Iron shipbuilding came to Newburgh in the 1870s. That this happened at all can best be
attributed to the serendipitous conjunction of several forces. For us to better understand how these forces acted, we must start by examining briefly the industrial domain of Newburgh’s waterfront, its facilities and its people, immediately after the Civil War.
With the exception of the Newburgh Steam Mills and the newly-established Higginson
Manufacturing Company (the former a cotton mill and the latter a plaster mill, both
located to the north of South Street), Newburgh’s major industrial activity along the river was centered around the foot of Washington Street.
Here could be found the foundry and machine shops of the Washington Iron Works, which had been active during the war building machinery for naval vessels. Dating from the 1850s and under the management of Isaac Stanton and his partner named Mallery, its normal peacetime activity included the building of sugar-mill machinery, much of which was exported to plantations in Cuba and elsewhere throughout the Caribbean region. The works’ output also included sawmills, shingle mills, and steam engines and boilers. (It is of interest to note that some of this company’s buildings from that period survive at the southwest corner of South Water and Washington Streets, and that one lathe from their machine shop was still in use by Harry Marvel as late as 1946.)
Clustered around the iron works could be found the boiler shops-first that of D.A. Rheutan (and later that of Alexander Cauldwell), as well as the machine shop of Melrose and Moss. Pat Delany, who would later have a boiler shop at the corner of Renwick and South Colden Streets, served an apprenticeship with Cauldwell. Further to the south were the village’s shipyards-George F. Riley (who had once been a partner of Thomas S. Marvel) and a newcomer, Adam Busman, who had a short-lived partnership with L. Stewart. Later he teamed with Joel W. Brown to form Bulman and Brown, and maintained a shipbuilding and repair yard to the south of the foot of Washington Street.
In the late 1860s, Thomas S. Marvel had left Newburgh and was engaged in shipbuilding at Port Richmond, New York, and Denton, Maryland. Near the foot of Renwick Street had been the sawmill and planing mill of James Bigler, and nearby the lumber yard of D. Moore. Bigler built many wooden gun carriages there during the war.
At this time, heavy industry in Newburgh was composed of two parts- wooden shipbuilding and the iron-working trades. Changes were taking place, in that the Washington Iron Works had gone bankrupt, and their shops were taken over by William Wright, who came to Newburgh from Providence, Rhode Island. (Wright who had been employed at the engine works of George Corliss, was allegedly the inventor of the popper-valve mechanism which made the Corliss engine so popular, but Corliss himself took credit for this technological breakthrough and Wright eventually departed.)
In 1872, some of those previously associated with the Washington Iron Works- Luther C. Ward, Samuel Stanton (Isaac’s son) and John Delany (Pat’s brother)- founded Ward, Stanton and Company for the purpose of continuing the manufacture of the defunct firm’s machinery line. To this was added marine engines, and a short time later they bid upon and won the contract for a wooden tugboat for the City of New York. Lacking shipbuilding experience, they sub-contracted the hull and joiner work to Bulman and Brown, whose yard was adjacent to their shops. Ward, Stanton and Company built the engine, boiler and other machinery, and installed these components in the completed hull. The tug, named Manhattan, was delivered in August 1874. At about the same time, they had constructed engines and boilers for two small steam yachts, Revenge and Fanny (built elsewhere), and, apparently, a small iron-hulled steam lighter was built for use in Mexico. (The construction of the last named vessel has never been verified.)
With these initial forays into small ship construction, the partners concluded that this was a way of expanding the firm’s business, and, at some undetermined time, Thomas S. Marvel joined Ward, Stanton and Company to oversee the firm’s shipbuilding activities. Concurrently came what is considered the first major contact for a vessel with an iron hull- a steamboat for Greenwood Lake.
Incorporated in 1874, the Montclair Railway Company was built to provide access to Greenwood Lake for vacationing New Yorkers. In the 1870s, the lake, which straddles the New York-New Jersey state line, had become an important resort area with hotels lining the shore on both sides. What was needed was a large steamboat to move passengers to the hotels from the rail terminus at the lower end of the lake, replacing an inefficient and unreliable “mosquito fleet.”
The railroad contracted with Ward, Stanton and Company for the steamboat, a classic little side-wheeler whose iron hull was erected at the Newburgh yard using bolts instead of rivets. When complete, the hull was unbolted, moved to a site at the head of the lake and re-erected, this time using rivets. She was launched on June 29, 1876, at which time she was named Montclair. The engine and boiler were then installed, the joiner work fitted, and the completed vessel made her first revenue trip in the late summer of 1876. A crew of Ward, Stanton’s artisans from Newburgh assembled the steamer at the lake site.
What should have been a time of celebration was indeed not. The Montclair Railway had declared bankruptcy before Montclair was delivered, but the steamboat was handed over to a successor company. After still another bankruptcy and change of name, the company, now the New York and Greenwood Lake Railroad, became part of the Erie. The steamboat continued to run regularly, making the scheduled hotel landings and stopping on signal at other ports along the lake. She ran until the 1920s, when her machinery and joiner work were removed and the hull scuttled in the middle of the lake.
A handsome little steamboat, Montclair was 80 feet long, with a beam of 20 feet. Her beam engine, built by Ward, Stanton and Company, was equally diminutive, with a cylinder eighteen inches in diameter and a piston stroke of four feet. The shipbuilders also built her boiler.
The construction of Montclair was sufficient to convince Messrs. Ward, Stanton and Delany that iron shipbuilding, so successfully introduced in the Delaware River shipyards but rarely seen in New York, was the key to their future success. Delaware River shipbuilders like Neafie and Levy, John H. Dialogue, Harlan and Hollingsworth and others were much closer to sources of iron plates and shapes, and their iron hulls were therefore able to compete with wood in the 1860s. By the late 1870s improved rail connections to the east lessened this handicap for New York and Hudson River shipbuilders, but by this time shipbuilding in New York was nearly extinct.
A gradual transition at Ward, Stanton’s shops saw shipbuilding commence in earnest in 1879, when ten wooden vessels and the iron-hulled ferryboat City of Newburgh were completed. In 1880, the output was seven hulls of wood and two of iron, including the large Hoboken side-wheel ferry Lackawanna. The following year, there were three wooden vessels, a composite yacht (with iron frames and wood planking) and a second Hoboken ferry, and in 1882, iron finally surpassed wood four vessels to three.
The year 1883 was a determinant one for the yard; seven iron hulls and a single wooden one (the powerful tug John H. Cordts, built for the Washburn Steamboat Company of Saugerties, but acquired by the Cornell Steamboat Company in 1884.) The following year, 1884, three iron hulls and two wooden vessels were completed, and contracts for two more iron ferryboats were in hand.
Alas, 1884, proved to be the end of the line for Ward, Stanton and Company. After a disastrous fire the year before and for other reasons, the company was declared bankrupt a few days before Christmas. Of the partners, Luther C. Ward became what was then called a “commercial traveler,” Samuel Stanton retired and moved his family to Bradenton, Florida, aboard the steamboat Manatee (perhaps the last vessel completed by Ward, Stanton and Company) and John Delany entered into a partnership with Thomas S. Marvel under the name T.S. Marvel and Company.
The shipbuilding facilities would be shared between T.S. Marvel and Company and James Bigler (who won the contract to complete the two unfinished ferries) until Bigler retired from shipbuilding in the early 1890s. T.S. Marvel and Company (later T.S. Marvel Shipbuilding Company) would quickly earn a reputation for quality ship construction in iron and steel, turning out such noted vessels as the Cornell Steamboat Company’s tug Geo. W. Washburn in 1890, J.P. Morgan’s steam yacht Corsair in 1898, and the Hudson River Day Line’s Hendrick Hudson in 1906.
But it was the building of the side-wheeler Montclair that was the turning point. The age of iron had finally come to the New York region, the Hudson River and to Newburgh.
This article was written by William duBarry Thomas and originally published in the 2001 Pilot Log. Thank you to Hudson River Maritime Museum volunteer Adam Kaplan for transcribing the article.
Newburgh was the shipbuilding center of the mid-Hudson for well over a century and a half. Although the earliest accomplishments of local shipwrights are clouded by the passage of time, sailing vessels were constructed during the colonial days by such men as George Gardner, Jason Rogers, Richard Hill and William Seymour along the village’s waterfront, which extended approximately from the foot of present day Washington Street north to South Street.
Strategically well placed at the southernmost point before one entered the Hudson Highlands, Newburgh became the river transportation center, serving the inland towns and villages to the north and west. The Highlands form a magnificent scenic delight in the mid-Hudson region, but in the pre-railroad era they were decidedly unfriendly to the movement of goods and people. In short, the Hudson became a marine highway which connected upstate regions to the Metropolis at its mouth. A significant freighting business therefore developed at Newburgh, and, in addition, the village became one of the region’s bases for the whaling industry. Both of these undertakings required sailing vessels, and with forests of suitable timber nearby, the local shipbuilders were well placed to support the burgeoning commerce on the river.
Much of this changed with the introduction of the steamboat in the summer of 1807, when Robert Fulton’s North River Steamboat made her first trip to Albany. It was inevitable that steam should be adopted almost universally on America’s waterways. The earliest steamboat built at Newburgh is reputed to have been the side-wheel ferry Gold Hunter, constructed in 1836 for the ferry between Newburgh and Fishkill Landing. We are not certain of the identity of her builder, but her appearance coincided with the start of local shipbuilding by the dynasty which dominated that industry for 110 years - Thomas S. Marvel; his son of the same name; and his grandson, Harry A. Marvel.
The shipbuilding activities of these three generations of the Marvel family encompassed the period from 1836 until 1946, when Harry Marvel retired from business. Although their activity was not continuous throughout this period, the reputations of these men as master shipbuilders survived the periodic and all too frequent ups and downs that have always plagued this industry.
The senior Thomas Marvel, born in Newport, Rhode Island in 1808, served his apprenticeship as a shipwright with Isaac Webb, a well-known shipbuilder in New York. Around 1836, he moved to Newburgh and commenced building small wooden sailing vessels, sloops, schooners and the occasional brig or half-brig, near the foot of Little Ann Street, later moving to the foot of Kemp Street (no longer in existence). Among the vessels he built was a Hudson River sloop launched in the spring of 1847 for Hiram Travis, of Peekskill. Travis elected to name his vessel Thomas S. Marvel, a name she carried at least until she was converted to a barge in 1890.
An unidentified 160-foot steamboat was built at the Marvel yard in 1853. She was described by the local press as a “new and splendid propeller built for parties in New York.” Possibly the first steamboat built by Thomas Marvel, this vessel was important for another reason- she was propelled by a double-cylinder oscillating engine built on the Wolff, or high-and-low pressure principle. Ernest Wolff had patented his design in 1834, utilizing the multiple expansion of steam to improve the efficiency of the engine. The Wolff engine was a rudimentary forerunner of the compound engine, which did not appear for another two decades.
The younger Thomas joined his father in 1847, at the age of 13. The young man, who was born in 1834 at New York, was entrusted with building a steamboat hull in 1854. This was a classic case of on-the-job training, for the boat was entirely young Tom’s responsibility. She is believed to have been Mohawk Chief, for service on the eastern end of the Erie Canal. The 85-3/95 ton Mohawk Chief, 86 feet in length, was described in her first enrollment document as a “square-sterner steam propeller, round tuck, no galleries and no figurehead.” The dry, archaic language of vessel documentation was hardly accurate, for her builder’s half model, still in existence, proves that she was a handsomely crafted little ship with a graceful bow and fine lines aft.
The elder Thomas Marvel retired from shipbuilding at Newburgh sometime around 1860. He later built some additional vessels elsewhere, including the schooner Amos Briggs at Cornwall. He may have commanded sailing vessels on the river in his later years, for he was referred to from time to time as “Captain Marvel.”
By the mid-1850s, the younger Thomas Marvel had become a thoroughly professional shipwright, and undertook the management of the yard’s operation, at first as the sole owner and later in partnership with George F. Riley, a local shipwright. The partnership continued until Marvel volunteered for service in the Union Army almost immediately after the start of the Civil War in April 1861. He served as Captain of Company A of the 56th Regiment until he was mustered out due to illness in August 1862.
He returned to Newburgh, but shortly afterwards moved to Port Richmond, Staten Island, where he built sailing vessels and at least one steamboat. A two-year period in the late 1860s saw him constructing sailing craft on the Choptank River at Denton, Maryland, after which he returned to Port Richmond.
During the Civil War and for a few years afterwards, George Riley continued a modest shipbuilding business at Newburgh, later with Adam Bulman as a partner. They went their separate ways in the late 1860s, and Bulman teamed with Joel M. Brown in 1871, doing business as Bulman & Brown. For the next eight years, they built ships in a yard south of the foot of Washington Street, where they turned out tugs, schooners and barges. Their output of tugs consisted of James Bigler, Manhattan, A.C. Cheney and George Garlick, and their most prominent sailing vessels were the schooners Peter C. Schultz (332 tons) and Henry P. Havens (300 tons), both launched in 1874.
Another source of business was the brick-making industry, which required deck barges to move its products to the New York market. Nearly all of 19th century New York City was built of Hudson River brick, and the brick yards on both shores of Newburgh Bay contributed to this enormous undertaking. In 1872 alone, Bulman & Brown built at least five brick barges for various local manufacturers.
Vessel repair went hand in hand with construction. Bulman & Brown built and operated what might have been the first floating dry dock at Newburgh. In 1879, the firm moved to Jersey City, New Jersey, and Newburgh lost a valuable asset. This prompted Homer Ramsdell, the local entrepreneurial steamboat owner, to finance construction of a marine railway located at the foot of South William Street. Ramsdell, whose interests included the ferry to Fishkill Landing and the Newburgh and New York Railroad, as well as his line of steamboats to New York, wanted to be sure that his fleet could be hauled out and repaired locally without the need for a trip to a New York repair yard.
The mid-1870s, which marked the end of the wooden ship era at Newburgh and the start of the age of iron and steel, brings us to the close of this portion of the sketch of the area’s shipbuilding. From this time onward, the local scene would change radically. The firm of Ward, Stanton & Company, successors to Stanton & Mallery, a local manufacturer of machinery for sugar mills and other shoreside activities, entered shipbuilding and persuaded Thomas S. Marvel to join the company in 1877 to manage its shipyard. Newburgh, which had been incorporated as a city in 1865, was about to enter the major leagues in ship construction.
Editor's Note: This article was originally written by William duBarry Thomas and published in the 2000 Pilot Log. Thank you to Hudson River Maritime Museum volunteer Adam Kaplan for transcribing the article.
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