Old Timers Sloops of the Hudson 1966

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 13, 1966 

Sunnyside: 1866 – 1875 

The SUNNYSIDE was built for passenger service on the Lower Hudson to transport wealthy commuters to Sing Sing, Tarrytown, Hastings, Irvington and Yonkers to and from New York City. She and her sister ship, the SLEEPY HOLLOW, began running on schedule in the spring of 1866 covering identical routes, but one vessel generally extended service to Grassy Point.  

The two vessels continued this round trip service until July of the following year when the line proved unprofitable. The SUNNYSIDE was then installed on the Newburgh run for the balance of the season. Following this brief period of operation the SUNNYSIDE was laid up temporarily. 

In July 1870, Joseph Cornell and his partner, Captain Black, bought the SUNNYSIDE FOR $45,600 and in 1872 converted the vessel into a night boat. She was then placed on the Coxsackie – New York run for the balance of the season. On alternate days the SUNNYSIDE made landings at Catskill with the THOMAS POWELL, whose run extended only as far as Catskill. 

During the winter of 1871-1872 Joseph Cornell, George Horton and Thomas Abrams organized the Citizen’s Line. The SUNNYSIDE and THOMAS POWELL were then placed in service on the Troy run as night boats, in opposition to the J.W. Hancox Line operated the C. VANDERBILT and the CONNECTICUT. 

The Hancox steamboats were withdrawn in July 1872 leaving the Citizen’s Line without opposition. The SUNNYSIDE was one of the fastest nightboats on the Hudson, luxuriously furnished with staterooms unusually commodious for that period in steamboating. In July of 1874 she made the run from New York City to Troy in eight hours and 35 minutes.

Like many of her sister sidewheelers, the career of the SUNNYSIDE was punctured with a number of minor accidents and others of a more serious nature that caused considerable damage and claimed lives of a few passengers. In the latter part of May 1874, on her way down from Troy she collided with the abutment of the Congress Street bridge in Troy, staving in her starboard boiler which was located on her guards. One man was scalded to death by the steam.

In November of the same year she ran aground on Fishhouse bar between Troy and Albany, the force of the collision staving a hole in her hull and almost causing the vessel to sink. In August of the following year she caught fire from spontaneous combustion from some bales of cotton on her main deck.

Tuesday, Nov. 30, 1875, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the SUNNYSDIE left Troy on what was to be her last trip. The vessel had left New York the previous day heavily loaded with freight, and a sharp drop in temperature had caused thin ice to form on the river. On the return trip, with the steamboat GOLDEN GATE following, the thermometer was registering several degrees below zero and at Kinderhook the SUNNYSIDE encountered solid ice.

The sidewheeler NIAGARA, a towboat with a long tow, and several schooners lay ice-bound at this point and the SUNNYSIDE broke the course through the ice, relieving the other vessels; after which she proceeded down the river. When opposite Barrytown it was discovered the vessel was leaking considerably and the pumps were started. At Esopus Island she ran through clear water, washing away the ice that had formed about the seams which had opened when the vessel cut the ice at Kinderhook. She was off West Park and leaking badly when she attempted to reach the shore at Russell’s dock. She tried to make thru the thick ice on the west bank of the river but slid back into deep water. The flood tide swung the bow of the vessel up the river and the pilot house soon began to fill, and all that remained out of water was about 40 feet of the after hurricanedeck.

It was now two o’clock in the morning and the thermometer registered five degrees below zero. Captain Tyson ordered the boats lowered and sent Mate Burhonc in charge f the first one. The boat capsized, drowning 11 of the 16 passengers and crew, but the mater was able to make shore. A line was finally passed from steamboat to shore and a rope ferry set up. In this fashion the second life boat was safely pulled through the ice and the remaining passengers and crew of the stricken boat were landed on the snow covered banks of Ulster County.

Climbing rocks along the shore the victims made their way to the farm houses in the area where every attention was given to their comfort, but even so several died from exposure. The officers at the time of the accident were Captain Frank Tyson of Lansingsburgh (North Troy); First Pilot Robert Whittaker of Saugerties; Second Pilot Watson Dutcher of New York; Mate Jacob Burhonce of Troy; and Chief Engineer Abram Parsell of Port Ewen.

The SUNNYSIDE was late raised and her engine removed; the hull was broken up in 1882. The engine of the ill-fated sidewheeler was placed in the SARATOGA, launched in 1877.

STATISTICS: C&R POILLON, builders, New York. Wood hull. 942 tons. Length 265 feet; beam 35 feet four inches; depth nine feet. T.F. Secor & Company built the vertical beam engine having a 54 inch cylinder with a 12 foot stroke. When rebuilt in 1872 the vessel was lengthened to 300 feet. The famous racing yacht SAPPHO was also built by C. & R. Poillon.

January 20, 1966 

James Baldwin: 1860 – 1911 

November 19th, 1860, a new steamboat that had been ordered by Captain Jacob H. Tremper, was launched at Jersey City, N.J. for the Romer & Tremper’s Rondout to New York night line. Captain was one of the best known skippers on the Hudson River and had made Rondout the terminus of the Romer & Tremper Line. The new sidewheeler, christened the JAMES W. BALDWIN was placed in regular service between Rondout and New York in the spring of 1861 and gained much favorable attention as the speediest vessel carrying staterooms on the river at that time. Originally she had 50 staterooms and berths for 100 passengers; in later years the BALDWIN was rebuilt – cut in half and 33 feet added in her middle, which lengthened her to 350 feet. Another tier of stateroom was then added giving her a total of 111 and supplying sleeping accommodations to over 300. 

The JAMES W. BALDWIN was a typical Hudson River night boat and was under the personal command of Captain Tremper from the day of her maiden trip until he died in 1883. 

During her career the BALDWIN had many running mates or consorts. In 1861 – 1862 she ran with MANHATTAN and the following year had the KNICKERBOCKER as consort continuing to run in line with her until the THOMAS CORNELL appeared on the river. The two vessels ran together until 1882 in which year the CORNELL was wrecked. The balance of the 1882 season the CITY OF CATSKILL acted as consort. In 1883 the CITY OF SPRINGFIELD was her companion and from 1884 to 1889 the BALDWIN ran in line with the propeller steamer CITY OF KINGSTON, finally finishing out that season with the SAUGERTIES.

Romer & Tremper acquired the Cornell Line in the winter of 1890-1891. They also purchased a steamboat from Baltimore which they renamed the WILLIAM H. ROMER and installed her as the new running mate of the JAMES W. BALDWIN.

The Central Hudson Steamboat Company came into being in 1889 through a merger of the Romer & Tremper Company, the Homer Ramsdell Transportation Company and the Poughkeepsie Transportation Company. There were nine steamboats in the fleet of the new line, the largest being the JAMES W. BALDWIN. The old sidewheeler was continued on the old route but her annual period of operation was shortened.

Before entering service in 1903 the BALDWIN was renamed CENTRAL HUDSON and continued to serve until 1911. During this year the CENTRAL HUDSON was chartered to the Manhattan Navigation Company to run as a night boat from Albany to New York in line with the steamboat KENNEBECK, a vessel brought in from “down east.” On May 20th, 1911, on the trip down from Hudson the CENTRAL HUDSON ran aground at Jones Point, where she was fast for twelve hours before being floated. On the return trip, two days later, fog was encountered near West Point and again she ran aground. This time the situation was far more serious as the accident occurred at high tide and she was hard fast forward; the stern being afloat. Finally released two days later it was discovered her keel was broken and the frame so damaged that almost a third of the hull would require rebuilding. Considered too old for such extensive repairs, the CENTRAL HUDSON, JAMES W. BALDWIN, was towed to Newburgh where she was partially dismantled. Later the hull was purchased by J.H. Gregory of Perth Amboy and on November 15th, 1911, the old steamboat began her last trip, under tow, down the Hudson to the necropolis of old steamboats at Perth Amboy.

STATISTICS: Michael S. Allison, builder, Jersey City. Wood hull, 710 tons. Length, 242 feet; beam, 34 feet, depth, nine feet. Fletcher & Harrison No. 14 vertical beam engine with 60-inch cylinder and 11 foot stroke. Boilers were on the guards. Later, when rebuilt, this vessel was 273 feet overall, increasing tonnage to 1,002. At this time an extra tier of staterooms was added which helped to increase her draft to nine feet, six inches.

January 27, 1966

Henry Clay Disaster 

The most disastrous catastrophe in the annals of Hudson River navigation concerns the “Henry Clay”, a smart passenger sidewheeler of the early 1850’s. The Clay enjoyed matching her speed with any vessel on the river and it was during one of these contests, while racing with the “Armenia”, that her brief career was brought to a tragic end. Racing between these rival vessels was of almost daily occurrence, each, of course, striving for the betters.

The two side-wheelers left Albany on their scheduled run at approximately seven o’clock Wednesday morning, July 28, 1852. The “Clay” carried between 350 and 400 passengers and cast off first, the “Armenia” then slipping her lines in fast pursuit. For the first 25 miles or so the race appeared even, each of the vessels passing up the landings at which the other vessel had stopped. Nearing Drooper Rock, at Athens, where the “Swallow” had met her tragic fate a few years earlier, a sandbar divides the river and as the side-wheelers entered the West channel the “Armenia” slowly gained on her opponent.

But the “Clay” was not to be so easily passed. Sparks flew from her stack as pine knots were fed to the furnaces and the increased vibrations and pounding of her engine alarmed some of the passengers. As the “Clay” came opposite to the “Armenia” the pilot deliberately spun his wheel causing the “Clay” to collide with her rival. This act of mayhem stove in the woodwork of the “Armenia’s superstructure amidship and burst one of the steampipes, making it necessary to let off steam while emergency repairs were effected. She then resumed the race.

Side by Side

Soon the vessels were again running side by side so closely that it became necessary for the deckhands to use fenders to prevent further damage from collision. A few miles further down the river they again came in contact, not in a manner to do serious damage but with sufficient buffetings to further alarm the passengers.

Finally, as they neared the narrow channel near Rhine cliff, still running nose to nose, pilot Jim Elmendorf, of the “Clay” through some maniacal impulse steered directly for the “Armenia’s” bow. Unable to avoid the impact the “Armenia’s” guards were crushed in and splintered woodwork littered the forward gangway. The vessel was forced toward shore and again had to reduce speed and effect temporary repairs.

Following this second act of marine mayhem the “Clay” maintained the lead but, despite this advantage, the pounding engines under forced draft did not lessen and sparks and cinders flew from her stacks. Over the indignant protests of many of the passengers, now thoroughly alarmed, the officers assured them there was no danger. It should be noted at this time that Captain Tallman lay ill in his cabin since leaving Albany and the vessel was virtually in command of Thomas Collyer, builder of the steamboat.

By this time a number of the ladies were in tears, running about the cabins as if clairvoyant and sensing some dire and impending tragedy. Later one of the passengers stated that at this precise time when passing under the main shaft, near the decking under which was the boilers, the heat was of such intensity that he was compelled to place a handkerchief over his face to avoid it.

Smoke discovered

It was 3:15pm when smoke was first noticed issuing from the panelwork in the vicinity of the boiler room. Within a few moments the woodwork burst into flames and the fire spread so rapidly that the crew was unable to cope with it. It was later deduced that prior to this blower, which had been in operation to increase the draft to the furnace doors that had been insecurely closed and drove the flames against the nearby siding.

Owing to the already heated condition of the midship section the doomed vessel quickly became a funeral pyre with roaring and surging flames, and access between forward and after parts of the vessel was impossible. Realizing now the futility of any attempt to extinguish the flames, the steamboat was headed to the nearest of eastern shore, nearly a mile away, the river here being about two miles wide.

Unfortunately, when the shore was finally reached it was at a spot two miles below Yonkers Landing, near what is now Riverdale, where the water was deep right up to the shoreline. The impact when the vessel struck was so great that the bow was forced high out of water, while the stern rapidly settled, leaving only the after past of the Hurricane deck above water. The passengers at the bow lost no time in scrambling ashore, but those huddling aft were imprisoned by the flames which were still raging, making an inferno of that part of the boat.

Panic ensued and the terror-stricken men and women were slowly and inexorably forced to jump into the water and struggle for shore. Those who could not swim soon succumbed. The men who had escaped over the bow assisted to shore a large number of the terrified victims, and small boats quickly appeared and aided in the grim rescue work.

“Captain Helped”

Captain Harry Barber of the sidewheel towboat “James Madison”, which was passing with a long tow of brick and ice barges, cut the tow adrift and hauled alongside the stricken vessel. He succeeded in picking up many of the struggling unfortunates and was engaged in completing this rescue work when the “Armenia” hove in sight and say her rival in a cloud of smoke and flames.

In this disaster, as in all such tragic events, there were many acts of heroism as well as of cowardice. A small sloop containing four men on the scene, but instead of rescuing the struggling victims, the men coolly proceeded stripping rings from the hands extended for help and looting wherever they could. Eventually two men boarded the pirate craft and managed to throw the despicable crew overboard.

In less than 30 minutes the once proud sidewheeler was a smoldering hulk and the shores in the vicinity of the ill-fated vessel were crowded with people who for days searched the shores for bodies of their kinsmen. It was later estimated that 60 lives were lost in this catastrophe, but since no passenger list had been kept, the exact number or names of the victims could never be ascertained. Many of the casualties were prominent New Yorkers including Jackson Downing, the renowned Newburgh horticulturist and Marie Louisa Hawthorne, sister of the famous writer.

By one of those unusual coincidences the great statesman, Henry Clay, in whose honor the vessel had been named, died the day following the catastrophe.


There is much evidence that during this golden age of steamboating, owners frequently encourage racing of their vessels. This was particularly true on the lucrative 150 mile run between New York and Albany, for it was realized the traveling public would patronize the fastest boat, providing accommodations were about equal. Consequently some Captains became so fanatical in their mania to attain and hold the speed record, with its accompanying prestige, that at times a complete disregard for human life was shown – as in the “Clay” disaster – which could hardly be termed as accident.

The destruction of the “Clay” was directly attributable to racing. The public was so aroused over this needless loss of lives that the New York Legislature was forced to pass a previously pigeon-holed bill prohibiting the racing of steamboats on the Hudson. This law, giving teeth to the Steamboat Inspection Service, finally ended a proud and ruthless era of racing.

The Westchester County Court indicted the owner and officers of the “Clay” on charges of manslaughter. The trial occurred Nov. 2, 1852 but, like many courts of today a verdict of acquittal was rendered, despite the irrefutable evidence of criminal negligence.

STATISTICS: Thomas Collier, builder, New York. Wood hull, 366 tons, length 198 feet, beam 27 feet, depth 7 feet. Cunningham & Belnap vertical beam engine having a 44-inch cylinder with a 12 foot stroke. One iron boiler in the hold.

February 3, 1966

Double-End Ferryboats 

Many of us living remember the little sidewheeler steamboats that ran between Albany and Troy, Albany, the Capital City and Troy the Collar City, were and are thriving cities six miles apart, Troy being above Albany on the east back of the River. 

Due to the size of these cities and the short distance between them, the route proved a veritable gold mine for many years and had always been a profitable route until in later years when the trolley and good highways and busses finally won out. The main business was derived from the many commuters, salesmen and normal travelers bound for Troy to make train connections for Saratoga and points north.

During the warm summer months additional income was gained from amusement seekers as midway between the two cities, on the west bank of the river, was one of the largest amusement parks in the Capital district. At various times during the operation of this park it was under different various owners and was known as Maple Beach Park and in its later years, as Altro Park.  

Today I am giving what data I have on four of these little side-wheelers, all named in honor of prominent Albany and Troy merchants; there were many others, such as the George P. Ide, Julia Safford, General Carr and so on. These pictures were taken by Tracy Brooks of Rensselaer, who upon his death left his fine collection to the Steamship His. Soc. 


R.C. Reynolds (1896 – 1926) – Originally the John G. Carlisle this steamboat was acquired by the Albany-Troy Steamboat Co. in 1906, when her name was changed. In 1924 the Reynolds was in use for a short period by the Verplank’s & Tompkins Cove Ferry Co. but was soon restored to the Albany-Troy run. Robert Palmer was her builder at Noank, Conn. Wood hull, 210 tons. Length 136 feet six inches, beam 30 feet, depth 11 feet. Fletcher & Harrison vertical beam engine having a 35 inch cylinder with a seven foot stroke. This engine was inherited from the old Brooklyn ferryboat Annex 3.

G.V.S. Quackenbush (1878-1919) – Minerly & Company builders, New Baltimore. Wood hull, 207 tons. Length 125 feet, beam 40 feet, depth eight feet. Vertical beam engine having 40 inch cylinder with nine foot stroke. 290 horsepower. One fire tube boiler. After 40 years service she was withdrawn from service and was dismantled in 1919. Prior to this she had struck a pillar of the Congress Street Bridge and Captain Bell beached her on a sandbar when it was discovered her keep had broken amidship, and she was never rebuilt. The accident occurred Aug. 1, 1919.  

W.H. Frear (1899 – 19..) – William H. Baldwin, builder, New Baltimore. Wood hull, 261 tons. Length 135 feet, beam 42 feet, depth seven feet. Fletcher & Harrison vertical beam engine having a 32 inch cylinder with six foot stroke. This engine was inherited from her predecessor, the W.M. Whitney. Final disposition unknown.

W.M. Whitney (1877 – 1899) – Built at Shadyside, N.J. Wood hull, 193 tons, length 140 feet, beam 43 feet, depth six feet eight inches. Fletcher & Harrison vertical beam engine having a 32 in. cylinder with six foot stroke. The Whitney was dismantled in 1899 but the still efficient Fletcher and Harrison engine was inherited by her successor, the W.H. Frear.

 February 10, 1966

 New World: 1847 – 1864 

Designed by Isaac Newton and built for the People’s Line of Day Boats running between New York and Albany, the NEW WORLD was the prodigy of her era. Celebrated for her great size and speed that approximated 20 miles an hour this fabulous sidewheeler under Captain A.P. St. John made the record run, for that time, between the two cities in 6 hours and 21 minutes. Her enormous piston stroke of fifteen feet has never been equaled although fourteen foot strokes were not uncommon.

From the day of her launching on which occasion the vessel stuck on the ways and required several towboats to assist her in the water, the NEW WORLD was plagued with disaster. What proved later to be a long list of accidents occurred June 20th, 1853 at New York. While moored off Chambers Street one of her boilers exploded killing eleven people. Later a fire broke out and severely damaged the NEW YORK when opposite the city of Hudson.

In 1855 the NEW WORLD was rebuilt into a night boat by John Englis, making her dimensions even more immense and her interior even more lavish. She was the first steamboat to have a double tier of staterooms above the main deck; in a great many ways there was nothing afloat to approach her either in size or luxury of appointments. The cabins were richly and “elegantly” furnished and were lighted by gas – a great improvement over all previous methods of lighting. The interior decorations included many elaborately carved Corinthian columns extending up through the two decks in the Grand Saloon which contained the two galleries or tiers of staterooms. These columns also supported the great oval dome which extended several feet the hurricane deck and contained many small windows having colored glass. All of which was the idea of Isaac Newton. Another innovation was the installation of the newly invented Sickle’s steam steering gear which was fitted in the pilot house. This consisted of two steam cylinders 9 inches by 10 inches connected to the steering wheel by means of gears. This apparatus performed satisfactorily and assisted greatly in steering, but the cylinders being placed under the pilot house flooring produced so much heat, that it was removed the following year.

The NEW WORLD had enormous earning power, her career being in the height of the golden (literally) age of steamboating. In August of 1847 she set a mark for a single trip by carrying 1,000 passengers. During this period she had, as consort, the ISAAC NEWTON, an almost equally large and luxurious sidewheeler built in 1846 and named for ISAAC NEWTON, part owner of the People’s Line and the man who made many improvements in the Line’s vessels.

Misfortune struck again on October 26, 1859 off Fort Washington while the vessel was enroute to Albany. The pilot sighted a schooner cutting across the steamboat’s bow and signaled the engineer to stop the engine. At this moment the engineer was in a fireway across the gangway, but rushed to comply with the signal. The result was that, in his rush, he stopped the engine too suddenly which caused the gallows frame to snap, slowing the walking beam to drop. This in turn broke the connecting rod and the flying end of the rod tore through the bulkhead and decks forward, finally knocking a hole in the bottom as though the vessel “had been torpedoed from within.” Half an hour later the NEW WORLD was on the bottom but all passengers and crew had been rescued by the schooner and the sidewheeler OHIO. 

Raised AND repaired the vessel returned to service on the night line but disaster still dogged her heels and two short years later, July 4th, 1861, she again sank while northbound, during daylight, just off Stuyvesant Shore, about 17 miles below Albany. Fortunately no lives were lost. The engine was salvaged and installed in the new palace steamer ST. JOHN. The hull, with all superstructure, was towed to Fortress Monroe May 9th, 1864, for use as a hospital ship during the balance of the Civil War.


William H. Brown, builder, New York. Wood hull. 1312 tons. Length 371 feet; beam 35 feet 11 inches; beam over guards 69 feet; depth 10 feet 6 inches; T.F. Secor & Company (Morgan Iron Works) vertical beam engine having a76 inch cylinder with the unsurpassed stroke of 15 feet. The two iron boilers were placed on the guards. Paddlewheels were 46 feet in diameter with 12 foot face and turning at 17 revolutions a minute. In 1855 John Englis lengthened the vessel to 385 feet and increased the molded beam to 43 feet. The new tonnage was then 1675.

February 17, 1966

Empire of Troy: 1843- 1853 

The largest vessel of her type to be constructed up to the year 1843, the EMPIRE OF TROY was built as a day boat for the Troy – New York Steamboat Company. Originally christened EMPIRE the owners feared river travelers would mistake her for an Albany boat and consequently had her paddle boxes lettered EMPIRE OF TROY to dispel all doubts. They were justifiably proud of the big sidewheeler with its seventy luxuriously furnished staterooms and accommodations for 1,000 passengers.

Under command of Captain S.R. Roe, the EMPIRE began her brief career making her maiden trip May 17th, 1843. Local rivalry had existed from time immorial between the cities of Albany and Troy and was emphasized by the appearance of the EMPIRE. A race was arranged between Albany’s then favorite, the SOUTH AMERICA, and the EMPIRE OF TROY on May 22nd, 1843, the outcome of which was the defeat of the EMPIRE. However, the EMPIRE claimed engine trouble while abreast West Point and the following night the vessels raced on the north bound trip to Albany. This race was won by the EMPIRE which led her opponent by four minutes. It was claimed that the blowers of the SOUTH AMERICA were out of order and the necessary amount of steam could not be maintained. In Albany it was the general opinion that the SOUTH AMERICA had demonstrated her ability to outrun the EMPIRE, but the latter HAD beaten the Albany favorite, even under adverse conditions, and this was a joy to the Trojan heart.

Plying the Troy - New York route she met with the first of those unfortunate mishaps that were to punctuate her career with dismaying regularity. In April 1845, during a dense fog the vessel rammed into a pier at the foot of 19th street, North River. Although the pier was constructed of heavily ballasted crib work so great was the impact that the hull cut through the pier for a distance of thirty feet. There was practically no damage to the EMPIRE, speaking much for the steamboat’s construction, though little for the judgment of her pilot.

During the winter of 1847, the People’s Associated Line purchased a half interest if the EMPIRE OF TROY and she was renovated and as a night boat and had the sidewheeler TROY as consort. It was on this, her regular route, that on the night of May 18th, 1859, disaster again struck. Proceeding up Newburgh Bay at ten o’clock at night, she collided with the sloop NOAH BROWN. The EMPIRE began to settle immediately and the sidewheeler and the sidewheeler RIP VAN WINKLE, which was also heading north, succeeded in rescuing a great number of the passengers but despite heroic efforts 34 lives were lost. The RIP VAN WINKLE towed the EMPIRE over on the flats on the eastern side of the river where she settled to the bottom. She was later raised, repaired, and returned to service on the same route, in the same year.

The most serious and final accident to occur to the Empire happened between 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning of July 16th, 1853, while abreast of New Hamburg, below Poughkeepsie. The pilot sighted the sloop GENERAL LIVINGSTON trying to cut across Empire’s bow. As he threw the wheel over to give the sloop leeway, the LIVINGSTON suddenly veered off and struck the EMPIRE on the port side, throwing her boiler from its anchoring and staving in the guard, paddleboxes and wheel. The passengers alarmed by the terrific crash and the noise of escaping steam, rushed in panic from their cabins. Those running in the upper cabin were submerged in water, and those escaping into the saloon were scalded by steam. A chambermaid, frightfully scalded, was seen to leap overboard and drown. Captain Smith ordered the bell rung to summon help, but before any aid could arrive the vessel had careened to port and was rapidly filling. The sloop FIRST EFFORT and the propeller WYOMING came alongside and took off passengers. Later the WYOMING worked the EMPIRE into shallow water on the eastern shore where she sank in eight feet of water.

The accident resulted in the death of eight persons and fourteen others injured. Those that were scalded were given first aid treatment at the home of a Mr. Van Rensselaer in New Hamburgh.

The EMPIRE OF TROY was finally raised only to find that her hull was damaged beyond repair. After a career of only then years of service, the old sidewheeler was towed to New York and dismantled.


William H. Brown, builder, New York. Wood hull. 936 tons. Length 308 feet; beam 30 feet six inches; beam over guards 62 feet; depth 9 feet nine inches. Two William Lightfall’s Patent Horizontal beam engines, each having a 48 inch cylinder with 2 foot strike, built by T.F. Secor. Paddlewheels were 32 feet in diameter.

February 24, 1966

Dean Richmond: 1865 - 1909 

The DEAN RICHMOND was named in honor of the President of the New York Central Railroad although during the building of the vessel, newspaper accounts of the progress of construction persisted in referring to her as the PRESIDENT GRANT. She inherited the engine of the FRANCIS SKIDDY and was launched in 1865 for the People’s Line to run in night service between New York and Albany and began her career under command of Captain Stephen J. Roe.

The People’s Line was noted for the excellent construction and resplendent interiors of their vessels, and the DEAN RICHMOND was not an exception. She had sleeping accommodations for almost a thousand people.

Unfortunately the DEAN RICHMOND shared the affinity for accidents that did so many other craft of her time. On the night of September 20, 1867while steaming southbound just below Rhine cliff, she sighted the Troy night boat C. VANDERBILT. The pilot sounded the customary one whistle and the C. VANDERBILT returned the signal.

A towboat, following in the rear of the DEAN also blew her whistle causing a misunderstanding. The DEAN changed her course but the VANDERBILT failed to do so and crashed into the starboard quarter of the DEAN about 30 feet aft of her bow, and crushing in the forward main cabin. The engineer had immediately sensed the danger and by raising the safety valves averted the almost inevitable explosion.

The bow of the VANDERBILT was so firmly wedged into the DEAN that the passengers were able to gain the deck of the VANDERBILT before the water rose to the upper tier of the DEAN’S staterooms. As the VANDERBILT finally succeeded in backing off the DEAN RICHMOND quickly filled and sank. A colored porter from the DEAN was drowned and the body recovered later by the steamboat historian George Murdock. The sidewheeler was quickly raised, repaired and returned to service.

Fate struck again in 1869. In this year the DEAN ran into and sank the towboat TELEGRAPH while opposite Germantown. Fortunately no lives were lost although the TELEGRAPH, then owned by the Blanchard & Farnham Towing Company of Troy, was never raised being a total loss.

On July 14th, 1870 the steamboat met with another accident just above Rockland Light while northbound to Albany. The connecting rod broke and the shock caused the end of the walking beam to break off. There were no casualties but the damage to the engine and the joiner work totaled approximately $25,000.

The DEAN, after repairs were made, returned to service and had, as consort, the ADIRONDACK, from 1896 until 1904 when the DEAN was replaced by the new C.W. MORSE. The old sidewheeler was then laid up and used only occasionally as an extra boat, until the CITY OF TROY, belonging to the Citizen’s Line of Troy, was destroyed by fire April 5th, 1907. The DEAN RICHMOND then took the TROY’S place until 1909 when she was deemed unfit for further service. She was then sold to a firm of wreckers in Boston and dismantled at Commonwealth Wharf in 1909.


John Englis & Son, builders, Brooklyn, NY. Wood hull, 2,525 tons. Length 375 feet; beam 46 feet; depth 10 feet six inches. James Cunningham (Phoenix Foundry) vertical beam engine having 1 75 inch cylinder with 14 foot stroke. This engine came from the FRANCIS SKIDDY and was rebuilt by James Allaire.

March 3, 1966

Sidewheeler Yachts

Sidewheeler steamboats yes, but sidewheeler yachts were something “special.” Following are pictures and what data I have on three Hudson River sidewheeler yachts. One, the SPORT, in my opinion, is the most beautiful and graceful yacht that ever sailed the Hudson.

1)      SPORT: 1881-1932

Probably the smallest sidewheeler built, SPORT was constructed on order for W.R. Wilbur by Ward Stanton, in Newburgh. Her total length was 98 feet; beam 16 feet seven inches and depth of hold 6 feet two inches. Her power consisted of a typical vertical beam engine with an 18 inch cylinder with 6 foot stroke. Tonnage 72.

Due to her natural or bright finished cabin work and dainty appearance she received much favorable attention. After many years service as a yacht around New York harbor and the lower Hudson she was finally converted into a ferryboat and operated from Rouse’s Point on the St. Lawrence River. It was in August 1926 that the SPORT was rebuilt into a ferryboat, at which time she was lengthened, extending her waterline to 84 feet.

Dismantled in 1932 after fifty years of active service of both pleasure and business she was undoubtedly the last of sidewheeler yachts.

2)      CLERMONT, (b) CHARMARY, (c) BAY QUEEN; 1892-1921

CLERMONT was a handsome sidewheeler yacht built for and designed by Commodore A. Van Santvoord for use around New York Harbor and adjoining waters, including the lower Hudson and Long Island Sound. Spacious accommodations for owner and guests with elaborate fittings and very rich furnishings in the saloons and staterooms.

A fine cruising yacht, the CLERMONT had a speed of 18 miles an hour. The vessel was substantially built with oak frames and chestnut planking. All joiner work was executed by John E. Hoffmire and Son, New York.

In 1900 the CLERMONT was sol and rechristened CHARMARY and in 115 again under new ownership she became the BAY QUEEN. Under this name she sailed south and was operated on the Hillsboro River, her home port being Tampa, Florida.

On July 21st, 1921, while lying at her pier, the vessel’s career was abruptly ended by fire.

3)      COMFORT; 1887-19—

This sidewheeler yacht was built at Baltimore, Maryland, in 1887. Other than a few statistics, I have been unable to find data as to her career and ultimate disposition.


COMFORT: Built at Baltimore, Maryland. Wood hull. 87 tons. Length 102 feet; beam 23 feet five inches; depth 6 feet seven inches. Inclined engine of 90 horsepower.

CLERMONT: Sidewheeler yacht. Herbert Lawrence, builder, New York. Wood hull. 259 tons. Length 160 feet; beam 25 feet six inches; over guards 43 feet; depth 10 feet eight inches; draft 5 feet. W. & A. Fletcher #148 vertical beam engine having a 40 inch cylinder with six foot stroke, 300 horsepower. One steel return tube boiler. Paddlewheels 17 feet in diameter with a six foot six inch face of the feathering type.

SPORT: Ward Stanton, builder, Newburgh, New York. Wood hull. 72 tons. Length 98 feet; beam 16 feet seven inches; depth 6 feet two inches. Vertical beam engine having an 18 inch cylinder with 6 foot stroke.

March 10, 1966 

The Berkshire 1907 – 1945 

The BERKSHIRE was launched under the name PRINCETON September 21st, 1907. Built for service between New York and Albany for the People’s Line at a cost of $2,500,000, for some reason the vessel was not completed until nearly six years later.  The unfinished steamboat laid off Turkey Point on the Hudson River until 1913 when construction and began her career under the name of BERKSHIRE.

The People’s Line was synonymous with up to the minute river travel and the BERKSHIRE set a new mark in luxury. Known as the “Queen of the Nightboats”, and stately sidewheeler had accommodations for 2,000 passengers and room for 100 automobiles. She boasted such features as passenger elevators, a palm room, a café and smoking room on the upper deck, plus 425 richly furnished staterooms ranged along four decks. If there was anything lacking in the make-up of the BERKSHIRE that would add to the safety or comfort of the passengers or the beauty of the vessel, it had not been invented or discovered. The vessel was also distinguished as the largest inland river steamboat ever constructed.

Replacing the older nightboat ADIRONDACK, the BERKSHIRE proved to be very popular with river travelers as she steamed the Albany route at eighteen miles an hour or better. Her running mate at this time was the C.W. MORSE, later named the FORT ORANGE. The two side-wheelers ran together until 1927, the BERKSHIRE continuing to ply the night route to Albany for another ten years, until 1937. The last season as consort she had the TROJAN, another luxurious nightboat of the People’s Line.

Laid up at Athens that same year, the veteran sidewheeler eventually passed to the Hudson River Night Line, bringing the number of steamboats of that line to four. By 1941 Samuel Rosoff, the New York subway contractor and owner of the Hudson River Night Line, was feeling the increasing competition of bus and truck lines. Of the four boats that comprised his fleet just two remained – the BERKSHIRE again laid up at Athens and the RENSSELAER, also laid up at his sand dock in Marlboro. Rosoff had previously spent $500,000 refitting and overhauling these two remaining vessels but due to the fast increasing competition he decided to withdraw from the steamboat business entirely. On January 4th, 1941, representatives of the Government from the third Naval District took an option to buy the two vessels for the sum of $115,000 – their scrap value.

The two side-wheelers were freed from their icy berths and proceeded down the Hudson with three Coast Guard Cutters assisting them in battling the heavy river ice. Due to shallow draft the RENSSELAER was not deemed safe for sea duty and was sold at public auction as scrap for the paltry sum of $9,000. 

The BERKSHIRE was towed to Bermuda and there used as a floating barracks for Naval

Personnel throughout World War II. At the war’s end the Maritime Commission sold her to Bernard Maier of Bustleton, Pennsylvania. She was finally scrapped by the Great Eastern Metal and Shipwrecking Company on the Delaware River neat the Philadelphia Naval Yard in 1945. But not before she managed a last bit of excitement by catching fire and working the local fireboats for several hours.

So the career of this truly palatial sidewheeler – the largest inland river steamboat ever constructed – was brought to an end.


New York Shipbuilding Company, builder, Camden, NJ. Steel hull. 4,500 tons. Length 440 feet; beam 50 feet six inches; extreme beam over guards 90 feet; depth 14 feet six inches. W. & A. Fletcher Company, #198, vertical beam engine having an 83 inch cylinder with a 12 foot stroke, 5,000 horsepower. Four lobster back boilers. Feathering type paddlewheels.

March 17, 1966 

Early Side-wheelers 


The CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL was built in the year 1825 when steamboats had become a functional aid to navigation rather than a novelty. Previous to this period steam navigation on the Hudson was securely held in a monopoly by Robert Fulton and Chancellor Livingston. Rival interest encountered difficult opposition in attempts to enter into this field. The battle against the monopoly was carried to the Supreme Court, then headed by Chief Justice Marshall who handed down a decision against the monopoly and thus opened the river to competition.

In recognition of this favorable decision the builders of the new steamboat named their new vessel the CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL. Here it might be mentioned that it was ironical that the very men (Fulton and Livingston) who had so successfully developed the steamboat were the very men who retarded its further development for more than 20 years – the duration of the monopoly.

The new steamboat was built expressly for the New York to Troy run. The vessel carried no masts and her stern was shaped similar to that of an eighteenth century sailing vessel. At the time of her launching the TROY SENTINEL described her as “combining the desirable objects of buoyancy and stability, and workmanship of a style rarely equaled.” She carried a carved image of the Chief Justice as a figurehead. There were 105 berths for passengers; her cabins were fitted up in fine style, were light and airy, and the upper promenade deck provided a large reading room displaying the principle newspapers of the Union.

Due to her excellent speed and power, the MARSHALL was often referred to as the “Race horse of the North River.” Further indication of her speed is contained in another excerpt from the Troy newspapers when a run of 14 hours and 39 minutes with ten landings between Troy and New York is recorded with the comment, “ This time was, by a few minutes, the quickest passage that has yet been made.” The CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL merited the place of honor in the Naval parade arranged for General Lafayette’s visit. In 1830 while under command of Captain Ford, the vessel’s boilers exploded, causing the death of seven persons.

March 20th, 1832, Captain Jabez Hauer brought the vessel to the Connecticut River where she was documented by David R. Robertson, Secretary of the Hartford Steamboat Company. For three or more years she was in service and then, April 3rd, 1835, while making her initial trip on the New York to Norwich run, she encountered a severe gale and was driven ashore about one mile east of the New Haven lighthouse and became a total wreck. During the heights of the storm pilot Hascall cut himself adrift in a small boat and was lost, but the passengers and crew aboard the doomed vessel were all saved when the boat was beached.

August 5th, 1835, the hull was advertised for sale “with or without the boiler” bringing the career of the CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL to an end.


The COMMERCE, Captain Seymour was built for the Swiftsure Line for operation on the New York – Albany route. During the vessel’s first few years of service she also towed the then popular Safety of “Lady” barges – LADY CLINTON and LADY VAN RENSSELAER. The steamboat SWIFTSURE, had Captain D. Peck, as commander during this period of her career.  Around 1830 the popularity of the Safety barges waned largely due to improved boiler design which lessened the danger of boiler explosions, the fear of which was responsible for that mode of river travel.

January 29th, 1827, the NEW YORK EVENING POST contained the following item: “ A malicious and daring attempt was made on Saturday night to sink the COMMERCE, belonging to the Steam Navigation Company, and now lying at the foot of Cortlandt Street. The villains had sawn asunder the large leaden pipe, through which the water passes into the condenser, but the mischief was fortunately discovered in time to prevent disaster.”

To quote the POST again: Wednesday, September 3rd, 1828:

Last Monday evening about 5 o’clock the steamboat COMMERCE, with a Safety Barge in tow, while preparing to land passengers at Hyde Park, was struck by a sudden squall of wind and driven upon the rocks. A Mr. Powell, of Newburgh, in passing from the Barge to the steamboat was precipitated from the connecting bridge or platform that connects the boats, into the river and was drowned.

The passenger referred to was James A. Powell, son of Thomas Powell of Newburgh, who later became a steamboat owner, on the larger and most famous side-wheelers being named after him.

An opposition boat to the regular New York Hartford Line appeared on the Connecticut River, in September, 1829, when the COMMERCE, from the Hudson River, began her trips, COMMERCE on the Connecticut River was brief se caused flares to drops when Captain Smith issued the slogan “Fares Three dollars, no charge for meals.” Upon which there followed a price war in earnest, the fare dropping several more times before the COMMERCE discreetly returned to the Hudson. However, before leaving the Connecticut she scheduled a special trip November 2nd, 1829 to take part in the “Grand Aquatic Display” held in New York the following day. The completion of the Welland Canal between Lakes Ontario and Erie was the occasion for this celebration.

In 1838 the COMMERCE was engaged in towing barges between New York and Albany, having the CONSTITUTION as consort much of the time. While in this duty the vessel earned the title of being an “ice breaker”. The smaller steamboats ran as late in the season as possible, for most travelers preferred the warmth of the steamboat’s cabins to the cold and discomforts of the “post coaches”.

That the COMMERCE had a heart of oak was later proven, for she outlasted every contemporary boat, and was running on the Hudson long after many vessels that were built twenty years after her debut. Finally, in 1896 the COMMERCE was deemed unfit for further service and was dismantled. (Note: the NORWICH was built in 1836, eleven years after the COMMERCE.)


CHIEF JUSTICE MARSHALL: Built by Thorne and Williams, New York. Wood hull, 314 tons, length 141 feet, beam 26 feet, depth six feet. Low pressure engine with copper boiler.

COMMERCE: Christian Bergh, builder, New York. Wood hull, 261 tons. Length 130 feet, beam 24 feet four inches; depth eight feet eleven inches. Wolff double cylinder cross-head engine having a 16 inch and 30 inch cylinders with a four foot stroke.

March 24, 1966 

The Diamond: 1837 – 1847 

As to draft the DIAMOND is most interesting. Although this sidewheeler was 260 feet in length she actually drew only 28 inches of water.

Peter Burden, the Troy ironmaster, firmly believed his ideas in steamboat construction would revolutionize the profession and he embodied these ideas in the DIAMOND, which appeared on the river in September 1837. As noted, the vessel had an extremely shallow draft, undoubtedly the least of any Hudson River sidewheeler ever built. The DIAMOND made her first trip to Albany September 18th, 1837 and a correspondent of the Albany Journal who was aboard on the inaugural trip described it thus:

“This boat left New York last evening at 8 o’clock and arrived at the pier, foot of State Street, 9 o’clock this morning, having made the passage in 13 hours, including several landings and delays from fogs and small defects in the machinery, which required at least two hours – making her running time 11 hours. I learn some improvements are yet to be made – her bottom I noticed, was very foul. Thus far Mr. Burden’s sanguine expectations have been more than realized. He did not anticipate making the trip in less than 16 hours.”  

It was expected that the DIAMOND would be a speedy craft, and she did manage to travel at a fair rate but she was never in a class with the so-called “river flyers” of her period. Placed under regular service on the Albany – New York run in October, the announcement of her service stated, in part, that: “This boat drawing but 28 inches of water, can pass Overslaugh Bar at the lowest time of tide.” The DIAMOND was a night boat leaving Albany every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5pm and making landings at Hudson, Catskill, Poughkeepsie and Newburgh.

Later it was proposed to run the DIAMOND between New York and Albany without any intermediate landings. She had the distinction of being the first steamboat to offer this “express” service and an announcement was issued:

“At the urgent solicitation of their traveling friends the proprietors of this boat are inclined to run her through without any intermediate landings between and New York, inasmuch as there would be less risk of losing baggage, no disturbance in calling passengers and collecting their baggage, and no jamming against the docks. Most of the accidents that has occurred to steam vessels have taken place by the delay at landings. Because of this the DIAMOND will be operated as announced and this policy will continue as long as the public sustains this experiment.”

After a brief term of service, the DIAMOND passed to the People’s Line and a few years later was dismantled, her hull being converted into a coal barge in 1847. She served in this lowly role for an additional five years when the shell of the old sidewheeler was rammed and sunk in 1852 at the foot of Hamilton Street, Albany, with 200 tons of coal aboard. There ended another experiment in Hudson River steamboating.

WATER LILY: 1850-1887

The WATER LILY and her sister ship the TIGER LILY, were built by Captain J.A. Robinson for the New York – New London run. In 1854 the little sidewheeler was running out of Providence to Fall River and several years later she operated on the Connecticut River.

During the summer, WATER LILY served the resort section of Watch Hill where a hotel and boarding house had been built by the local citizens. Carrying both passengers and freight the announced fare between terminals was “121 cents with the tide and 18 cents against it.” Numerous steamboats attempted to compete with WATER LILY and TIGER LILY in this area but with little success. Typical of these was the ULYSSES which finally withdrew and entered into service in faraway Maine. Both WATER LILY and TIGER LILY actively participated in the Civil War returning to their home waters when hostilities ended.

Although some claim WATER LILY’s career ended at Charleston, South Carolina in 1875, it is believed the little sidewheeler returned to New York and was rebuilt at New Jersey in 1873, at which time she was lengthened to 117 feet. However, she returned south and in 1882 was owned by the De-Bary-Baya Line and was in operation in Florida waters.

WATER LILY was returned to New York, and while at her Harlem River wharf, sank. Raised in 1887 her machinery was removed and assembled in cordage factory in Morrisania.

There was an interesting story, although unverified, as to the final news of  WATER LILY’S varied career. Relative to ice harvesting on the upper Hudson. In spring and summer the ice was shipped from the large ice houses to New York City by barges. As most of these houses were in isolated spots and away from towns, the Company would have a small launch to pick up the men for work and to return them in the evening.  It seems the WATER LILY, sporting the fully blossomed lily on her paddle boxes, was acquired by Seeley Powers and the boat was hired by the Ice Company to transport the workers. Although minus engine and boiler the cross paddleshaft and wheels were retained and the crank connected with long bars with cross members. The men, 50 or more in number, took hold of the cross – arms and pushing forward and backward a sedate five miles an hour was attained. Seated in regal splendor in the stern of his craft, Ice King and boss Seeley Power steered the engineless boat with a fancy tiller and from the shore no one was the wiser that the vessel had man-power rather than horsepower!

Be that as it may, the WATER LILY’S career as a steamboat ended in 1887 when her engine and boiler were removed.


DIAMOND: Peter Burden, builder, South Troy, New York. Wood hull. 398 tons. Length 260 feet; beam 22 feet; depth 7 feet; draft 28 inches. Burden is believed to have built the inclined engine having a 14 foot stroke.


Sheffield builder, Stonnington, Connecticut, Wood hull. 67 tons. Length 104 feet, beam 16 feet 6 inches; depth 6 feet. Inclined engine eliminating the tall gallows frame and walking beam. Later lengthened to 117 feet, increasing tonnage to 119.

March 31, 1966 

Many Steamboats built in Coxsackie, New Baltimore 

The LYTLE LIST, compiled by the Steamship Historical Society, lists practically all of the steamboats built in the United States from the Clermont, 1807 up to the year 1868.

Below are the steamboats that were built in Coxsackie and New Baltimore during these years. Of course there were many others built later, such as the COXSACKIE ferryboat built at Baldwin’s Yard in 1878. It may come as a surprise to Coxsackians that there were five fairly large side-wheelers built here in these waters.


1)                  LACKAWANA – 270 tons, built 1828 – abandoned 1843. Home port New York.

2)                  MCCOUN –201 tons, built 1834 – dismantled 1842. Home port New York.

3)                  WARREN – 193 tons, built 1834. Rebuilt into a barge in 1840.

4)                  ALFRED VAN SANTVOORD – 110 tons, built 1853. Home port New York. In 1854 operated by the U.S, Lighthouse Service under the name COEUR DE LION.  Changed ownership again and on June 17th, 1867 and rechristened the ALICE. After twenty years dismantled in 1873.

5)                  DAVIS – 351 tons, built 1854. Home port Albany. Acquired by the Government for War service October 8th, 1861 and renamed HUZZAR. After the war redocumented and christened SOUTHERN STAR, April 11th, 1866. Foundered 1868.


1)                  HELEN BROWN – 37 tons, built 1854. Home port Albany. Abandoned 1889.

2)                  J.C. OSGOOD – 54 tons, built 1854. Home port Troy. Abandoned 1892.

3)                  ALEXANDER ROBERTSON – 23 tons. Built 1863. Home port Albany. Lost 1897.

4)                  N.B. STARBUCK – 101 tons. Built 1863. Home port. New York. Dismantled 1897.

5)                  DANIEL BABCOCK – 46 tons. Built 1863. Home port Albany. Abandoned 1894.

6)                  HATTIE BETTS – 21 tons. Built 1866. Home port Troy. Abandoned 1886.

7)                  NUPHA – 1,326 tons. Built 1865. Home port New York. Abandoned 1896. The NUPHA was rebuilt from the BERKSHIRE which was built the previous year, 1864, and burned to the water’s edge the same year.

Evidently 1863 was a very busy year in New Baltimore and in rebuilding the 1,300 ton BERKSHIRE into the NUPHA means they had a large and modern shipyard for that period – more than a hundred years ago.

April 7, 1966 

In 1848 the first sidewheeler steamboat was built for towing service, quickly followed by many others as the commerce prospered and the towing of canal boats and barges grew into bit business.

On the Hudson, as elsewhere in early steamboat development, as passenger boats became surpassed by larger and more luxurious vessels, they were frequently cut down and altered for towing purposes. This was the fate of such fine old steamboats as the HIGHLANDER, NORWICH, JAMES MADISON, NEW YORK, BELLE, UTICA, KNICKERBOCKER, COLUMBIA, NIAGARA, METAMORA, MOUNT WASHINGTON, C. VANDERBILT, ALIDA, BALTIC, CONNECTICUT, GENERAL MCDONALD,  to name a few.

We’ll begin with the first – the OSWEGO. In 1848 Commodore Alford Van Santvoord had the first sidewheeler built exclusively for towing. The OSWEGO was placed in service between New York and Albany, on which route she remained for fifteen years. In 1863 the Commodore made a deal with Thomas Cornell, in which Cornell acquired the OSWEGO, BALTIC and CAYUGA, in exchange for the MARY POWELL. Cornell then placed the three towboats on his route running out of Rondout and the Commodore retired from the towing business and entered into the passenger and freight carrying field.

During the ensuing 40 years, until 1904, OSWEGO remained on this Rondout – New York run and was then operated on the upper Hudson where she remained in active service until laid up in 1918. November 19, 1920, the Kingston Scrap Iron & Metal Company bought the old towboat and she was dismantled at “Steep Rocks” near the Terry Brickyard above Kingston Point. Except for the NORWICH, the OSWEGO was the last of the old sidewheeler towboats to be broken up.

The first six steamboats built for this service were OSWEGO, 1848-1920, CAYUGA, 1849-1887, AMERICA, 1852-1902, AUSTIN, 1853-1900, ANNA, 1854-1893, SYRACUSE, 1857-1903.

The Second sidewheeler built exclusively for towing was the CAYUGA. This vessel, too, was built for Commodore Van Santvoord, after the success of the OSWEGO, and she was immediately placed on the New York-Albany route with the OSWEGO.

Frequently towing from fifty to sixty barges behind her, the CAYUGA became a familiar site to the riverfolk, as, like the OSWEGO, she operated on this run for many years. Her career was rather uneventful until the fall of 1886 when an engine accident virtually wrecked the CAYUGA and she was taken to the foot of Court Street, Brooklyn, and laid up for the winter. When the seriousness of the accident was ascertained she was dismantled in the summer of 1887. The CAYUGA’S hull was then ingloriously converted into a coal barge, ending her career of 36 years of towing on the Hudson.

AMERICA was the third of the side-wheelers built expressly for towing service on the Hudson. She was one of the largest and most powerful towboats on the river, operating between New York and Albany, under ownership of the Schuyler Towing Company. The vessel remained with the Schuyler Line for 38 years until the fall of 1890, when that firm passed out of existence.

The Beverwick Towing Company then purchased the Schuyler Fleet of towing boats and operated on the same route until 1894, when that company, too, was discontinued. Later in that year the AMERICA was acquired by the Cornel Towing Company of Rondout along with a number of other equally well known towboats. AMERICA was then placed in service on the Rondout – New York run.

In the late 1860’s a proposal was made to erect a bridge across the Hudson at the entrance of the Highlands from Newburgh Bay. The steamboat men, led by Samuel Schuyler, objected strenuously to the project, claiming that it would partially block the river to navigation by its piers. To illustrate his point Schuyler had a large painting made of the AMERICA as she approached the disputed point with a long tow of 93 barges and canal boats. The picture presumably was made to show the swing a large tow made when passing this location and to prove the impracticality of constructing a bridge at this particular point on the river. How much the picture influenced the final decision is not known, but the bridge was never built and it was not until in the 1880’s that a span was finally built between Poughkeepsie and Highland. This was the Railroad Bridge, still in use today.

The AMERICA was in service of the Cornell Line for only a few seasons when she was found to be in a weakened condition and was subsequently laid up in Rondout Creek Several years later she was sold to J.H. Gregory who towed her to Perth Amboy in 1902, where she was broken up.


OSWEGO: 1848 – 1920
Capes & Burtis, builders, New York. Wood hull. 390 tons. Length 212 feet; beam 28 feet; depth of hull 9 feet. Henry Dunham vertical beam engine (Archimedes Works) having a 52 inch cylinder with 11 foot stroke. One iron boiler on the main deck.

CAYUGA: 1849 – 1887
Built at New York. Wood hull. 471 tons. Length 210 feet; beam 28 feet 5 inches; depth 9 feet. Henry Dunham vertical beam engine having a 62 inch cylinder with an 11 foot stroke.

AMERICA: 1852 – 1902
Built in New York. Wood hull. 401 tons. Length 212 feet; beam 30 feet; depth 9 feet. Cunnigham & Belknap vertical beam engine having a 76 inch cylinder with an 11 foot stroke. 

April 14, 1966

Sidewheeler Towboats

Saratoga: 1877 – 1911

The SARATOGA and her consort, the CITY OF TROY, were built for the Citizen’s Line to run between New York City and Troy. After the THOMAS POWELL was discarded in 1876, the steamboat NEVERSINK ran on this route a year before it was replaced by the SARATOGA, that made her maiden trip to Troy June 15th, 1877. She sailed under the command of Captain Thomas Abrams having Abram Parcell as Chief Engineer. Her cost was $175,000 and her speed sixteen miles an hour. She left nothing to be desired in interior arrangements, in accommodations or in furnishings. She boasted sleeping quarters for 550 persons and had an exceptionally large freight carrying capacity.

The SARATOGA lived up to the rivermen’s superstition that steamboats with names beginning in “S” were hardluck vessels. To name but a few were the ST. JOHN, SWALLOW, SUNNYSIDE, STATE OF NEW YORK, SPLENDID - and SARATOGA. Her first accident occurred Monday evening September 9th, 1888, a mile south of Tivoli. The SRATOGA was bound for New York with 230 passengers and 80 tons of freight, when her pilot miscalculated her position and ran her at full speed on the flats between Little Island and the Hudson River Railroad tracks. The vessel stopped with such force that much of her cabin joiner work cracked. Soundings revealed she was imbedded in the mud in only five feet of water. She was not refloated until October 11th, 1888.

March 26th, 1897, SARATOGA left her wharf at Troy for New York at 7 pm. Upon turning around she failed to respond to her rudder and smashed into the Congress Street Bridge at Troy. The river was high and the swift current threw her against the pier on her starboard side, carrying away much of her woodwork and ripping into the upper decks. The steamer BELLE HORTON and a tugboat answered her distress signals and towed the large sidewheeler to the dock where she was later repaired.

July 29th, 1897, while northbound for Troy, the SARATOGA collided with the HERMOINE, a large steam yacht. This occurred near Stony Point. The yacht struck the SARATOGA on the starboard side and although many passengers were thrown from their berths, no one was injured. The bar room suffered most, being practically destroyed.

The SARATOGA was a factor in other accidents, but she escaped going to the bottom of the Hudson, until Friday, October 6th, 1906. On this date, during a light fog off Cruger’s Island, 60 miles south of Troy, she was in collision with the ADIRONDACK. The SARATOGA was struck on the port side, this time, being torn up from a point just aft of the wheelhouse almost to the stern. The port boiler was torn from the guards and dropped overboard. Clarence Sherman, an oiler on the SARATOGA, was crushed to death. A freight clerk on the ADIRONDACK, George E. Horton, was knocked overboard and drowned and several others were injured. Fortunately the CITY OF TROY came along and took off all the passengers and crew before the SARATOGA sank.

The early towboats carried no side lights, so each line had a distinctive signal light at night for purposes of identification. The AUSTIN carried tow green lights forward and aft, the Robinson Betts Line carried two white lights forward and aft, and the Schuyler Line two red lights forward and aft. To further identify the vessels in daylight the walking beams had different colors: the Austin Line a bright green; the Robinson Betts Line a black; and the Schuyler Line a bright red.

The AUSTIN was a fixture on the river for a long period, plying the river between New York and Albany until the Austin Line was dissolved in 1878. This year she was purchased by the Cornell Steamboat Company of Rondout. The company then rebuilt and modernized the old steamboat, so that once more the AUSTIN joined the ranks of the leading towboats of the Cornell Line on the Rondout – New York route.

Many old residents of Kingston and Rondout may still remember or have a photograph of the old company docks in winter, which shows the AUSTIN berthed in the canal along with several other towboats.

One of the last of the old sidewheel towboats to be found on the river, the AUSTIN was retired in 1898 after 45 years of continuous service. On the summer of 1899 she was sold to J.H. Gregory of Perth Amboy who, the following year, dismantled the old sidewheeler. September 30th 1900, the AUSTIN’S document was surrendered at Albany, the endorsement stating “dismantled”.

Continued next week….


AUSTIN; 1853 – 1900 – Thomas Collyer, builder, New York. Wood hull. 99 tons. Vertical beam engine. Courtesy Mariner’s Museum.

Note: no further articles were found in 1966

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