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. 79- A.B. VALENTINE
The steamboat “A.B. Valentine” is another of the Hudson river vessels that began her career under a different name than the one which she bore when her days of sailing the waters of the river were ended.
The original vessel was built in the early “forties” [1840s] - a wooden hull steamboat used in passenger service and running under the name “Santa Claus.”
The “Santa Claus” ploughed the waters of the Hudson River in 1846 between New York and Albany as a day boat in the service of the People’s Line. In 1847, she ran for a short time between New York and Pierpont, [Piermont] and was later returned to the New York-Albany route.
One notable feature of the “Santa Claus” was a painting which she displayed on her wheelhouses. This painting portrayed Santa Claus himself making his entrance into the chimney of a home - the spirit of the legend of old Saint Nick coming down the chimney with his sackful of toys at Christmas-tide.
During the season of 1848 the “Santa Claus” carried passengers between Wilbur and New York in dayline service. At that early period there were few docks along the Rondout Creek and the section did not represent the beehive of activity which later developed.
About the year 1853 Thomas Cornell of Rondout purchased the steamboat “Santa Claus” and converted her from a passenger-carrying vessel into a towboat. She ran under the Cornell banner as the “Santa Claus” until 1868.
During the winter of 1869 the towboat “Santa Claus” was entirely rebuilt at Red Hook, South Brooklyn, and when she next appeared she carried the name of “A.B. Valentine,” in honor of the New York agent employed by Thomas Cornell.
The dimensions of the “A.B. Valentine” were listed as follows: Length of hull, 205 feet; breadth of beam, 25 feet; depth of hold, 9 feet; gross tonnage, 308; net tonnage, 191; vertical beam engine with a cylinder diameter of 50 inches with a 10 foot stroke.
The overhauling of the former ”Santa Claus” and its re-appearance as the “A.B. Valentine” gave the Cornell line a practically new steamboat. She was placed on the towing route between Rondout and New York, running on this route until the fall of 1887, taking the place of the “George A. Hoyt". The following spring the “A.B. Valentine” was placed in service between Rondout and Albany, towing in line with the towboat “Norwich,” under the command of Captain Jerry Patterson and with Andrew Barnett as chief engineer. She continued in service until the fall of 1901, when she seemed of no further use and was sold to J.H. Gregory of Perth Amboy, New Jersey.
A peculiar coincidence in connection with the history of the steamboat “A.B. Valentine” is found in the fact that on the day she was sold to the wreckers, the man whose name she bore, died. A.B Valentine had served as superintendent of the Cornell Steamboat Company of New York for half a century.
The “A.B. Valentine” left Rondout on her last voyage on December 17, 1901, sailing to Perth Amboy, where she was broken up.
Cornell Steamboat Company towboat "A. B. Valentine", right, ca. 1880s, towing a string of barges in distance at left, with the help of a Cornell tug, center. The small boat at center left is a bumboat, or peddler's boat, which carried food and other supplies that people on the barges and tugs might want. HRMM Collection.
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.
This blog is written by:
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
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