 1964

The DeWitt Clinton II

In the winter of 1832-1833 the DeWitt Clinton underwent extensive alterations. After this face-lifting she measured 233 feet in length on deck, although other dimensions remained the same. A new pilot house was installed and the typical hog framing added. The main cabin in her hold was exceptionally spacious, being 175 feet in length.

The North River Steamboat Company, owner of the Clinton, consolidated in 1833 with the Troy and Hudson River Association Line.

Travel by steamboat in the 1830’s was considered a luxury by those who utilized this particular mode of transportation. The side-wheelers were much faster than the sloops and the stagecoaches used up to this time, and as yet the railroads had not put in their appearance. There was no quicker way to carry news up or down the river then by steamboat. And, too, the scenic beauty of the Pallisades and mountains, the valleys and wooded fields and pastoral scenes on the upper part of the river, all contributed to the panorama unfolding in never-ending splendor, mile after mile, along the shores of the Hudson – the “Rhine of America.”

In 1839 Isaac Newton and associates purchased the NORTH AMERICA from Robert L. Stevens and the following year she ran in connection with the CLINTON. Owners of the larger and more palatial boats, principally those on the New York-Albany run, formed an association known as the People’s Line. Among the prominent men who became charter members of this organization were Daniel Drew, Isaac Newton, A.H. Hoffman and William Kemble. Later the Association incorporated.

As mentioned earlier, at this period the steamboat companies did not own their own wharfs and landings, and the first vessels finishing their run obtained the best berths. Which brings us to the most interesting incident in this week’s article. The toughest competition encountered by the CLINTON took place in 1840. In that year a newcomer, the NAPOLEON, commanded by Commodore J. W. Hancox, appeared on the river as a tough and ready antagonist who fought the opposition with their own weapons. To his disadvantage he never had sufficient funds to operate on a grand scale, but fought with the older vessels. He brought the NAPOLEON to the Hudson from the Delaware River and in the spring of 1840 began a chain of events that terminated in the courts.

The first episode occurred when as the two vessels started up river, the CLINTON crowded the NAPOLEON toward the Jersey shore giving her no opportunity to turn upstream. Realizing the danger of collision, Hancox picked up a rifle and shot through the CLINTON’S pilot house, narrowly missing the wheelsman, when the CLINTON gave way.

On the second occasion the CLINTON rammed the NAPOLEON, causing her to list dangerously and frightening the passengers.

The final round in this river bout occurred June 12th when the NAPOLEON slipped into the CLINTON’S berth and the CLINTON was forced to tie up at the foot of Barclay Street, the present site of the Delaware and Lackawanna Ferry Slip. Hancox had been making a practice of slipping into the berths of the bog boats at the foot of Cortland Street and his latest caper brought matters to a head. Word had passed along the piers that the monopoly would even its score with Hancox that evening at 5pm the usual departure for the night boats. So West street held thousands of spectators confident of witnessing marine mayhem of high order!  

The NAPOLEON left Cortland Street pier at 5pm as scheduled, well filled with passengers. The CLINTON delayed its departure from Barclay Street until the NAPOLEON came upstream, laying at her dock, engine working with full stroke and hawsers straining to the breaking point until NAPOLEON steamed broadside to the pier. Suddenly the hawsers were cut with a sharp axe and the CLINTON, under full head of steam, shot out into the stream, as if by a catapult, and crashed into the NAPOLEON, just forward of the starboard paddlewheel. The NAPOLEON careened so far that her port guards were under water. The pilot of the CLINTON backed off and rammed the CLINTON a second time. This was too much for Hancox. He then pulled out a pistol and fired three shots into the pilot house of the CLINTON, causing the pilot to duck momentarily and lose control of the wheel. The CLINTON’S  bow slid off a little, the vessels locked, but were quickly pulled apart and proceeded up the river.

The passengers of the NAPOLEON held a meeting and drew up a resolution, which all signed, to the effect:

“Resolved, that we return our thanks to Almighty God for deliverance through the agency of Captain J.W. Hancox, who by his good management and resort to firearms, caused the wheels of the DEWITT CLINTON to stop and save us from a watery grave.”

Notwithstanding the support of his passengers, Captain Hancox and Captain Roe were indicted for having “wantonly brought their boats into collision,” and brought to trial. They were acquitted of the charge, but the indictment had a discouraging effect on further incidents of this nature.

Hancox was a determined man and many attempts to destroy him as a competitor on the river never quite succeeded and for a third of a century the fearless riverman provided stiff opposition to the regular Hudson River lines.

Not long after her last encounter with the NAPOLEON, the DEWITT CLINTON was taken out of service from the New York – Albany route where she had run for 13 years and during the winter of 1842-1843 her vertical beam engine was removed and installed in a new arrival on the river – the KNICKERBOCKER. Eventually the CLINTON was broken up and her hull used as a barge.

On December 26, 1849, the steamboats owned by the People’s Line Association were sold at an auction held in the Merchant’s Exchange in New York City and were purchased by a Mr. Dean. The shell of the once proud DEWITT CLINTON, then a barge, changed ownership for the pitiful sum of $240, ending the travels of another early American steamboat.

September 3, 1964 

Two Grand Old Freighters:

Trucks, trailers and passenger cars and the accompanying fine highways, spelled the doom to the Catskill Evening Line. During the Line’s last few years of existence passenger traffic had dropped to almost zero and the Company endeavored to remain solvent by concentrating on the freight end of the business.

Therefor, they acquired new freighters, screw driven, the STORM KING and the RESERVE being the last of the line.

STORM KING was built in 1911 at Wilmington, Delaware. A wooden hull vessel she was 180 ft. in length, had a beam of 36 ft., depth of 11 ft. and draft of 4 ft. light. Her power consisted of one compound engine having 17 inch and 34 inch cylinders with 25 inch stroke and one Scotch type boiler. Her power was rated at 500 hp.

Although a modern freighter in all respects, there was not sufficient business to make a profitable showing. Operating but a few years the STORM KING retired from service as the Line finally failed. The vessel was then laid up at her Catskill Point Dock. Later she was removed to Coxsackie and during the ensuing years deteriorated and finally in 1935 she sank at the dock. A year later the old STORM KING was raised and dismantled. For many years the pilot house of this old freighter could still be seen on the grounds of William E. Brady, Mansion Street, Coxsackie. At present it is resting on the grounds of a home in West Athens. The bones of the old vessel can still be seen lying on a mud bottom just north of the Coxsackie Marina.

The RESERVE:  built At Brooklyn in 1865, the RESERVE was a wooden hull vessel, 149 ft. in length having a beam of 25 ft. 6 inches and a draft of 6 ft. 6 inches. Her power was a single cylinder engine having a 32 inch cylinder with 25 inch stroke, rated at 333 hp. She had one leg type boiler.

Originally built as the TRANSIT for the Montauk Steam Navigation Company the vessel operated in Long Island Sound waters until 1869 when purchased by the Old Bay Line for $32,694 when she ran on Chesapeak Bay for many years.

In the year 1883 TRANSIT returned north, having been acquired by the New Haven Line and was renamed the JOHN LENNOX in that year. In 1913 the JOHN LENNOX WAS PURCHASED BY THE Catskill Evening Line and on July 14, 1913, renamed RESERVE. She then ran on the Catskill – New York run for the remainder of her career, having as consorts the STORM KING and the CATSKILL. A characteristic of these three boats was their dark green hulls and superstructure, for evidently the Company did not believe in the extravagance of white hulls.

As passenger traffic dwindled the Line struggled along with these three freighters. . But, as business continued to wane the Company finally terminated its services, after more than half a century. The RESERVE was then laid up at Catskill Point The Catskill Paper of April 16th, 1937, states “Fire was discovered on the old steamer RESERVE of the Catskill Evening Line at the Point, Sunday. The entire engine room was ablaze and burned through the lower deck.” After the fire the RESERVE sank at the dock, and was later raised and dismantled.

September 10, 1964

Chancellor Livingston: 1816-1834 

The CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON – historic steamboat of the Hudson River, Long Island Sound and the Atlantic seacoast from 1816-1834 – established many first in nautical annals. This included a mark for the records on December 5th, 1817, when she made the 148 mile trip from New York to Albany in the amazing time of 18 hours. This was the fastest passage made up to that time.

This steamboat was designed by Robert Fulton and christened for Chancellor Livingston of New York, a friend and patron of Fulton’s who became American ambassador to France. Her 154 foot keel was laid at New York City by shipbuilder Henry Eckford, for the North River Steamboat Company, at a total cost of $120,000. This included her elaborate fittings. She was launched in 1816 as the fastest, largest and most luxurious steamboat of her day.

During the following 18 years, the CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON commanded respect and admiration wherever she appeared, whether it was during the receiving or discharging of passengers, or as a worthy competitor in one of the many hazardous races that were taking place for any or no reason at all up and down the country’s waterways.

The CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON was sturdily built with timbers of oak, locust and cedar, and her joiner work was executed by David Cook of New York City. She displayed a functional design far advanced for her time, not only in the economical use of all deck space, but also in the dining room occupying the entire stern. There were upper and lower berths, built along either side, with curtains – an arrangement later adopted by the railroads. With berths for the crew, the vessel provided sleeping accommodations for 135 persons. Her main cabin or saloon, elegantly furnished, was 54 feet long.

The CHANCELLOR’S maiden voyage, from New York to Albany, took place in the spring of 1816 under command of Captain Cochran. In this early period of steamboating, engines did not inspire the confidence of men born to sail. Consequently the CHANCELLOR carried a bow sprit, three masts with yards and topsails on her foremast. Later the mainmast and sails were discarded.

This was the last steamboat designed by Fulton, and although she was not completed until after his death, the CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON is generally considered to be the “crowning achievement of his life”. As originally built, she was 496 tons, larger than any predessor (sic) by 125 tons. She measured 165 feet on deck with a 32’6” beam. Her hold was 10’6” deep, and her draft 7’3”. The 75 horsepower engine was of the bell-crank type having a cylinder 40” in diameter and a piston stroke of 5 feet. The copper boiler, with two funnels (later changed to one) was 28 feet long with 12’ front and weighed 44,000 pounds.

In his quest for added heating surface, Fulton had called for a cylindrical flue, with two smaller flues. Two 14’ flywheels were connected by pinions and crankwheels, and the cumbersome machinery rose four feet above the main deck. Large paddlewheels, 17’in diameter with paddles or buckets 5’10” wide, gave the vessel a normal speed of 8½  miles an hour.

Under normal conditions, between 25 and 30 pounds steam pressure was considered reasonable; fuel consumption was approximately 1½ cords an hour. The wood occupied considerable valuable space on her upper deck during the early part of the run. Toward the end of her career, the CHANCELLOR burned coal; she was the only vessel designed by Fulton to attain this goal.  The machinery and boiler were built by James Allaire, a brass founder, who succeeded to Robert Fulton’s engine works after his death.

The CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON was already famous for her excellent cuisine in 1821, while in the service of the North River Steamboat Company, when her owners instituted another precedent; they employed a band to provide music for the entertainment of the passengers.

The CHANCELLOR, “pride of the Fulton fleet”, took part in the grand celebration marking the opening of the Erie Canal and figured prominently in many important events on the river in that period. At 10 am October 26, 1825, the opening of the Canal was announced by the booming of cannons placed at intervals along the 450 miles of the combined canal and Hudson River. The procession led by Governor DeWitt Clinton aboard the canaler SENECA CHIEF, was met at Albany by the CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON; she took it in tow and proceeded down the river to New York City, where, at 5 am on November 5, 1825, the largest fleet of steamboats in history gave the convoy a rousing welcome.

As church bells rang and cannons boomed, the gaily decorated flotilla steamed around the Battery and up the East River to the Brooklyn Navy yard. From there the vessels sailed to Sandy Hook, where the outstanding feature of the celebration took place. As the boats circled, Governor Clinton, now aboard the schooner DOLPHIN, poured a keg of fresh water from Lake Erie into the salt water of the Atlantic, and the marriage of the Great Lakes and the Ocean was announced. As a symbol of progress in the civilized world, Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell, poured into the ocean, waters collected by him from the Thames, Seine, Danube, Amazon, LaPlata, Orinoco, Ganges, Gamba, Nile, Mississippi, and Columbia Rivers.

September 17, 1964


On the occasion of General Gilbert de Lafayette’s visit to the United States in 1825, it was the CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON that met his packet. She carried the city’s magistrates, some of the old General’s comrade-in-arms, and a band playing the French “Marseillaise.”

The CHANCELLOR remained in regular service on the Hudson until the fall of 1827. At that time she was removed from the Albany route, completely rebuilt, a new square or crosshead type engine, also built by James Allaire, was installed for the rougher waters of Long Island Sound. This engine had a rating of 120 horsepower, a cylinder 56” in diameter and a stroke of six feet. The original boiler was replaced by three smaller boilers and three stacks were placed athwartship.

She was then placed on the New York – Providence run in 1828 under command of Captain Charles Coggleshell, and made three round trips weekly during the next five years. On Oct. 28th 1828, she held an abortive match race with the BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, commanded by E.S. Bunker. (The FRANKLIN, FULTON, WASHINGTON and CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON made up the fleet of the New York & Boston Steamboat Company.)

Although rated as the fastest steamboat of its time, the CHANCELLOR was unprepared for the race and at the finish was three miles astern of the FRANKLIN. On behalf of the CHANCELLOR it was claimed that a cracked piston prevented the use of a full head of steam. In an editorial the providence Journal said:

“By 11 o’clock the dense columns of smoke that blackened the heavens gave note of dreadful preparation. All was life and animation. The passengers and even the spectators partook of the feelings of the owners and commanders of the two sidewheelers, and in fact the boats themselves seemed alive for the occasion. Before the clock struck twelve, the FRANKLIN parted her fasts, apparently impatient for the encounter. She moved slowly downstream and came to Fox Point wharf, waiting the departure of the CHANCELLOR. At the usual hour, the latter left her wharf. The FRANKLIN at the same time set her wheels in motion, but being too far to the westward, she unfortunately grounded, and the CHANCELLOR passed her. In about six minutes the FRANKLIN was again in motion and proceeded rapidly on her voyage…”

The Providence Journal added, “With regards to the two boats, we entertain but one opinion. They are both first rate steamboats, and with the WASHINGTON, there are not three better ships in the country.”

Captain Coggleshell appears to have told the truth about the CHANCELLOR’S piston being cracked, as a few weeks later it broke, smashing the cylinder and other portions of the machinery so that she was obligated to use her sails in order to get to Newport.

Among the controversial precedents established by the owners of the Chancellor Livingston Steam Packet Company was a resolution adopted in 1829 at a meeting of the directors which prohibited the steward from placing decanters of brandy and spirits on the tables of the dining room. This action created considerable debate and was met with resistance by passengers. The decanters of liquor served with the superb meals prepared by a chef catering to a gourmet’s palate were traditional. To banish them would invite a strike. The indignation was so strong that a letter from one of the director’s soon found its way into print. The letter said that the directors”…were not influenced by petty motives of economy or gain, but hoped to do a little to aid the cause of reform.” The letter concluded, “ The tables are now supplied with good red wines with pleasant flavor as well as of good tendency in its effect on those who might be affected by the motion of the boat. In addition to all of this, whenever any person chose to order brandy or spirits, from the belief of their necessity, it will be immediately and cheerfully supplied from the bar, and the gentleman will hear no more about it unless he pleases.”

In 1831, the CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON ran as an opposition boat when the FRANKLIN and PRESIDENT were operated as the New York & Boston Steamboat Company. In May of that year of that year, in the vicinity of Milford, Connecticut, the CHANCELLOR ran down and sand the WASHINGTON. Captain Comstock was in command, and a green pilot was at the wheel of the former; Captain Tomlinson commanded the WASHINGTON.

This was the first serious accident to Providence steamers. The WASHINGTON was struck with such force just forward of the wheelhouse that her whole bow was stove in to the waters edge. Although the vessel sank within 15 minutes and was a total loss, quick action on the part of the CHANCELLOR’S skippers permitted all passengers and crew to be transferred to his vessel with only one casualty. Both Captains were complimented for their behavior on this occasion.

GCN II OLD TIMERS ADD – Cornelius Vanderbilt and Amos H. Cross became owners of the CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON in 1832. After the steamboat again underwent major alterations, she was placed on the Boston Providence run under command of Captain Lemuel Weeks. It appears that the CHANCELLOR and another old timer, the CONNECTICUT, were pioneers of the Boston & Portland Steamboat Line.

In 1834 the steamboat was acquire by the Porters. She met an ignominious end in the fall of that year when she struck a rock in Boston Harbor and was abandoned to the underwriters. Sections of her wooden hull and all that could be salvaged from all that could be salvaged from her superstructure were used by enterprising New Englanders to build several beach houses nearby.

The finale of the saga of the CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON – “pride of the Hudson”, fastest steamboat afloat” and displaying the most elegant décor of her day – was the removal in 1835 of her engine from its watery grave. It was installed to a new vessel, the PORTLAND, which formed the nucleus of a new Boston to Portland line, the Cumberland Navigation Company. The accompanying pictures of the model portrays the vessel as she appeared after the first rebuilding, the most popular period of her career. The scale is one quarter inch to the foot, the model being 43 inches in length.

September 26, 1964


In naming this steamboat the ROBERT L. STEVENS, a fitting tribute was given to the man who, more than any other, improved the art of steamboat construction and increased the reliability and the power of marine engines.

This sidewheeler was built at Rondout, (now Kingston), New York, in the winter of 1834-35 for the North River Steamboat Line. The vessel was of 298 gross tons, the overall length 175 feet, beam 24 feet and depth of hold 8 feet. The West Point Foundry Company built the engine, vertical beam type, which had a cylinder 36 inches in diamter, later increased to 42 inches, and a piston stroke of 10 feet. There were two boilers placed on the guards. The paddlewheels were 22 feet in diameter with buckets 11 feet in width.

In general appearance the STEVENS had a spoon bow and was much like other steamboats of her decade. On the large after deck was a comfortably furnished saloon; the dining room and sleeping cabins were below deck; and large square ports admitted light and ventilation into the hull. Although hogframing was not conspicuous, the vessel had three pairs of heavy guard posts with tie-rods athwartship stiffening the hull and supplementing the knees and struts in supporting the sponsons.

After several trial runs the STEVENS made her first scheduled trip up the Hudson on May 25, 1835, being assigned to the New York – Albany run. As consort she had the NOVELTY, both vessels running in opposition to the ROCHESTER and UTICA of the People’s Line. Upon her first appearance in Albany a local paper stated: “The ROBERT L. STEVENS is the perfection of a steamboat of the type for speed and we do not doubt that given a fair trial, she will be found equal to any steamboat on the river.” This prophecy was accurate for the vessel soon won the reputation as one of the fastest boats on the river. The STEVENS remained on the Albany run for about seven years or until September, 1843.

In this year the Erie Railroad acquired her services and she was placed on the “shuttle” run between the Erie’s New York terminal at the foot of Duane Street, to Piermont, 25 miles up river. Here the Erie had built a long pier, with track upon it, extending out into the Hudson, so that passengers and freight from the west, could quickly be transferred to steamboats and barges. The STEVENS remained on this run, carrying passengers and towing barges until 1846, when she was returned to the New York – Albany run as a night boat, running in line with the EXPRESS of the Schuyler Line.

Both vessels were running in opposition to the Associated Lines and competition became so sharp that fares were dropped to 12½ cents for the 150 mile trip. This was not as economically ruinous as it sounds for, once aboard, hungry and tired passengers found that the prices for meals and berths had doubled or even tripled. It was not long, however, before fares were again increased to a reasonable figure. The records show that the STEVENS remained on this route for seven years.

Early in 1852, Captain Absalom Anderson (later of MARY POWELL fame) invested in the STEVENS, after selling his interest in the Anderson, Romer & Company’s Freight and Passenger Line, and acquired the passenger and freighting establishment at Saugerties. The STEVENS was then placed on the Saugerties – New York run, making stops for passengers at Rondout – up until that time there had been no Sunday night boat running from Rondout to New York.

Several years later, in 1856, the THOMAS POWELL was added to the Line. It was soon realized that the POWELL was too large a boat in proportion to the amount of business and the following year the vessel was installed on the Poughkeepsie – New York run.

The ROBERT L. STEVENS continued to run until 1861. In that year she was deemed unseaworthy and dismantled – with a history of 27 years of continuous service. In 1857 the CHARLOTTE VANDERBILT, a 207 foot sidewheeler, was built by Benjamin Tarry at Keyport, New Jersey. An experimental engine installed in this vessel proved a failure. Four years later the vertical beam engine from the ROBERT L. STEVENS was installed in this hull. The boat’s name was then changed to WILLIAM F. RUSSEL, and then continued service on the same route – Saugerties to New York – for 21 years, before being dismantled in 1882. The sturdiness of these old beam engines was unbelievable – 48 years of continuous service in this case with no record of breakdown!

In conclusion a short sketch of the man ROBERT L. STEVENS may be of interest. Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1787 he was the second son of Colonel John Stevens, an inventor in his own right. Through the genius of Robert L. Stevens steamboat construction was greatly advanced, quickening the development of this country by the use of vastly improved steamboats of advanced design.

October 1, 1964

FRANCIS SKIDDY: 1852 – 1864

Following her construction in the years 1848-1849, this palatial sidewheeler was launched under the name of “GENERAL TAYLOR” and was designed for a rotary type engine, having a cylinder of thirty (yes 30) feet in diameter and a length of 12 feet with a shaft running through the center. After three of these enormous cylinders had broken, the project was abandoned and a conventional type vertical beam engine installed. She was then renamed “FRANCIS SKIDDY”. Her first appearance in 1852, on the New York-Albany run caused considerable comment and she was conceded the most gracefully proportioned vessel ever built. When unhampered by shallow water there us no doubt she could eclipse in speed any vessel that was in her class; the record of fast time, prior to the Civil War will always be set down to this boat.

George B. Collyer, her designer and builder, had embodied a number of innovations. Instead of placing the dining room in the hold aft, as was usual with boats of that period, the dining rook was aft on the main deck. An expensive promenade on the saloon deck extended the entire length of the deck, running between the sets of boilers. Colorfull awnings, supported by framework, gave shade to the after end of this deck. Cabins were spacious and sumptuously furnished in all the “elegance” for which palace steamers of that day were noted. To sum up, the “SKIDDY” was the most modern vessel that had yet sailed the waters of the Hudson and was considered the acme of steamboat architecture,

Leaving the foot of Chambers Street, New York, on June 30th, in 1852, the “SKIDDY” made the run to Hudson in 5 hours and 3 minutes, allowing 20 minutes for the five landings she made. Her average speed was 23.04 miles per hour, establishing a record that stood until after the Civil War. During her initial season on the Hudson she and the “ALIDA” maintained a lively opposition on the New York-Albany run. Leaving the terminal on the same day, it was almost a daily occurrence for the two vessels to arrive simultaneously at some of the landings fiercely contesting the initial position amid flying splinters! For a period in 1853 the “FRANCIS SKIDDY” did what no other vessel had been called upon to attempt, make a round trip every 24 hours between New York and Albany which is 150 miles each way. Early in 1854 she was chartered to the Erie Railroad and ran on the New York - Piermont shuttle for a few months, having the “ERIE” ex-“IRON WITCH” as consort.

The following year, 1855, the “FRANCIS SKIDDY” was rebuilt into a night boat, having three decks with cabins and staterooms on the second and third decks. As before, the vessel was strikingly furnished and lavish in her appointments. The main cabin was 300 feet in length and capable of seating 500 persons. There were 50 staterooms in the ladies cabin alone and also the customary rooms for families in addition to regular single and double staterooms all richly furnished and finished in mahogany and other fancy woods. However, all this was to add considerably to the vessel’s drafts as well as slowing her speed. It was also found that the increased draft was so great that she could not make her scheduled runs to Troy, above Albany, due to shallow water. It was therefore decided to build an additional hull around the original, framed the same as the original, leaving a distance of six feet between the old and new hulls amidships. Although this decreased her draft by two feet and made it possible for her to operate to Troy, her speed was cut down and her once graceful lines were destroyed. The cost of this second hull was $120,000.

In her prime, the “SKIDDY” symbolized the ultimate in luxurious travel and Henry Tucker, the famous composer of those years, composed a polka for the famous old four piper, dedicated to her then Captain, Thomas A. Knight. The “Francis Skiddy Polka” remained popular for well over a decade. In those days people didn’t just go to Albany – they “took the SKIDDY.” Other commanders of this prominent sidewheeler were Captains W.H. Frazee, W.H. Christopher, and Levi Smith.

Other than her final disaster the “SKIDDY” was a “lucky” vessel. Her only accident occurred November 28th, 1861. On this date when passing Blue Point, two miles below Poughkeepsie, she encountered the schooner “W.W. Reynolds.” The schooner had failed to hang out her lights and before the pilot of the “SKIDDY” realized his closeness to the sailing vessel her bowsprit entered the galley window and penetrated the boiler of the “SKIDDY” causing an explosion. Three firemen were killed and four passengers fatally scalded. The damage was repaired and the steamboat subsequently resumed her schedule.

In the final stages of her career the “FRANCIS SKIDDY” was owned by the New Jersey Steam Navigation Company. On November 25th, 1864, two months after her sale, she ran afoul of a rock while attempting to pass a tow. The accident occurred four miles below Albany near Staat’s Landing and tore a hole 16 feet long and three planks wide in her outer hull. She began to fill at once, careening to one side from the weight of water. She was immediately beached, the crew and passengers safely removed, and later the wreck was stripped of her more valuable fittings. The greater part of her main engine and auxiliaries were installed in the new steamboat, “DEAN RICHMOND”.

October 15, 1964


From steamboat to blockade in twenty years is the story of the CURTIS PECK, a Hudson River sidewheeler that could not carry an impressive quantity of cargo, but was highly maneuverable and quite capable of holding her own with the best on the river.

During her tenure as a commercial steamboat, the CURTIS PECK proved an extremely profitable investment for her owners.

In outside appearance she had an exceptionally large tall stack amidships, a steeple engine with a prominent gallows or “A” frame and an unusual box shaped pilot house. Over the main deck forward and the saloon deck aft, large canvas awnings protected the passengers from the elements. The ship’s bell was framed by an ornamental wrought-iron support situated atop the steeple.

This sidewheeler was the property of Elijah Peck, a resident of Flushing, New York and up on her launching in 1842, she was placed on the New York to Albany run as an opposition boat against the People’s Line. Fares for the trip were originally pegged at $1.00 per person one way. This was immediately countered with a price war by officials of the People’s Line whose going rate was advertised at $1.50. On alternate nights when the CURTIS PECK was in the same vicinity as boats of the People’s Line, fares on these boats dropped to $1.00 in competition to the PECK. On the other nights, however, when the PECK was at the other end of the line, prices of the People’s boats were raised again to the original fare of $1.50. Thos fight for business by the respective officials lasted only a few weeks.

Having no outstanding claims to glory up to this period, as so many other Hudson River steamboats had, the passenger fares aboard the PECK were gradually reduced until the rate reached the low of twenty-five cents.

The steamboat EMPIRE OF TROY, a vessel of 936 tons came on the river scene in 1843. She had been built by the Troy-New York Line and was preceded by the usual claim that she would prove the fastest vessel that ever plied the waters of the Hudson. On May 17th of that year, the EMPIRE OF TROY embarked upon her maiden voyage and was scheduled to leave the pier at New York. The CURTIS PECK at that time was also a new and fast boat and her owners made arrangements for her departure time to coincide with that of the EMPIRE, planning to instigate a race in order to prove or disprove the claim of the new “wonder”. The people of Albany were curious to discover what sort of showing the PECK would make and on the other hand the Trojans nonchalantly expressed themselves as being merely interested in knowing how far in the rear their new favorite would leave the PECK. The wharves and piers at Albany that afternoon were thronged with people awaiting the appearance of the racers. The pride of the Trojans suffered a severe jolt when it was found that the CURTIS PECK was leading all the way. The PECK docked at the Albany wharf at 4:50pm and the EMPIRE OF TROY trailed in 25 minutes later. This difference in time was identical with that of their departure time from New York.

The people of Albany displayed a smug complacency as a result of this race. They had feared that if the new EMPIRE was as fast as her owners claimed, she would dim the luster of Albany’s favorite, the SOUTH AMERICA.

After beating the EMPIRE OF TROY, the CURTIS PECK tackled the day boat TROY on June 13th, 1843. It was a close race from start to finish, and when the contending vessels reached Albany, they were nearly abreast of each other. It was reported to have been practically a “dead heat”. On this occasion the time, including five landings, was eight hours and 45 minutes.

The PECK on April 17th, made the same trip in eight hours and 23 minutes including eight landings and this was considered a “fast run”.

Development of appropriate docks and wharfs up the length of the Hudson had not kept pace with steamboat construction. Also, due to the many races taking place at every opportunity, captains were reluctant to pull up to the pier and discharge passengers as this maneuver would result in lost time. The combination of these two factors brought about unique methods of placing passengers ashore. One, in particular, was used extensively. When the vessel approached a landing where several passengers were to be discharged, a small boat would be lowered alongside with a long tow rope and the passengers would board the dinghy. The sidewheeler would then sheer toward the landing. As the steamboat reached its closest point opposite the landing, the passengers disembarked by literally jumping to dry land. In event their agility was limited, or their timing off, an impromptu bath was inevitable. This method of landing passengers “on the fly” was discontinued by all after several fatalities occurred.

The CURTIS PECK ran as opposition boat until the end of June 1843 when she was taken from the Albany route, eliminating this opposition, at least, from the PEOPLE’S and other Lines.

The PECK then completed the season on the Providence run and in the following spring of 1844 left northern waters, having been sold to James River interests and made her journey southward. 

The James River gave the long narrow boat an opportunity to try her wings. Powered by a steeple engine the PECK established several records, notably a run of seven hours and 15 minutes for the 125 miles from Richmond to Norfolk, Virginia. The distance between City Point and Richmond was covered in two hours and 25 minutes. For five years she ran opposition to the AUGUSTA. It was said that she could “scoot” around the bends better than any other steamboat of any size that had operated on the James River.

In 1861 the War between the States exploded with devastating results. The Confederate Government, in need of an adequate navy to break the Federal blockade at its ports, conscribed all boats of every description that were sailing in southern waters at that time. The CURTIS PECK was included in this drag net. Armor plate was bolted to her sides for protection of her paddlewheels and vulnerable machinery. She was prominently in evidence on March 8th, 1862 when the VIRGINIA (MERRIMAC) partially destroyed the Union Fleet at Newport News, Virginia.

For added protection, the crew of the PECK placed sand bags around the exposed pilot house to protect the wheelsman. This latter move was one of extreme importance. Small detachments of Federal troops would infiltrate he thinly spread Confederate lines patrolling the shores of the James River and sharpshooters would deliberately attempt to pick off the pilots. With no experienced hand at her wheel and bullets flying uncomfortably close, the vessel would steam aimlessly and invariably run around, giving the Federal soldiers an opportunity to board the boat, capture her crew and burn or otherwise destroy her.

The Confederates had converted a 40 wooden frigate named the MERRIMAC into an ironclad and renamed her the VIRGINIA. She entered Hampton Roads with five other vessels and gave battle to the Federal fleet of five ships, disabled the CONGRESS and rammed and sank the CUMBERLAND.

On the following day the CURTIS PECK served as tinder to the historic VIRGINIA as the famous gunboat engaged in the first naval battle of ironclad ships. The VIRGINIA encountered the MONITOR, an iron turret vessel designed by Ericsson, and commanded by Captain Worden, at 8:30am. The long memorable battle ended in a draw but the results clearly proved the advantage of armor over wood and the turret method of housing guns.

The CURTIS PECK, JAMESTOWN, NORTHAMPTON and YORKTOWN (known at that time as the PATRICK HENRY) were some of the better known sidewheelers pressed into service by the Confederate Navy. The YORKTOWN was blown up during the evacuation of the Confederate capitol at Richmond by Naval officers. At that time she lay a few miles below the besieged city.

In August, 1862, the usefulness of the CURTIS PECK as a steamboat came to an end. She, along with the JAMESTOWN and NORTHAMPTON, was sunk in the James River at obstructions previously placed by the Confederate forces near Fort Darling, seven miles below Richmond. This was done in an attempt to prevent Union vessels from moving within gunshot of Richmond.

The CURTIS PECK had never been involved in any of the steamboat accidents and tragedies that so often occurred to Hudson River sidewheelers, and it is ironical that she was deliberately wrecked and her career so ignominiously terminated. As far as can be determined, her wreckage still lies imbedded in the mud and silt of the river bottom.

STATISTICS: Built at New York. Wood hull. 446 tons. Length 202 feet; beam 25 feet; depth of hull 9 feet; steeple type engine having a 42 inch cylinder with 11 foot stroke.  

November 5, 1964

The MARY POWELL: 1861-1920

(Editor’s Note: This week Mr. Ryder completed a beautiful scale model of the MARY POWELL) which is now on display at the Athens Branch, National Commercial Bank and Trust Co.)

This is the third of seven models which the bank commissioned him to build. Already completed and on display in addition to the MARY POWELL are the SWALLOW and the GEORGE POWER. Yet to be built are the BELLE HORTON (the small sidewheeler built at the Van Loan and Magee yard at Athens), the old towboat NORWICH and an ice barge being towed and lastly, the CLERMONT of 1807.

Five of Mr. Ryder’s models are on exhibit on the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, five by Hudson River Museum, Washington’s headquarters in Newburgh, one on the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, one in the State House, Boston and probably 15 or so in private collections.

Next week Mr. Ryder will describe some of the intricacies of model building.)

The Mary Powell, the steamboat and the model with a few notes on building scale models, by F. Van Loan Ryder

The history of the QUEEN OF THE HUDSON us so well known that I feel a brief sketch will be sufficient.

In 1861 amid thickly gathering clouds, Captain Absolon Anderson had the MARY POWELL built by Michael A. Anderson at Jersey City. Some years ago while Frank Kirby of the Navy Department was testing models in the tank at Washington he showed Admiral Taylor, who was in charge of the tank, lines of the MARY POWELL. The Admiral then had a model of her hull made and tested, and he reported that the lines were perfect for her type of vessel. She was undoubtedly the most beautiful modeled and proportioned steamboat of her class ever built. The original length was 267 feet but in the following year she was lengthened and the dimensions, as given in Marine Engineering, August 1904, were: Length on water line 289 feet, 9 inches; molded beam 24 feet, four inches; width over guards 64 feet; depth of hold 9 feet, two inches and draft 6 feet. Contrary to popular belief only one lengthening was made, although other alterations occurred in 1869, 1880, 1887, 1894, 1904. Her vertical beam engine was built by Fletcher & Harrison. It had a 62 inch cylinder with a 12 foot stroke; later the cylinder was increased to 72 inches. This engine developed 1,745 horsepower, consumed 5,900 pounds of anthracite coal an hour and weighed 210 tons with its auxiliaries. The boilers were 33 feet long and had 9 foot six inch shells with 11 foot fronts. She was the last of the surviving river boats to have boilers on her guards. Paddlewheels were 31 feet in diameter, each having 26 fixed buckets, and turned 21 revolutions a minute.

The MARY POWELL was named for Mary Ludlow Powell of Newburgh, a widow of Thomas Powell, for whom another famous steamboat was named.

Captain Elting Anderson has estimated that during the MARY’S fifty five years of service she made 27,000 trips, traveled 1,154,000 miles and carried an average of 150,000 passengers yearly. Various captains in her long career were Absalon Anderson, Billy Cornell, Fernand Frost, Elting Anderson, Will Van Woert and her last master Captain Warrenton. The MARY was regarded as a fast boat and made a number of exceptionally fast runs. In August 1867, under Captain Frost, she left New York at 3:22pm and arrived at Rondout Creek at 7:48pm making five landings, discharging 800 passengers and taking on others. The distance was 92 miles probably her fastest record was set in 1882 when she covered 25 miles in 61 minutes. At another time in 1893, she ran the distance of 50 miles from New York to West Point in two hours and five minutes.

In 1920 the MARY POWELL was bought by John Fisher, who dismantled her in Rondout Creek. While engaged in this work, he found that many people were interested in acquiring parts of the old boat for sentimental reasons. Atop the gatepost of the J.P. Morgan estate at Highland Falls shine two gilded balls which were once reflected in the waters of the Hudson from the mast tops of the Powell as she sailed majestically between the Hudson’s green hills with a rainbow of spray at her bow and a white wake tumbling astern. The ROBERT FULTON fell heir to the POWELL’S whistle and for many years continued to echo from the Highlands of the Hudson where the MARY POWELL had sailed first to regional fame then national and international. Her steering wheel rests in the Senate House, Kingston.

(cont’d next week)

November 12, 1964

The Mary Powell; How the Model was Built

(Editor’s Note: Last week Mr. Ryder gave a brief history of the Mary Powell. This week he will describe some of the sources used in model building. He is a resident of Coxsackie and has built many ship models, some of which are on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute at Washington, the West Point Museum and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, as well as many in private collections.)

The Mary Powell is one of seven models being built for the Athens Branch of the National Commercial Bank and Trust Company.)

Part II

The model of the MARY POWELL, pictured, is built to the scale of one-eighth inch to the foot, meaning that one-eighth inch on the model equals one foot on the actual vessel. The model portrays the MARY as she appeared in 1888, after the 1887 alterations, when in the prime of her career. The hull is of clear pine, the cabins constructed of one sixteenth cherry; masts, guard posts, hog framing and gallows frame of cherry and West Indian boxwood. All metal work is of brass top and base rails with brass stanchions. Flags are of light-gauge copper.

As any builder of the Hudson River sidewheeler models is aware, there are no “kits” available from any of the model supply houses. Even the fittings, such as cleats, chocks, etc., have to be tailor-made.

Part III

Notes on Model Work

My avocation has, for many years past, been the building of scale models of Hudson River sidewheels. The majority of these old steamboats were constructed almost entirely from empirical design rule of thumb method – and very few scale drawings were required or are in existence today. To reproduce authentic models, therefore, involves a vast amount of research and study.

Before making any preliminary drawings of the steamboat to be modeled, various sources of information must be looked up. The principal dimensions of the majority of these old timers can be obtained. In addition, accurate and helpful information published in early newspapers may often be found, particularly articles describing the boat on her maiden trip. For contemporary pictures, such as old sketches, lithos, paintings or, later, photographs, the museums and historical societies provide excellent sources. Notable among these are the Steamboat Historical Society of America, which has a large photo bank and issues a quarterly journal, “Steamboat Bill,” the Murdock collection in the Mariner’s Museum at Newport News, Va.; the Peabody Museum at Salem, mass. and the New York Historical Society. The serious model builder will find all these museums and societies generous to their help.

There is also the question of period to be decided before plans are drawn. Almost invariably during the life of an early steamboat, either lengthening or other major rebuilding occurred. Generally speaking, it is advisable to model the vessel as she appeared originally.

Many famous steamboats, notably the MARY POWELL, underwent a number of major changes. The FRANCIS SKIDDY, originally built as a dayboat, was altered several years later into a night boat. The ARMENIA was lengthened several years after building, and a second smokestack was added, together with guard posts and hogframing, drastically changing her appearance.

For detail, of course, actual photographs are preferable, but for the older boats prior to photography, the very fine Eldredge collection of Bard Paintings at the mariner’s Museum will prove invaluable.  This collection consists of approximately 200 paintings of Hudson River steamboats, beginning with the littler sidewheeler FANNY of 1825 and ending with the SAUGERTIES of 1882. These paintings, though lacking in some detail, are of great help in scaling the superstructure of a vessel when exact measurements cannot be obtained. This is due to the fact that all are straight broadside views. The entire collection has been photographed and prints can be obtained, for a nominal fee.

November 19, 1964

THOMAS POWELL: 1847-1881

Yes, another old sidewheeler by the name of POWELL. This vessel, built fifteen years before the MARY POWELL was named for Thomas Powell a prominent steamboat man of that period.

Displaying above her pilot house a life sized bust of the man for whom she was named, the vessel appeared on the route between Newburgh and New York City in 1846. It was apparent that no expense had been spared to make the new steamboat the finest afloat, both in furnishings and speed. The THOMAS POWELL quickly became a favorite of the river travelers and was considered to possess more than average speed. On August 16th, 1846, she completed the trip from New York to Newburgh in three hours and six minutes, making five landings on the way.

In the winter of 1849 the Erie Railroad Company purchased the THOMAS POWELL and in April of that year placed her in service between the railroad’s New York City terminal on the west side of the river at Piermont.  She remained on this route until 1851, when she operated for a short while on the New York to Poughkeepsie run. The steamboat was again sold and installed on the Delaware River, running between Philadelphia and Cape May in line with the GENERAL MCDONALD. She remained on this route for several seasons beginning in 1852 and ending in 1855.

The following year the THOMAS POWELL was acquired by Captain Absalon L. Anderson (later owner of the MARY POWELL) for service between New York City and several points up the river, particularly Saugerties. The run was found to be too expensive to be practical for that period and the POWELL was returned to service between Poughkeepsie and the metropolis. In 1858 Rondout became the terminal of the line and it was this season that marked its emergence into the river’s most famous, holding the position until 1917.

A new vessel to take to take the place of the veteran THOMAS POWELL was planned and in 1861 the celebrated MARY POWELL, later famed as the fastest steamboat in the world, appeared and began service between New York City and Rondout. The THOMAS POWELL then passed into other hands and still later was purchased by A. Beach of Catskill. The vessel was then lengthened and staterooms added so that she might be used as a night boat. In 1863, having been acquired by Penfield Day & Company and C.L. beach, the steamboat entered service on the New York City run.

In 1868 the THOMAS POWELL was purchased by Joseph Cornell who continued the vessel on the same run with the NEW CHAMPION in 1868 and the SUNNYSIDE in 1869 as consorts. These two latter vessels remained on this line until until 1872, during the winter of which year the Citizen’s Line of Troy was organized. In that year the THOMAS POWELL and the SUNNYSIDE were placed in service on the night line of the new company.

In June 1877, the new steamboat SARATOGA replaced the aged THOMAS POWELL. The old steamboat was then used around New York harbor for a short time as an excursion boat. Finally the THOMAS POWELL was towed to Port Ewen, below Rondout, and laid up. In 1881 the old timer was sold to Daniel Bigler, of Port Ewen, who dismantled the old vessel.

STATISTICS: Lawrence & Foulkes, builders, New York. Wood hull. 585 tons. Length 231 ft. 2 in.; beam 28 ft. 11 in.: depth 9 ft. T.F. Secor & Company vertical beam engine having 28 in. cylinder with 11 ft. stroke.  Two iron boilers placed on the guards. Paddlewheels 29 ft. 6 in. diameter with 9 ft. face turning at 22 revolutions a minute.

November 25, 1964


I have had several requests recently asking information on the CATSKILL, Inasmuch as there were two vessels with this name I will give what data I have on both.

The first CATSKILL was built in 1863 as the ESCORT was rechristened the CITY OF HUDSON and in 1898 again rechristened – this time the CATSKILL. Finally, in 1898 the old sidewheeler was rechristened for the last time back to CITY OF HUDSON under which name she ran until dismantled at port Ewen in 1910. Now for a more detailed history:

The sidewheeler ESCORT, built in 1863, had a most varied career when shortly after her launching on June 18, 1863 she was chartered by the Federal Government and entered into war duty. Upon the cessation of hostilities the ESCORT returned north and ran “wildcat” running a number of routes including service on the Connecticut River – on the Norwich to New London run, and from 1869 to 1871, on the Boston-Gloucester route with landing at Lowell Island and Salem.

The ESCORT was then acquired by Captain Black of Catskill and under the Catskill Night line operated between Catskill and New York City for more than a decade, being rechristened the CATSKILL Feb. 5th, 1884. During most of her years on this run she had the KAATERSKILL and the JAMES BRETT as consorts. Sept. 22, 1897 was a fatal day in the career of the CATSKILL. On this date under command of Captain Joel Cooper, she was rammed and sank off the 57th Street pier, New York, by the Central Railroad of New Jersey Steamboat ST. JOHNS. The New York Post gave Captain Cooper’s version of the accident:

“I was standing on the main deck, forward. First pilot Alan Turner, was at the wheel with quartermaster Hitchcock. We signaled first, which gave the CATSKILL the right of way. We blew two whistle blasts, which signified our intention of going to port. The pilot of the ST. JOHNS replied with one whistle blast and came directly toward us. Seeing the crash was inevitable, pilot Turner blew three whistle blasts, the danger signal. Our engine was reversed, but not in time. The ST. JOHNS continued coming at full speed, heading for our starboard blow. When the iron covered stem of the ST. JOHNS struck the CATSKILL, it plowed directly through our starboard side. The collision came before anyone realized what had happened. Passengers and crew came rushing from below and for a time a panic seemed imminent. The ST. JOHNS then backed off leaving a large hole in our side through which water poured in torrents. She then came up on our starboard paddlebox. The crew of the ST. JOHN showed every inclination to render aid, assisting many of the passengers and crew of the CATSKILL over the rails. New York Central tugs came to our assistance and every passenger and crew escaped.”

There were 46 persons aboard at the time of the accident and all escaped except a five year old boy, Bertie Timmerman, of Leeds, who was drowned. The CATSKILL was raised, towed to Peter Magee’s shipyard at Athens, and there completely rebuilt, being lengthened to 236 feet and renamed, April 19th 1893, as the CITY OF HUDSON. 

The CITY OF HUDSON still continued on the Catskill-New York run for another decade. Then, in 1910, the old sidewheeler was withdrawn from service and laid up at Newburgh. In October 1911, the old timer was purchased by Charles E. Bishop and Abram Parsell, towed to Port Ewen below Kingston, and there dismantled. After removing the boiler and engine the wood from the superstructure was used as fuel by the brickyard at Port Ewen.

STATISTICS: George Greenman & Company, builder, Mystic, Connecticut. Length 185 in. (later lengthened to 226 ft.); beam 28 ft.; depth 9 ft. 6 in. Vertical beam engine of 595 h.p.

The second CATSKILL. Built in 1923 for the Catskill Evening Line for service between that city and New York. She operated on this run carrying freight and a limited number of passengers until 1928, when sold east to the Ferries Management Company and converted into an automobile ferry operating between New London and Greenport. Later she ran on the New London – Montauk Point route week days and to Orient Point on Sundays.

In 1940 the CATSKILL again changed ownership and was sold to the North Carolina Line of Wilmington and was operated on the Wilmington (N.C.) to Baltimore run.

The following year, in 1941, the United States Army Engineers acquired the vessel for World War II service, and after the war the CATSKILL was brought by the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry Company, and I believe, is still operating on this route.

STATISTICS: This steamboat was NOT a sidewheeler. Built by Staten Island Shipbuilding Company, Mariner’s Harbor, New York. Steel hull; 652 tons; length 186 ft. 9 in.; beam 40 ft. 4 in.; depth 11 ft. 4 in. Triple expansion engine having 12¾ in., 23 ½ in. and 35 in. cylinders with 24 in. stroke. 750 h.p. One single Scotch boiler.

December 17, 1964


A few weeks ago a brief sketch with statistics and pictures of Robert Fulton’s CLERMONT (later NORTH RIVER) appeared in this series. This was the first COMMERCIALLY SUCCESSFUL steamboat in the world.

When the success of the CLERMONT was assured Fulton immediately planned his second and third steamboats. Before his career ended in 1815 he had designed and had built more than half a score of other steamboats before his final triumph – the CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON – appeared in 1816, shortly after his death.

Fulton’s second vessel, the CAR OF NEPTUNE, launched in the spring of 1809, was built to serve as consort with the NORTH RIVER, on the New York-Albany run. Of all the Fulton boats the CAR OF NEPTUNE proved most reliable in maintaining her schedule for many years without interruption and serving her entire career on the same run.

October 24th, 1811, under the heading “RAPID TRAVELER” the Boston Messenger printed the following letter from a subscriber:

“The steamboat CAR OF NEPTUNE, which left this city (New York) on Saturday evening last at five o’clock arrived in Albany in 20 hours. She returned this morning in twenty-two hours – equal to 336 miles in 42 hours! Let foreigners say we have no talent for improvements. Point out where there is a mode of conveyance equal to this! In what country arte there so many enjoyments combined in one great polytechnic machine and mounted with wings as this, which wafts passengers as by enchantment between the cities of New York and Albany? To our countrymen, then, and our arts let justice be honorably and honestly measured out.”

In 1815 development of the anthracite coal fields in Pennsylvania began and James Allaire, an engine builder, was interested in experimenting with coal in place of wood in steamboat boilers. From owners of the CAR OF NEPTUNE he obtained permission to experiment but so great was the prejudice of the firemen of the NEPTUNE that they refused to burn the “black stone:” declaring it was impossible. Allaire then took some of the men from his Iron Works to assist him, he himself, as chief firemen in the experiment. After much effort he succeeded in running the boat to Albany in 18 hours. However, notwithstanding this trial, his associates were too conservative to aid further in developing a better method of burning coal and the steamboats continued to light the heavens and send sparks and embers to the skies.

In 1815 the New York Evening Post of March 14th contained the following announcement, which was typical of the Fulton boats of this period:

“HUDSON RIVER STEAMBOATS – The PARAGON, Captain Wiswell. The CAR OF NEPTUNE, Captain Roorbach. The RICHMOND, Captain Bartholomew. In order to accommodate the public, these vessels will make four trips each week during the 1815 season in the following order: A boat will leave New York every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 5 o’clock in the afternoon; and leave Albany in the morning at 9 o’clock. N.B. The CAR OF NEPTUNE will commence the season of leaving New York on Saturday, the 13th inst.”

The CAR OF NEPTUNE continued in service on her regular route until December 1816, when the vessel was so seriously damaged by ice that she was withdrawn from service and dismantled the following year. Her successor on the run was the new CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON, built in 1816.


Charles Browne, builder, New York. Constructed under the supervision of Robert Fulton. Wood hull. Length 175 feet; beam 23 ft. 6 in.; depth 8 ft. 295 tons. Bell crank engine built by Fulton Iron Works, Paulus Hook (Jersey City), 33 inch cylinder with 51 in. stroke. One copper boiler in the hold. Paddlewheels 13 ft.6 in. diameter with 48 in. face.


The PARAGON, third of Fulton’s boats and, though an improvement over its predecessors, still retained two masts, rigged for sails. It appears there was still a lack of complete confidence in the steam engine alone. PARAGON was constructed for Fulton and Livingston for operation on the New York – Albany route in conjunction with the NORTH RIVER and the CAR OF NEPTUNE.

Under command of Captain Wiswell her maiden trip was made November 3rd, 1811, several days before her enrollment, which took place November 3rd, 1811, several days before her enrollment, which took place November 9th. She created somewhat of a sensation; soon after the 1812 season opened the New York Evening post of April 11th, 1812, carried the following laudatory comment:

“A passenger who lately came down from Albany in the PARAGON cannot, in justice to his own feelings, refrain from mentioning the superior accommodations of this extraordinary vessel. With more room than any other steamboat on the river, being of the same length of keel as the frigate PRESIDENT, and considerably wider than the CAR OF NEPTUNE, it may be added that she excels all competitors. It is not too much to say that she unites in herself convenience, neatness, elegance and dispatch beyond what has yet been seen in this country.”

In 1820, while under command of Captain Roorbach the PARAGON’S career came to an end. This disaster occurred on a cold and cloudy day. Thursday, October 26th, 1820, while nearing Albany on a North bound trio. As she approached the Oversbaugh Bar, the snow began falling, obscuring the usual landmarks. Captain Roorbach slowed the vessel and began taking soundings as they approached the bar. However despite this caution, the unfortunate PARAGON lodged with considerable force against an unseen snag or sunken tree. The momentum of the vessel was such that when she struck several planks below the waterline were stove in, and the steamboat immediately began to sink. Despite all efforts of the crew nothing could be done to save the vessel. Fortunately she settled in an even keel in shallow water and as the main deck remained above water, no one was injured, but the saga of the PARAGON was ended. Captain Roorbach then sent a small boat on to Albany to engage a horse boat to come down river and pick up the passengers and convey them to Albany. This was accomplished without incident. 

The first intentions of the owners was to raise and reservice the PARAGON, by towing her to a small shipyard at Hudson. But it was later decided that, due to her age, she had outlived her usefulness and no major salvage work was attempted. The following year, 1821, the PARAGON was removed from documentation, thus removed from documentation, thus ending her career.


Charles Browne, builder, New York. Constructed under supervision of Robert Fulton. Wood hull. 331 tons. Length 173 feet; beam 27 feet; depth 9 feet. Bell crank engine built by Fulton Iron Works, having 32 inch cylinder with 48 in. stroke.

VIGNETTE: THE COEYMAN’S OVERSLAUGH - nemesis of many early steamboats. About 12 miles below Albany, opposite the village of Coeymans and obstructing the channel, was the “OVERSLAUGH”, actually a sandbar. In early days this formed a serious barrier to the larger boats, even when the tide was high. The sloops almost invariably waited a few hours until the tide was at its height, as a few hours to them made little difference. The first steamboats, being flat bottomed, the largest such as the LADY RICHMOND of but 370 tons, considered the bar more of an annoyance than danger, although it was on the bar that the PARAGON was lost, as noted above.

However, as the steamboats became larger, the problem of the OVERSLAUGH became serious. At first the owners would take smaller boats and at low water drag a channel through the bar, but as it quickly filled with sand again, it became common practice to land the passengers at Coeymans who then proceeded the few remaining miles to Albany by stage. Later, small boats such as the FIREFLY served as tenders, transferring passengers to Albany and frequently, from Albany down to the OVERSLAUGH to the waiting southbound larger steamboats. Many petitions were presented to the Legislature to appropriate funds to drag out the channel but it was not until several years after the Fulton-Livingston monopoly was broken, that sufficient interest was aroused to obtain action.

A common incident during this period was the following, which appeared in the NEW YORK EVENING POST under ate of August 27, 1830.

“The steamboat CONSTITUTION, which arrived this morning from Albany, left the steamboats OHIO, DEWITT CLINTON and CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL aground yesterday afternoon on the OVERSLAUGH. The waster in the river was uncommonly low.”

As the years passed, the OVERSLAUGH finally lost its danger as Federal and State funds deepened the channel, built dykes above New Baltimore and erected beacons and range markers.

December 31, 1964

Steamboats of Robert Fulton

In this series the CLERMONT was covered a few weeks ago and last week the CAR OF NEPTUNE and the PARAGON were described and pictured.

Although Fulton was 42 years old when, in 1807, the CLERMONT was placed in service, when he died eight years later, in 1815, he had designed and built close to a score of successful steamboats.

The fourth vessel, RARITON, was built for service on New York Bay area and as it did not operate on the Hudson a detailed descriptio0n hardly belongs here. RARITON’S cost was $26,000; she was 124 feet in length with a 21 ft. beam and 7 ft. depth of hull. Tonnage 164. Engine of the cross-head type with paddlewheels 16 ft. in diameter. Although RARITON’S career was generally uneventful she did have the dubious distinction of having the first steamboat boiler explosion. This occurred on the vessel’s first return trip from New Brunswick, July 11, 1809, although considerable damage was done, no lives were lost. In 1818she had the OLIVE BRANCH, another Fulton boat, as consort and in 1820, after but 11 years of service she was already obsolete and dismantled.

Following the RARITON came the FIREFLY, built for Hudson River service and, if we except the Jersey and Brooklyn ferryboats, the smallest steamboat built by Fulton. Her length was 81 feet on the 4½ foot depth of hold, 118 tons. Her power was the typical Fulton type geared paddle engine with 20 inch cylinder and 4 foot stroke.

Her first season she operated between New York and towns as far north as Newburgh. FIREFLY’S chief claim to fameoccurred in 1817 when she successfully steamed down Long Island Sound and around dangerous Point Judith and up Narragansett Bay to Newport, Rhode Island, having made the trip in 28 hours. This voyage was made under the command of Captain Smith and upon her arrival FIREFLY was the subject of “great admiration and pronounced a beautiful boat.”

Records reveal that the sailing packet masters of Narragansett Bay were exceedingly jealous of the “interloper”, and resorted to every lawful means to break down the new enterprise. To these men the steamboat was a threat to their economical existence. The FIREFLY, primitive as she was, was no match for a fast sloop in a favorable wind. She even hoisted a huge mainsail to accelerate her speed when the wind was fair, but even then the packets would often come into port ahead. The latter carried their opposition so far as to offer for 25¢, and for nothing if they did not get there in advance of the steamboat. They finally succeeded in running her off when she returned to New York waters.

FIREFLY was in use around New York waters until 1821 when she was considered unfit for further service and broken up.

LADY RICHMOND appeared in 1813. This vessel had a length of 154 feet, beam of 28 feet and 9 ft. depth of hull. Power was the usual Fulton geared engine that, when in operation, kept a heavy sleeper awake by its noise. Although originally intended to operate on the James River she never left New York waters. She ran the New York-Albany route many years and would average around 160 trips a season or more than 20,000 miles. When one considers that these boats were generally filled with passengers one can realize the extent of travel on the Hudson in those days, and the gold mine that Fulton and Livingston enjoyed during their steam monopoly on the Hudson. RICHMOND had three outstanding commanders during her career – Captains Joab Center, Bartholomew and Wiswall.

Evidently the RICHMOND was not noted for fast passages and the owners admitted it – unusual in this period when each vessel claimed to be the fastest – as noted in this quaint advertisement that appeared in the March 2nd, 1826, New York papers:

“THE RICHMOND – SLOW BUT SURE. This boat, so well adapted to the accommodation of ladies, particularly on the way, will leave the foot of Courtland St. this afternoon at 5 o’clock. For passage apply on board. Freight taken for almost nothing.”

Some writers believe that LADY RICHMOND was the correct name of this Fulton boat. The error probably arose because of the above and similar advertisements, However, during her late years, by reason of her slow and apparently deliberate movements, she was affectionately referred to by river men as “the old lady”, and this appellation stuck by her until dismantled and her hull abandoned – according to the Lytle register, in 1843. Though Ward Stanton in the October, 1910 MASTER, MATE & PILOT gives the date of 1836 as correct.

This series will continue with the Fulton boats until all are covered, including the ferries.

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