Famous Hudson River Steamboats

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The Hudson River, famed in song and story, has played an important part in the history and development of New York as the great metropolis of the Western Hemisphere.

While civilization followed Hendrick Hudson into the Hudson River Valley, years before this the Indians used it as a thoroughfare between the waters of New York Bay and the Mohawk and the Great Lakes.

By the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, the route of which followed the old "Mohawk Trail" of the Indians, the Hudson River became the connecting link between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean, and New York at once assumed her place in the commercial supremacy of the Eastern seaboard cities.

Following the adoption of steam navigation in 1807, the river became the scene of some of the most remarkable developments in steamboat construction, and a large fleet of river steamboats came into existence. The boats on the Hudson River became noted all over the world, and their names became a part of the locality from which they made their regular departures.

Probably no boat on the river, and for that matter anywhere in this country, ever became such a prime favorite as the "Mary Powell." She was always a favorite among the river fleet and became a part of the social life along the river, and for fifty-six years carried her passengers daily between river points in quiet comfort, and at a speed never equaled by more modern steamers.

Three times rebuilt, this beautiful steamer commanded by two Captains Anderson, father and son, was considered by marine architects the most graceful and fine-lined vessel ever built for river traffic. The writer well remembers how, when a boy, he would stand daily on the old "Long Dock" at Newburgh, just as the day was drawing to its close, and gazing away down the river, where the rays of the setting sun were casting the long shadows of "crow' Nest" and "Storm King" across the surface of Newburgh Bay, could see the "Mary Powell" emerging from the Highlands. Gradually the rhythmic berat of her paddles sounded louder and louder, and finally like a great white swan she would glide majestically up to the wharf, let off a goodly number of passengers, and after casting off her lines hurry swiftly and noiselessly away to other landings up the river.

From her first appearance the "Mary Powell" was always the most popular boat on the river; her schedule was a conveniently arranged daylight run, and her appearance at most of the landings was always "on time," and to many of the residents along the banks of the river her regular appearance was one of the "events" of the day. In all her fifty-six years of service this boat never met with any serious accident, and among the millions of passengers carried none of them ever met with an accident, or lost his life; truly a remarkable record for a steamboat.

Among the famous steamboats built previous to the "Mary Powell" was the "Isaac Newton," built in 1846 by Curtis Peck, and sold to the People's Line, and named for the Superintendent of that line. This boat can properly be classed as the forerunner of the floating palaces which have made the Hudson River famous down to the present day. The "Newton" was the first boat on the river to use illuminating gas, the gas being generated on board, an innovation which created quite a sensation in those days.

Another famous boat of this period was the "New World," built for day service, and noted for her speed, old-time steamboat men asserting that she was the fastest boat that ever turned a wheel on the river. In 1851 the Hudson River Railroad was completed as far as Poughkeepsie, and the "New World" ran to New York from that point carrying passengers and the U.S. Mail for the railroad company. In 1855 the "New World" was rebuilt into a night boat and went on the People's Line with the "Isaac Newton."

Previous to the "Newton" and "New World" two steamboats, the "North America" and "South America," were running on the People's Line, which were famous for their speed, and were also noted as being the first boats on the river to burn anthracite coal. They ran for a number of years and were finally converted into towboats, operating for many years on the old Schuyler Towing Line.

Up to 1851 no boat ever created such a sensation on the river as the "Francis Skiddy," and when she made her appearance was acclaimed as the finest steamer ever placed in the service. After running as a day-boat for four years she was converted into a night boat, and went on the Troy Line with the "Rip Van Winkle" and "Commodore," later on running with the "Hendrick Hudson" and the "Vanderbilt."

The "Skiddy" was sunk near Staatsburg in November, 1864, and her engine was afterward put in the famous "Dean Richmond," built the following year, where it remained in service until the "Richmond" was broken up in 1908. This engine thus had a record of fifty-seven years continuous service, and with the engine of the old "Norwich" and the ferry-boat "Geo. H. Power" of Hudson, holds the record for the Hudson River.

The "Thomas Powell" was probably better known than any of the famous boats of this period, and was always a favorite with the traveling public. During her forty odd years on the river no boat of her dimensions could equal her in speed, and if some of the old-timers are to be believed, her only rival was the "Mary Powell."

The "Tom Powell," as she was popularly known by all river men, was built in 1846 for Thomas Powell and Homer Ramsdell of Newburgh, running between that point and New York for several years, after which she went to the Delaware River for a time, being subsequently purchased by Captain A.L. Anderson, and put on the run between Rondout and new York as a day boat, being the immediate predecessor of the "Mary Powell" on that well-known route. Later on she was converted into a night boat for the Troy Line, where she ran for a number of years with the "Sunnyside." With the "Mary Powell," this boat will live longer in the memories of steamboat men than any boat built during this period.

It is a notable fact that while nearly all the boats in river service up to 1887 were side-heelers, there were a number of propellers in service on the lower river routes for a number of years. The shoal water in the upper stretches of the river made the use of propellers impracticable, and they were run on the routes below Hudson, and were all noted as very serviceable freight and passenger carriers, and very economical in operation.

In the propeller class there were two which were very popular for many years on the Poughkeepsie Line, the "John L. Hasbrouck" and the "Daniel S. Miller." The latter boat was originally designed for a side-wheeler, but changed to a propeller before being completed. These two boats had engines which were unique for screw propellers, being of the familiar "walking-beam" type, the beam being placed athwart-ship, the connecting rod and driving crank being geared to the shaft by cogs, and in the earlier days of their service were considered as very speedy boats for their class.

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Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Famous Hudson River Steamboats
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: From My Collection of Books: Valentine's Manual of Old New York; Edited by Henry Collins Brown 1923
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