Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Hudson River Maritime Museum's 2017 issue of the Pilot Log.
Music is an integral part of our everyday lives, from singing in the shower, to the theme songs of our favorite TV shows and the soundtracks of the commercials that punctuate them. We stream it from our cellphones through ear buds, and seek out live performances in concert halls, sports arenas and more intimate settings. It adorns our religious services, and drifts and pulses from hidden speakers in our shopping malls prodding us on subliminally to buy, buy, buy. And so it has always been.
In the days before the advent of the phonograph and radio, sheet music was the primary means of musical transmission, much of it intended for amateur performance, some of it as souvenirs. Learning to sing and play piano was considered an important part of every young lady’s education in the early 19th century, as was learning to play the flute or violin for every young man’s. In this manner, music was brought into the home, with amateur musical performances even a common feature of many social gatherings.
Typically, sheet music was purchased by the individual piece, and when the pile grew unwieldy, gathered up and taken to a local bookbinder to be bound into an album. Albums of Hudson Valley amateur musicians frequently contain pieces with references to the Hudson River and its valley. Taken together, these artifacts provide an interesting window on the past.
The opening of the Erie Canal, which turned the Hudson River into the gateway to the west, was commemorated by The Meeting of the Waters of Hudson & Erie, written by S. Woodworth, sung by Mr. Keene at the Grand Canal Celebration, and Respectfully Dedicated to his Excellency DeWitt Clinton. The French immigrant composer, Florent Meline, who spent several years in Albany as the resident composer and arranger for the Euterpean Club, a musical association comprised of gentleman amateurs of the town, memorialized Lafayette’s visit to America in his, The Marquis de La Fayette’s Welcome to North America, arranged for piano and flute or violin, and published in Albany by the composer.
The Hudson River’s prominence as the America’s premier river and the birthplace of Romanticism in American arts and letters is captured by the cover illustrations adorning pieces such as Where Hudson’s Wave (1839), composed by Joseph Philip Knight, with words by the prominent New York City poet, George Pope Morris. Morris’ Hudson River estate, Undercliff, was featured on the cover of William Dempster’s, I’m with you once Again.
Composers and musicians of the period were active up and down the river, serving as organists and choir directors, as band directors for local militias, steamboats and society gatherings, and as teachers of piano and voice at the numerous academies where music was always featured among the ornamental branches. Settling in a locale for a year or two, these musicians would leave behind published compositions written for specific purposes and occasions, from balls connected to local militia encampments to light dance pieces dedicated to the daughters of prominent citizens, perhaps to gain their patronage.
The collection of the Hudson River Maritime Museum contains one such piece of sheet music, The Alida Waltz (Firth, Pond & Co.,1847), by Johann Munck. It must have been a popular piece in its day as it appears in several Hudson Valley collections. The steamboat Alida, began service on the Hudson between New York City and Albany on April 16, 1847, the same year Munck’s waltz was published. Munck’s band performed frequently in Saratoga and Newport, Rhode Island. Perhaps it played aboard the Alida on its first trip up the Hudson River, as well. The music was published as a piano transcription of a piece performed by the band. Piano transcriptions of music performed by bands or orchestras were often intended as souvenirs, perhaps, in this instance, to be sold aboard the Alida.
Sheet music covers contain many clues to the social and cultural life of the Hudson Valley in the early 19th century, and provide a rich context for the music inside.
The Alida Waltz
Listen to a recording of The Alida Waltz below! From the Hudson River Maritime Museum Collections.
Geoffrey Miller is the Ulster County Historian and Project Director of the Reher Center for Immigrant History and Culture.
Editor's Note: The following text is a verbatim transcription of an article written by George W. Murdock for the Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman newspaper in the 1930s. Murdock, a veteran marine engineer, wrote a regular column. Articles transcribed by HRMM volunteer Adam Kaplan. For more of Murdock's articles, see the "Steamboat Biographies" category at right.
No. 72- Air Line
Today  we delve into the archives of Mr. Murdock’s steamboat collection to learn of the history of a ferryboat which ceased operating between Saugerties and Tivoli just 23 years ago. Many of our readers will well remember this vessel as she was somewhat of a curiosity as far as her type was concerned.
The “Air Line” was a wooden hull vessel built at Philadelphia in 1857. She was 73 feet long, breadth of beam 20 feet, depth of hold six feet, five inches, gross tonnage 71, net tonnage 52, and she was powered with a vertical engine.
Originally this odd ferryboat was constructed for the Air Line Railroad Company of Pennsylvania and was one of the first of the walking beam type ferryboats ever constructed in this country. Her great bar walking beam coupled with the fact that she had only one bow instead of the customary two which are the rule for ferryboats, labeled the “Air Line” as a distinct curiosity.
The “Air Line” also holds a doubtful record of having made the trip from Philadelphia to Sandy Hook via the Atlantic Ocean; her owner refusing to pay toll charges to the New Jersey canals.
A photograph in the Murdock collection shows the “Air Line” with her one bow, long narrow alleyways separated by the engine house down the center of the vessel. An octagon-shaped pilot house stands atop the engine house with the great bar walking beam directly behind and a high smokestack rising from the middle of the steamboat. Lifeboats were mounted on the roofs of the side cabins.
John N. Snyder operated the “Air Line” when she plied the waters of the Hudson River between Saugerties and Tivoli, and because of her single bow, the vessel had to be turned completely after each crossing. For this reason the fare on the “Air Line” was the largest charged on any ferryboat on the Hudson River- a situation which would make a New Jersey commuter rise up in wrath if he had to pay the fare of 25 cents each time he crossed the river.
The “Air Line” served the public between the two upriver towns for almost 58 years, continuing in service until 1915, when she was deemed worn out and sold to John Fisher, who took her to Rondout and dismantled her.
George W. Murdock (b. 1853-d. 1940) was a veteran marine engineer who served on the steamboats "Utica", "Sunnyside", "City of Troy", and "Mary Powell". He also helped dismantle engines in scrapped steamboats in the winter months and later in his career worked as an engineer at the brickyards in Port Ewen. In 1883 he moved to Brooklyn, NY and operated several private yachts. He ended his career working in power houses in the outer boroughs of New York City. His mother Catherine Murdock was the keeper of the Rondout Lighthouse for 50 years.
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Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
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