Editor's Note: This detailed account of the fire on the Citizens' Line steamer City of Troy at Dobbs Ferry is from the April 6, 1907 New York Times. The tone of the article reflects the time period in which it was written.
CITY OF TROY BURNS IN HUDSON
The Old River Steamer Lands Her 65 Passengers Just in Time.
A FIRE OFF DOBBS FERRY
Captain the Last to Leave After Bringing Her to Edwin Gould's Pier.
BOAT A WRECK IN AN HOUR
Fire Started in Mid-River at 9 o'clock - No Panic - Some Passengers , Helped Fight the Flames.
With her hold a mass of crackling flames, the big steamer City of Troy of the Citizens' Line, a wooden side-wheeler, 280 feet long, on which were 65 passengers, plowed through the Hudson at full speed last night, her Captain endeavoring to find a pier to which he might tie long enough to land the passengers and crew. The City of Troy was on the Jersey side of the river off Yonkers, going up the river, when the fire was discovered, and it was an hour later before she was finally tied up at the private pier of Edwin Gould at Dobbs Ferry. There every passenger was safely landed. Mate W. S. Eagle was the only one overcome by smoke. He was taken ashore and soon recovered. The vessel, an hour later, was a blackened mass burned to the water's edge.
Some of the passengers who had retired early, were already asleep when shortly after 8 o'clock tiny puffs of smoke creeping up through hatches and companionways were noticed by other passengers and deckhands.
The fire alarm signal was rung through the boat and the crew rushed to their places, while terrified passengers rushed to the decks begging to be told what had happened. Many had been awakened from sleep by the alarm, and these, rushing on deck, added to the excitement. In the meantime the flames had been found in the hold amidships.
It is thought detective insulation on the electric wiring in the pantry started the fire. It gained rapid headway, eating its way fore and aft and licking at the deck above. Several streams of water were quickly turned into the hold and a desperate fight was made to check the flames. Many of the more cool-headed of the passengers joined with the crew in handling hose and carrying water.
Across the River on Fire.
Despite their efforts[,] the flames continued to gain headway. When it was seen that there was no longer hope of saving the boat[,] Capt Charles H. Bruder turned his vessel's head off the shore and rung for full speed ahead. Straight across the river the boat ploughed, and at the Dobbs Ferry pier an effort was made to tie up.
For some reason the boat could not be made fast, and, despairingly, Capt. Bruder turned toward the pier of the Manila Anchor Brewery. The terror of the passengers was redoubled when it was found that here also the boat would be unable to land. By this time, too, the flames had gained dangerous headway and the passengers crowded on to the upper decks.
When the vessel approached Dobbs Ferry there was to those ashore no sign of fire aboard except a cloud of smoke trailing off to the stern, as she ran shoreward, and her whistles for help did not seem justified to those who saw her approaching.
There was no panic aboard as the boat neared land. All hands were ready to leave as quickly and quietly as might be. Planks were run out to the pier, and everybody got off safely, though it was said none of the baggage was saved. There being only a few passengers, they got off in two minutes.
Some time after she landed the vessel drifted away from the pier somewhat. She was then ablaze from stem to stern. Capt. Bruder was the last man off and he left in a rowboat.
When the steamboat was laid alongside the pier the crew had knocked out the forerail and had a gangplank ready to run out. It took but a couple of minutes to get the passengers ashore and on to the tracks of the Central Railroad. The fire broke out all over the vessel, flames breaking forth in a dozen places just as the last of the passengers got ashore.
Running toward the east side of the river, the steamboat had been running with the wind, so that there did not seem to be much draught for the fire, but once she stopped and the wind began to whistle through her the flames seemed to leap out in a dozen places.
The fire swept through the boat within a very few minutes. All effort had to be turned toward saving the brewery and the pier as well as the cottage on the pier. The latter was saved, as was the brewery, but a portion of the pier will have to be rebuilt, even to the pilings as the fire extended to it.
Then Capt Bruder ran his boat toward Mr. Gould's dock. Here at last he was able to make fast, and with the flames crackling almost at their heels[,] the passengers were tossed and tumbled over the gang planks to the pier.
The Dobbs Ferry Fire Department had turned out as the blazing City of Troy was seen approaching the town, and the men set to work to save the steamer. Their work was hopeless, however, and the flames were already eating into the upper works of the steamer when the word flashed through the crowd that a woman passenger was still asleep in her berth.
Alfred Smith and Robert Wilson of the Fire Department immediately darted down into the burning cabin. Choking with the dense smoke they fought their way from stateroom to stateroom until they came to one which was locked.
Sleeping Passenger Saved.
Putting their shoulders to the door they smashed it in. In the berth they found a woman, whom neither smoke nor noise had awakened. She had not been overcome by smoke, however, and grabbing her in their arms, Smith and Wilson rushed with her to the deck. From here she was got safely ashore.
In the meantime the flames had been communicated to the pier, and this, too, soon blazing fiercely, driving the firemen, back foot by foot, until at last they were compelled to abandon all hopes of saving the vessel. On board of her were thirteen horses, besides a valuable cargo of freight. All the horses and the freight were lost.
Before the firemen were driven from the pier an effort was made to reach the horses. Several men dropped into the burning hold, but it was quickly found that the horses could not be reached.
The passengers hurried to the railroad station after leaving the boat, and many of them returned to this city on the 11:30 o'clock train, while others left for Troy shortly after midnight.
STORIES OF PASSENGERS.
All Praise Bravery of Capt. Bruder, Who Was Last to Leave.
Seven passengers and about twenty-five members of the City of Troy's crew arrived at the Grand Central Station on the 12:53 train from Yonkers this morning. The passengers looked very little the worse for their experience, but it was different with most of the crew.
They were asleep in their bunks when the fire was discovered, and as the quarters were close to where the fire started they had no time to get together their belongings. Several of the negro stewards when they got to New York had on only an undershirt, overalls, shoes, and a blanket. They were bareheaded, and were still wondering what had happened when sadly they walked down the platform of the Grand Central.
On only one point did those who got here this morning agree, and that was the bravery of Capt. Bruder, the skipper of the City of Troy. The skipper, all said, was the bravest man on the boat, and it was not until the last person had been safely landed that he made his way through the smoke to the gangway that led to Edwin Gould's dock at Dobbs Ferry.
"I was in the engine room watching the machinery;" said Carl Carlson of 5 Water Street, this city, "when the fire was discovered. I immediately ran up on deck and made my way to the bridge. where I informed Capt. Bruder what was the matter. I never saw a cooler man than that Hudson River skipper. He did not lose his head for a single second. He called his officers to him and then ordered every man to the place assigned to him in the fire drill.
Captain Reassures Passengers.
Then he made his way to the saloon where the passengers were and begged them to keep cool and trust to him to get them to land. He said that we were in danger, but that the greatest danger of all was a panic. When we got ashore he told us to meet him at the police station and he would furnish us transportation to wherever we wished to go. Then the skipper rushed back to the bridge and guided the boat to the pier at Dobbs Ferry. So far as I know no one was lost, although I did hear that two men had jumped overboard but were rescued.
"The passengers had just finished dinner and were making themselves known to one another in the saloon," said R. H. Keller of Troy, "when the skipper came into the saloon and informed us in a cool business-like way that bad luck had come our way, and that the boat was on fire. Several of the women appeared to be on the verge of going into hysterics, but the skipper had foreseen all that and assured them that the greatest danger of all lay in their losing their heads. Then he told us what to do and where to go, and hurried back to his place on the bridge.
"It was as cool a piece of work as I have ever seen under such serious conditions. 'Meet me at the police station and I'll send you home,' the skipper said as he hurried out of the saloon."
As far as I was able to ascertain," said Frank Fletcher, one of the engineers of the City of Troy, "the fire started in the pantry, which is located on the main deck about amidships. I have not yet learned the cause, but imagine that defective insulation must have started it. The moment the skipper realized what the matter was[,] he headed straight for Dobbs Ferry. There was not any panic, and we did not lose a soul, either among the passengers or the crew."
Four Streams Didn't Check Flames.
"When the fire alarm was sounded Capt Bruder hustled every man to the place assigned to him in the fire drill, and soon we had four streams playing on the fire. Despite our efforts the flames gained rapidly on us, and in a few minutes after we bumped up against the dock at Dobbs Ferry the boat was a mass of flames from stem to stern.
"We were going at full speed when the fire started, that is, about 14 knots an hour. The most pitiful incident of the fire was the loss of seven [or 13?] fine horses that we had on board. We all wanted to save the poor beasts, but it was impossible to do so. I do not know to whom the animals belonged."
Michael Murray and Thomas O'Hara were two of the crew that arrived here this morning. They did the talking for their fellows and all agreed that they were mighty lucky to get back to New York alive.
Most of these men were asleep when the fire drill was sounded. They did not stop to pick up any of their personal belongings, but hustled on deck to help try put out the fire. O'Hara said that Capt. Bruder had to be taken off the ship in a lifeboat, as the vessel was ablaze from stem to stern on the landing side when the skipper deserted the boat, after the last of the passengers were taken off.
Some of the others said that O'Hara was mistaken in this and that the skipper had left the boat via the gangplank, which he reached by a perilous groping through the smoke that enveloped the ship.
The negro cooks and stewards were the great sufferers and saved almost nothing at all. Several of them had very few clothes on last night and were trying to keep themselves warm with blankets that had been given them by kindhearted people in Dobbs Ferry.
One of the crew said that one of the officers found a crowd of fifteen excited Italians preparing to jump overboard. He remained among them until the boat landed, after issuing a standing threat to brain the first man that moved, with a belaying-pin. The Italian re[m]ained quiet.
The City of Troy was a wooden side-wheel steamboat, 280.6 feet long and 38 feet in breadth, drawing ten feet of water. She was built in Brooklyn in 1876 for inland passenger service, and had continued in the Hudson River service for the Citizens' Steamboat Company since. She cost $250,000 originally. Her gross tonnage was 1,527, and net tonnage 1,280. The steamboat had a crew of forty-eight men and 200 staterooms.
Some thirteen years ago, when the present management of the Citizens Line assumed control, the boat was remodeled at a cost of $150,000. On each deck she was provided with fire cocks and hose. The officers and crew have always been considered most efficient, and were well versed in the fire drill.
Thank you to HRMM volunteer George Thompson, retired New York University reference librarian, for sharing these glimpses into early life in the Hudson Valley. Thank you to HRMM volunteer Carl Mayer for transcribing these articles.
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