Editor's Note: These are excerpts taken from pages 58-64 of "Canal Boatman: My Life on Upstate Waterways" by Richard Garrity, published by Syracuse University Press, 1977.
"Toward evening a harbor tug towed us up the North River, where we were placed in the Cornell tow being made up opposite 52nd street. The tow was tied to what was called the 'stake boat,' anchored in the middle of the river. The anchored boats would swing around with the tide when it ran in or out. Tie-up lines stayed tight as the anchored boats rose and fell with the tide. The boatmen now had to stay aboard their boats until the two reached its destination.
Early the next morning we started for Albany. Soon after we were underway we were passing by Riverside Park, where the well-known landmark, Grant's Tomb could be seen close to the shoreline. Next we passed Spuyten Duyvil Creek, which separates the northern end of Manhattan Island from the mainland. The creek was named 'Spitting Devil' by the early Dutch settlers because of the violent cross-currents and eddies which occurred when the tide was running in or out.
Twelve miles or so from New York we came to the beginning of the Palisades, a series of rocky cliffs that extend for miles along the New Jersey shore on the west side of the river. Resembling tall columns or pillars, they are from 350 to 500 feet in height, an imposing and majestic sight to view while moving slowly up the Hudson. The Palisades ended in Rockland County, New York, but on the way we had passed Yonkers, Dobbs Ferry, Tarrytown, and the village of Rockland Lake.
One of my earliest recollections of the Hudson River was the time we were put in a Hudson tow and dropped off at Rockland Lake, soon after we had unloaded lumber in Brooklyn. The village is on the west shore of the Hudson about twenty-eight miles from New York. Here we loaded crushed stone for an upstate road-building job. The crushed stone from Rockland Lake was highly valued as a base for good roads. Canal boats carried the stone to many places in the state. Some of it went as far west as Seneca Falls, where it was used for a road-building job between that won and Waterloo.,
While waiting to load on that earlier trip, I remember a warm evening we all went swimming in the Hudson. The bathing party included our family and a young woman named Clara, a guest and friend of my mother from Tonawanda, who had come along for a pleasure trip. While we were all swimming, it was mentioned how much easier it was to swim and float in salt water. What I remember best was my Dad paddling around with me on his back, as i had not yet learned to swim.
When slowly passing up the Hudson in a river tow it was always a pleasing sight to see the large passenger boats that ran between New York and Albany. When they met or passed tows on the river, you could see the spray and foam rising from the side wheels and hear the noise of the paddles as they slapped the water. On the top deck, one could see the walking beam that connected the boat's engines to the paddle wheels, constantly rising up and down, driving the boat forward and creating a huge swell as it neared the tow.
These swells always brought forth a few cuss words from the canal and bargemen, because they made the tow heave and surge, sometimes breaking the towlines. When passing a tow, the passenger boats always slowed down some, but never enough to suit the men in charge of the tow.
When we reached Kingston, we were no longer in salt water. The natural current in the Hudson River kept the tide from carrying the salt water any farther upstream. From Kingston almost to Albany, the shores of the river were dotted with wooden ice houses, which were filled each winter when the river had frozen over. During the season of navigation the ice was shipped by special barges to New York City. Electric refrigeration was a long way off when these ice houses were built. The ice barges were picked up and dropped off at the various ice houses by the same large tows that handled the canal boats on the river. The ice houses and barges belonged to the Knickerbocker Ice. Co. The deck house and cabin of the barges were painted bright yellow, and the hull of the lower part was light gray color. Each barge had a windmill mounted on top of the cabin, which powered a bilge pump that kept the barge free of melting ice and bilge water. Not many barge captains would stay on a boat where they had to strain their backs, working a hand pump every spare moment. The company's name and the windmill mounted on a ten-foot-high tower atop the covered ice barge's after cabin always made me think of Holland.
After passing the city of Hudson on the north shore of the river, the valley widened and the river narrowed, becoming low marshland as we approached Albany and Rensselaer, which were on opposite sides of the Hudson. This was the destination of the large tow which had consisted of many types of barges and canal boats when it had left New York City forty-eight hours earlier. By the time we arrived at Albany, the tow consisted mostly of canal boats. Along the river we had dropped off ice and sand barges, brick, stone, and cement barges, and some barges to be repaired at the Rondout and Kingston boatyards. At that time many of the industries along the river used different types of barges to ship their products to New York City."
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