Two early automobiles pause on the ice of the frozen Hudson River in front of the Tarrytown lighthouse. Fred Koenig and Bob Hopkins in one car and a Mr. Maxwell and Mr. Chadwick in the other were racing to Albany. They had to turn back at Newburgh because the Newburgh-Beacon ferry kept the channel open. Hook Mountain is visible in the background. 1912. Courtesy John Scott Collection, Nyack Library.
In the early days of automobiles, speed demons were not content with ice yachts, and tried their luck on the frozen Hudson with autos instead.
On January 28, 1912, Robert E. Hopkins drove his automobile from Tarrytown to the Tarrytown Lighthouse (today known as the Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse). This was before General Motors filled in all but 100 feet of water to the lighthouse, so this was quite the distance. According to the New York Times, "The feat had never been attempted before." Robert E. Hopkins was the son of Robert E. Hopkins, Sr., who had supposedly "made millions in oil." Hopkins wasn't alone on the ice that day - plenty of people were out skating, on horseback, and even in automobiles, but most stuck close to shore, where the ice was more reliable.
Just a few days later, on February 3, 1912, Fred Koenig in his Mercedes and raced against M.R. Beltzhoover's Mercer in a 25 mile route on the ice off of Tarrytown. Koenig won that race by two laps, but Beltzhoover won the three mile straightaway race from the Tarrytown lighthouse to the Tarrytown Boat Club docks. Other auto races also gave speed exhibitions, and Beltzhoover got his Mercer up to 75 mph.
The ice was "in fine condition," so arrangements were made "for a bit automobile meet next week."
Despite these recreational activities closer to shore, the main shipping channel was still open - being kept clear by icebreaking tugs.
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The Hudson River Maritime Museum has thousands of artifacts and ephemera in its collections. On a regular basis, we will be sharing our favorites as part of our new "Featured Artifact" category of the blog.
We have been posting a lot about ice and winter sports here on the History Blog, so it's only apt that our first Featured Artifact is this beautiful piece of ephemera [paper items meant to be thrown away] from the Ray Ruge Collection. Ray was instrumental in reviving the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club in the 1960s and was an avid ice boater. His widow donated his large collection of ice boating history, photographs, ephemera, correspondence, and more to the museum. You'll be seeing more of Ray and his collection in the coming weeks.
This issue of Harper's Weekly (coincidentally ALSO from January 16, although in 1869, rather than 2021) featured "Ice-Boats on the Hudson" on the cover. Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization was a national weekly political magazine published out of New York City between 1857 and 1916. Often beautifully illustrated with lithographs based on photographs, Harper's Weekly chronicled daily life, and many of its illustrations grace the museum's walls.
"Ice-Boats on the Hudson"
The original article, transcribed:
"The ice-yacht is a boat on skates, and is impelled by the wind in the same manner as an ordinary yacht. There has been for some time at Poughkeepsie, in this State, and Ice Yacht Club, modeled after the New York Yacht Club. Thus the frozen waters of the Hudson do not by any means impede the winter navigation of the river; indeed, with a strong wind and upon a smooth surface of ice, one of these ice-boats will attain a speed of one mile per minute, thus outrunning the locomotive, and literally flying with the speed of the wind.
"For several winters a race has been contemplated between these singular yachts; but the condition of the ice has never been favorable at the time agreed upon. Our illustration on this page shows the fleet at Poughkeepsie. This fleet consists of eight boats: the Flying Cloud, owned by IRVING GRINNELL; the Icicle, by JOHN ROOSVELT; the Snow Squall, by THEODORE V. JOHNSTON; the Una, by AARON INNIS; the Flying Dutchman, by THEODORE VAN KLEEK; the Haze, by JOHN JAY INNIS; the Restless, by Commodore O. H. BOOTH; and the Snow Flake, by THOMAS PARISH."
Editor's note - the Icicle is on display at the Hudson River Maritime Museum.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 12, 1896 in the Chicago, Illinois The Daily Inter Ocean. The tone of the article reflects the time period in which it was written.
New York, Jan. 10 – Special Correspondence. – The most popular new sport of the winter is golf on ice. This is like golfing on land, with a few important differences, but the persons who golf upon the ice are the same ones who golf on land. The popularity of the sport will not allow it to die during the months when the earth is covered with snow too deep for running across the links on land.
In the neighborhood around New York the most popular place for ice golfing is the Hudson River when it is frozen stiff as a sheet of ice and is covered with snow, from up above the Palisades down to where the river finds the harbor.
The way to play golf on ice is to mount upon skates and chase a ball over a certain course. So far it is like golf on land. The necessary attribute of golf on ice is that one should be a very expert skater, and that one has endurance and strength and can be comfortable in cold weather.
When the Gould family went up to the ice carnival at Montreal just a year ago upon that memorial tour when Count de Castlane proposed to Anna Gould, one of the prettiest sights they saw was the Montreal ice golfers. Pretty English girls with warm clothes and red cheeks swung the golf sticks high in the air and made flying descents upon the ball, chasing it as though on wings. A game of golf on ice progresses faster than a game of golf on land, and more space is covered in one link than there is in a whole country golf course.
The girls of the Hudson – those hearty daughters of millionaires who persisted in living along the banks of “the Rhine of America” most of the year – began ice golfing this winter. Their plan is to lay out links in the form of a course. The course is marked by a trail of fine dark sand, which is sprinkled upon the ice or upon the snow that covers the ice of the river. There isn’t over a handful in a mile of trail, but it is enough to mark the course.
The “Tee” in a Pile of Snow
The “teeing hole” lies upon the bank of the river. You start your ball along the trail, keep it going with as few strokes as possible on account of the score, and finally drive it ashore and into a “tee.” The second link lies farther on, and on the ice in this case is on the opposite shore of the river, maybe a mile across. All skate along to see fair play and the little caddy keeps close to the player’s heels.
On the return course the trail lies down the middle of the river, and the tee is a pile of snow with a hole sunken in it for the ball. This is very difficult to “make,” as the smoothness of the ice and the smallness of the hole carries the ball on and around instead of in. But it can be done. The etiquette of the teeing ground is the same on ice as on land. Not a word must be spoken at the tee, until the ball has been safely landed in the hold. The length of a proper golf course on ice, instead of being the regulation distance of five miles, is always twenty-five. Those who do not care to skate can drive along the river bank, or upon the ice, and watch the game.
If a millionaire could buy ice ponds with money it is sure that George Vanderbilt would have golfing on ice at the opening of his home, Biltmore, in North Carolina this week. Every other outdoor sport has been provided. There is a beautiful pond there that occasionally freezes over, but the crust is never thick enough for so many players and their spectators. But there are all things in readiness for golf on ice, and if the cold snap comes they will have it.
The Seward Webbs, whose Shelbourne farms, in New England, is the ideal country place in the world, have a lovely winter golf course that lies over a frozen lake. When the land is passed and the player reaches the lake she has her caddy slip on skates, and the two strike out after the ball. The tools required for golf on ice are the oval and flat ones. The round and pointed sticks and clubs are not needed. There are no obstructions on the ice like fences, but there are snowdrifts that require a frequent lofting of the ball. In fact, for golf on ice a particular science is required. The average player would strike straight ahead and be obliged to come back and, finally, waste more time in returning than would be allowed for a good game.
Back upon the Rockefeller country places that adjoin each other in the Tarrytown region there is a lovely spot that nestles quietly enough in the hills to tempt another Rip Van Winkle to lie down for a long slumber. To this spot the golf craze has penetrated, and a little house has been put up for the players. They gather in her as though in a clubhouse, get warm, eat little luncheons, and start out upon the chase across the ice. They can easily cover twenty-five miles in an afternoon’s golfing on ice.
Expert Girl Golfers
Hitherto the Meadow Brook Club people (who entertained the Duke of Marlborough on the hunt when he was here, and who bring their guests from the Pacific coast every fall for the hunting) have languished during the deep-snow season; but this fall the waters nearest them, the sound, the bay, the open bit of harbor, wherever there is a strip of ice, have been called into play for ice golfing. There may be as many links as one pleases, according to their newest rules, all to be decided the day before by a committee, which is governed by the state of the weather and the ice.
Golfing upon the ice is a special sport with the young millionairesses and debutantes. They have opportunity for so many pretty poses. Nothing is more graceful than skating, and the playing of a game upon the ice is bewitchingly becoming.
A very clever ice golfer is Miss Amy Bend, the very blond, baby-faced young woman, in her second or third season, who is reported engaged to Mr. Willie K. Vanderbilt. Miss Bend golfs in the Shelbourne Farms house parties and at the many country places where she is a guest this winter.
Mrs. Ogden Mills and Mrs. Burke-Roche, both of which beautiful matrons are the mothers of twins, skate a great deal, with their children with them. Mrs. Burke-Roche, with her two sturdy boys, and Mrs. Mills, with her pretty little girls, can be seen skating every pleasant day. Their favorite spot is a club ground in New York City, upon which there will soon be built a set of golf links.
The Western young women who own large country places, like Miss Florence Pullman, have a way of their own in planning links.
A short time ago a professional golf linker who was engaged to lay out links at Lenox visited Miss Pullman’s country place in the West to get ideas from her. Her course is a very pretty one, and differs from others in having the tee holes situated in the prettiest portions of the ground. This is contrary to rule, as beauty of scenery is supposed to detract too much from one’s interest at the teeing time. If Miss Pullman follows the new winter golf fad, and has links upon the ice, she will doubtless invent a new way of making the golf links novel.
There is a certain young heiress in this country. She is a Western girl, though cosmopolitan, having lived all over the world, and she is original in taste. A short time ago, when the lake upon her country place where she went for the December holiday began to freeze, she began lamenting that she could not play golf on ice. “I hear they are doing it at Fifi’s country place,” said she, mentioning the nickname of a girl well known in society, and I don’t see why I can’t do the same.”
An Heiress’ Dream
Straightway she had her landscape gardeners set to work to make a golf link upon the ice. The lake was a smooth, round sheet, and the course was to lay around it. The first obstacle planned was a mound of ice. This was made by packing snow upon the crust of the ice and pouring water upon it. The next obstacle was a miniature falls, with icebergs and icicles. This the gardener had his men make by pouring water slowly down upon the ice letting it freeze in midair as it would. After many tubs of water had been poured, the ice took on the appearance of a frozen falls.
In playing golf upon the ice, where obstacles have been placed, the skill of the player is taxed to strike the ball just hard enough to lift it over the obstacle. He then skates around it and finds his ball upon the other side. This would be simple enough if he were sure of lifting the ball over the obstruction. But he can only “loft” with his full strength and then skate around. He not wait or the ball will have gone a mile ahead of him over the frozen surface, and a hundred feet past the tee, which is just the other side of the obstacle.
There will have to be a new code of golf instructions written for those who golf upon the ice, because the summer golfing is different in everything but principle. But that will soon be done, as several young men who have fallen in love with the sport are at work upon it. HARRY GERMAINE.”
Thank you to Hudson River Maritime Museum volunteer George Thompson, retired New York University reference librarian, for sharing these glimpses into early life in the Hudson Valley. And to the dedicated museum volunteers who transcribe these articles.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to support more history blog content, please make a donation to the Hudson River Maritime Museum or become a member today!
Ice boating has a long history on the Hudson River, and the Hudson was where ice boating may have started in the United States. Although ice sailing on frozen rivers and canals in Europe dates back to the 17th century, it wasn't until the 1790s that we get our first recorded instance of ice boating on the Hudson River, in Poughkeepsie. A simple wooden box on two runners with a third runner at the back for steering, these sail-rigged boxes with skates were a way for ordinary people to have some wintertime fun, and even occasionally acted as transport vessels for people and small goods.
By the mid-19th century, the Hudson River was the center of a huge ice boating (or ice yachting) trend, one that experienced another surge of popularity at the turn of the 20th century.
Unlike the early boxes on runners, these new wooden "boats" were simple and elegant - an enormous wooden keel with a wooden cross piece and runners all around. A small platform at the back was for the skipper and any passengers. During races, sometimes the jib man would stand on the cross pieces.
This video, filmed in 2014, shows a number of historic "stern steerers" as they are called - because you steer the boat at the stern, or back, with the back ice runner serving as a rudder.
Thanks to climate change, the Hudson River doesn't freeze much these days, and when it does it rarely gets thick enough for long enough for ice boating. But that doesn't stop the folks who are keeping the sport alive from trying. You can learn more about the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club by visiting their website.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum has a large collection of ice boating materials, including the stern steerers Icicle and Knickerbocker (Jack Frost shown in the video is the sister boat to the Icicle). Icicle was owned by John E. Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt's cousin and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's uncle, and the one who got FDR into ice boating. Both ice boats are on display in the museum's East Gallery.
If you'd like to learn more about the history of ice boating on the Hudson and about the formation of some of its groups, check out this great article from Hudson Valley Magazine: Explore the History of Ice Yachting in the Hudson Valley.
And this winter, if the weather gets cold enough for long enough, take a trip up to Kingston/Rhinecliff or Hudson, NY and see if you can't see folks ice boating off of Astor Point or Tivoli Bay.
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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