Today is the 50th anniversary of the last voyage of the Hudson River Day Line steamboat Alexander Hamilton. Her last sail on Monday, September 6, 1971 - also Labor Day - marked the end of an era.
Built in 1924 by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation for the Hudson River Day Line, she was one of the last of the Hudson River sidewheel steamboats to be built. Originally plying the Hudson River between New York City and Albany, by the 1950s her route was reduced to Poughkeepsie, and by 1970 to Bear Mountain. The Hudson River Day Line had been previously purchased by the Circle Line, who continued to operate it as a separate institution, but in 1971 the Circle Line ended steamboat service to Bear Mountain, replacing the Hamilton with the Dayliner, a sightseeing boat purpose-built to replace her.
In the TV news spot below, the interviewer speaks to several crew, including Captain Edward Grady and Chief Engineer Elvoid Post, who retired with the boat.
The following day, the New York Times wrote an article about the Hamilton and her retirement:
BEAR MOUNTAIN, N. Y. Sept. 6—The Alexander Hamilton, the last of the Hudson River sidewheelers, made her final voyage on the river today.
It was the end of an era that began 164 years ago with a paddlewheeler called the Clermont. The captain of that steamboat was Robert Fulton. The skipper of the Alexander Hamilton today was Edward VI. Grady of East Keansburg, N. J., who has spent 25 years on the water and eight years as master of the Alexander Hamilton.
“There are not many of us left,” Captain Grady said on the last run, gazing out at the rain ‐ spattered river. “Steamboats?” a passenger asked.
“Steamboats and Irishmen,” the captain replied.
Replacement on Way
Built in 1923 and commissioned a year later, the Alexander Hamilton will be replaced next season by a sleek new twin‐screw all‐steel diesel powered vessel to be called, prosaically, the Dayliner.
The Hamilton, or the Alexander as steamboat buffs call her, may end up as a restaurant at the South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan, but her crew—at least some of them—secretly hope she will find some more work on the water.
“There are another 40 years In her, easy,” said Chief Engineer Elvoid Post of Harrington Park, N. J., who joined the ship as a young oiler in 1931 and has been with her ever since, except for a year in 1939 Spent on the Peter Stuyvesant, now serving as a restaurant in Boston.
Chief Post, 71 years old, retired tonight. There were rumors among the crew that he would set a speed record on the return trip from Poughkeepsie. “I'll open her up,” he said, “but I set my speed record on Sept. 23, 1942. We left Bear Mountain at 5:45 P.M. that day. We tied up and I was at Englewood Hospital in New Jersey at 7:15, where my wife was having a baby.”
Chief Post said that the owner of the line then, who lived in Riverdale, the Bronx, told him the next day that all he saw going down the river was steam.
“He told me not to have any more babies,” the chief said. “We did have one more, but it was off‐season.”
An Emotional Trip
To many of the 2,700 passengers today, it was a routine, enjoyable trip with stops at Bear Mountain and West Point, but to about 100 members of the Steamboat Historical Society, to the crew, to yachtsmen along the river and to hundreds of old‐timers along the shore it was an emotion-laden trip.
The powerful tenor steam whistle on the Hamilton was rarely silent as other vessels saluted the 338.6‐feet‐long old queen of the river.
“They know they will never see her like again,” said Captain Grady, as he hauled on the brass whistle pull.
The Hamilton, built at Sparrows Point, Md., at a cost of $850,000, is the last of the old generation of Day Liners, and she is following into retirement not only the Peter Stuyvesant but also the Robert Fulton, now a workmen's dormitory in Nassau, and the Chauncey Depew, long used as a launch in Bermuda.
The Hamilton's graceful wooden superstructure is of a kind now banned by Federal law but, as Chief Engineer Post observed, “We had a safety record the whole shipping world can admire.”
Miss Mary Doran, a retired Yonkers school teacher, who remembered 50 years of Hudson River history, said she came from Florida for the occasion “I never really liked the Hamilton,” she added, “because it was built in the twenties, when they began to get rid of the old elegance.”
Most of today's passengers—the last man to board the vessel in New York was James Norton of Jamaica, Queens —celebrated the day with Scotch and fried chicken served from huge plastic coolers.
The host at one private party on board was William Olcott, a descendant of the family that owned the Day Line for many years and first operated ships on New York's rivers before the War of 1812. The Alexander Hamilton was christened by his aunt, Mrs. A. V. S. Olcott, in 1924. His family owned the Day Line until 1948, the year the last boats ran all the way to Albany.
“My grandmother did not allow beer on the boats until the line went bankrupt in the thirties,” Mr. Olcott said. “They held church services on board every Sunday and there was no hard liquor until my grandmother died.”
The new ship will have the same passenger capacity, about 4,000, or almost double that the largest trans‐Atlantic liners But little boys on board will no longer be able to go below and gaze in awe at the huge paddle wheel cranks pounding up and down in the engine room as the Alexander Hamilton cut through the river at an average speed of 18 knots. Nor will they be able to peek through the portholes at the paddlewheels themselves.
The people on shore, too—the youngsters but more so their elders—will miss the paddles and the graceful glide of the Hamilton as she swept past on the Hudson.
Like just about all of the Hudson River's sidewheel steamboats, the Alexander Hamilton had a sad end. She moved from pier to pier after her retirement, and ended up beached in Atlantic Highlands, NJ until December of 1976, when she was purchased by developer Fred Lafko, who had her pulled off the sandbar and towed to the Navy pier near Monmouth, NJ, where he hoped to restore her as a floating restaurant and museum. In March of 1977, she was added to the National Register of Historic Places. But it was not to be. On November 8, 1977, a storm blew up and the Hamilton sank at her pier. Although several groups tried valiantly to raise the funds, the Hamilton never floated again.
You can learn more about the Alexander Hamilton and see artifacts from the boat at the Hudson River Maritime Museum's new exhibit, commemorating the 50th anniversary of her final year. If you have memories of the Hamilton, please share them in the comments!
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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