The Hudson River was integral to the development of the Delaware and Hudson Canal. The Canal was conceived by Philadelphia dry goods merchants Maurice and Charles Wurts in the second decade of the 19th century, in order to transport anthracite coal from Pennsylvania mines to New York City. The coal traversed the 108-mile-long Canal, winding through the Lackawaxen, Delaware, Neversink, Bashakill, Sandburgh and Rondout valleys before arriving at the Hudson River near Kingston, NY. From there, the cargo would travel south on the Hudson for over eighty miles to supply the primary market in New York City. Coal was also shipped north to Albany—about forty-five miles—and from there it could be transported on the Erie Canal to support the westward expansion of the population.
Island Dock in the Rondout Creek showing coal loader machines made by the Dodge Coal Storage Co. of Philadelphia. The canal boats behind the steamboat have had their rear compartments 'hipped', the addition of higher sidewalls to accommodate a greater load, and appear to possibly rafted together to be towed by the steamboat. D&H Canal Historical Society Collection, #73.22.
Benjamin Wright (the chief engineer of the middle section of the Erie Canal) oversaw the original plans for the D&H Canal, which date from 1823. He believed that “the Canal boats may navigate the Hudson. A steam boat of 50 horse power will tow ten of them, and if double manned will perform the trip to New York and back in 2 days, the distance 100 miles.” However, the earliest canal boats, which were 75 feet long and 9 feet wide, with a capacity 30 tons, proved unsuitable for travel on the river. As a result, coal had to be offloaded from canal boats to other vessels at Rondout for transport on the Hudson River—a time-consuming and costly process. In Steamboats for Rondout Donald Ringwald writes, “...the canalboats obviously had to be small size and because of this and a need to keep them on their regular work, they generally did not go beyond the Company works on Rondout Creek.” By 1831, the Company had begun purchasing barges for use on the Hudson. The first two were the Lackawanna (146 feet in length) and the James Kent (135 feet in length), and to tow them, the D&H Canal Company “chartered and then purchased an elderly sidewinder named Delaware.”
As the Canal Company prospered, the Canal was enlarged. In the 1840s, the depth was incrementally increased from four to five feet, with no change in the original width of thirty-two feet. In 1847, anticipating increased traffic from a deal with the Wyoming Coal Association (which later became the Pennsylvania Coal Company) to transport their coal on the D&H Canal, the company enlarged the waterway, which reached its final depth of six feet and width of forty to fifty feet by 1850. The new dimensions of the Canal accommodated boats that were ninety-one feet long, fourteen and a half feet wide, and could carry up to 130 tons of coal.
Safe navigation of the Hudson was considered so important that, in a letter dated January 21, 1852 from head engineer Russel Farnum Lord to President John Wurts, a discussion of the new boats for the enlarged canal noted: “The Birdsall Lattice Boats derive their advantage of carrying the largest cargoes, mainly, if not entirely, from the difference in their weight when light – Their plan of construction however is such that there is a reason to doubt their durability and substantial ability for use on the river.” Later, referring to boats from a different builder, he wrote: “From the experience had, it is evident that the Round Bow Section Scows are, and will be, the best and most desirable for the Coal Canal business – With them an important and permanent reduction in the rate of freight may be established – The only draw back is, whether they will be competent for the river transportation.” The cost of handling the coal at Rondout was uppermost in their minds and the larger boats that the company ordered proved Hudson River – worthy.
Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, rafts of up to 100 canal scows were frequently encountered on the Hudson. On August 18, 1889 The New York Times wrote:
Very few persons who journey up or down the Hudson River either upon the palatial steamers or upon the railway trains that run along both banks of this great waterway know how great an amount of wealth is daily floated to this city on the canalboats and barges that compose the immense tows that daily leave West Troy, Lansingburg, Albany, Kingston, and other points along the river bound for this city…. From Kingston, which is the tide-water outlet of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, another class of merchandise is shipped in the same manner. From the mouth of the Rondout Creek, which forms the harbor of the thriving and busy city of Kingston, can be seen emerging every evening huge rafts of canalboats, tall-masted down-Easters, and barges of various sorts, laden with coal, ice, hay, lumber, lime, cement, bluestone, brick, and country produce. Many of these craft have received their cargoes at the wharves of Kingston, while others have come from the coal regions about Honesdale and Scranton, in Pennsylvania, all bound for this port and consigned to, perhaps, as many different persons as there are boats in the tow.”
From its opening in 1828 through the closing of most of the canal in 1898—and even through 1917, when the section from Rosendale to Rondout finally stopped carrying cement—the Delaware and Hudson Canal was responsible for vast amounts of traffic on the Hudson River. Indeed there would not have been a Delaware and Hudson Canal without the Hudson River!
 H. Hollister M.D., History of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company. Unpublished MS c1880. p. 22.
 Donald C. Ringwald, Steamboats For Rondout, Passenger Service Between New York and Rondout Creek, 1829 Through 1863. Steamship Historical Society of America, Inc. 1981. p. 17.
 Larry Lowenthal, From the Coalfields to the Hudson. Purple Mountain Press. 1997. pp. 142-48.
 The letters of Russell F. Lord, chief engineer of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, June 1848 to October 1852. D&H Canal Historical Society collection #2016.01.01. Transcribed by Audrey M. Klinkenberg.
 New York Times, August 18, 1889.
Bill Merchant is the historian and curator of the D&H Canal Historical Society in High Falls, NY. He lives in a canal side, canal era house in High Falls with his wife Kelly where he also works as a double bass luthier and antique dealer.
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. 11- ALIDA
The “Alida,” 265 feet in length, was built as a dayboat for the Hudson river traffic, and commenced her regular trips on April 16, 1847 between New York and Albany. During her career as a passenger carrier, she was always a favorite with the traveling public.
The speed of the “Alida” was over 20 miles an hour, and her best time between the two termini of her regular route was made on May 6, 1848, when a trip including seven landings was made in eight hours and 18 minutes.
She continued in service on the Albany route for a few years and then was put on regular schedule from Rondout to New York, making a round trip each day. Eventually she was again placed on the entire run between Albany and New York.
In November, 1855, Alfred Van Santvoord purchased the “Alida,” and the following season he ran her the entire distance of the river with the steamboat “Armenia” as a consort. The new owner, better known as Commodore Van Santvoord had long been identified with river freight and towing business but had not been previously interested in the passenger carrying line. The “Alida” was his first venture into this department of river travel. Later, in the year 1860, he launched the “Daniel Drew,” and then began to use the “Alida” as a passenger boat between Poughkeepsie and New York, making a round trip daily.
This venture into the passenger carrying business must have appeared to the Commodore as being quite successful, because in the year 1863, he associated himself with several other rivermen, added the “Armenia” to his fleet which now numbered three boats- the “Alida,” “Daniel Drew” and the "Armenia"- and so laid the foundations of the Albany Dayline which is now known as the Hudson River Dayline.
The “Alida” was eventually converted into a towboat, and in the late sixties, when the Commodore vacated his position in the towing business, he sold the “Alida” to Robinson & Betts Towing Company of Troy. The converted towboat operated for this firm between Troy and New York until 1874 when the firm itself ceased operation, and the “Alida” was purchased by Thomas Cornell of Rondout in the winter of 1875.
The “Alida” only made one trip for the Cornell line, that in December of 1875. On the first of that month, the passenger boat “Sunnyside” was sunk at West Park, and it was decided to use the engine of the “Alida” in a new boat. The “Alida” was towed to New York by the “Norwich,” but her engine was found to be too small for the designed boat so she was hauled back to Port Ewen and laid up there until the summer of 1880 when she was bought by Daniel Bigler and broken up off Port Ewen.
[Editor's Note: The tow cabin from the "Alida" is on the campus of the Hudson River Maritime Museum.]
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.
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, 1947, 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.
Harris Nelson woke up on a normal day in January, 1906 not knowing he, his son, and fifteen others would be swallowed by the earth just after lunch.
Harris was a merchant in the small but prosperous town of Haverstraw, located approximately 60 miles south of the Hudson River Maritime Museum in New York’s Rockland County. The day Harris Nelson died the town boasted around 6,000 residents, with a population nearly double that today. Inventively called “Bricktown” more often than not, Haverstraw in 1906 was still benefiting from the Hudson River brick industry boom following the great New York City fires of 1835 and 1845, which left hundreds of wooden structures destroyed and a huge demand for brick as a less flammable building material. The Hudson River Valley, with its abundance of clay deposits left behind in the wake of post-glacial lakes nearly 12,000 years ago, stood up to answer the demand. Including the one in Haverstraw, over 40 brick factories cropped up along the Hudson, and where there were factories, there were often mines.
During most of the 19th century, clay was extracted from beneath Haverstraw until its residents lived and worked on hollow ground. The eventual and somewhat inevitable partial collapse of the mine began without fanfare, a slow cracking of the ground that some Haverstraw residents paid no mind. When it was evident homes and lives were in danger, it was too late for Harris and Benjamin Nelson, both of whom were either crushed in the collapse or killed by the ensuing fire, sparked by the toppled stoves of destroyed homes. The initial disaster took twelve lives, the additional five lost by men and women rushing to the aid of their neighbors.
Adding fuel to the literal fire was the frigid weather, which discouraged residents from leaving their homes, as well as a water main break that prevented fire-fighters from dousing the flames. It seemed that residents were attacked on several fronts by forces that merged to make the clay pit disaster an incredibly deadly one. And yet, Haverstraw’s residents carried on in its wake, and managed to rebound from the landslide of 1906 to continue as a place worthy of the name “Bricktown.” Remembering this dark spot in Hudson River history is not merely a cautionary tale in resource depletion; Haverstraw’s ability to carry on and grow into the diverse and history-rich village it is today also serves as a needed reminder that there’s a tomorrow after even the worst of times.
Audrey Trossen is a Hudson Valley native and worked as an intern with the Hudson River Maritime Museum during the summer of 2017. She is a current undergraduate student at Smith College in Northampton, MA where she majors in Geology and concentrates in Museum Studies.
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