Editor's Note: The following text is a verbatim transcription of an article written by George W. Murdock, for the Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman newspaper in the 1930s. Murdock, a veteran marine engineer, wrote a regular column. Articles transcribed by HRMM volunteer Adam Kaplan. For more of Murdock's articles, see the "Steamboat Biographies" category.
The history of the “James B. Schuyler” is perhaps one of the most colorful of any of the old Hudson river steamboats, although the vessel was not too large, being only 195 feet long, but possessed of great speed for her size.
She was built in 1863 for service in New York waters, plying on several short routes out of New York harbor. In 1867-1868 she was in service on the Bridgeport-New York route running in line with the steamer “Bridgeport.”
Then in the winter of 1874, Commodore Hancox purchased the “James B. Schuyler” and this was the beginning of her career as one of the most colorful steamboats ever to ply the Hudson river. Commodore Hancox had been operating the steamboats “Connecticut” and “C. Vanderbilt” on a night line between New York and Troy for several years but had been forced off the route in the summer of 1872 by the Citizens Line of Troy.
In the spring of 1874 Commodore Hancox placed the “James B. Schuyler” in service, competing with the Troy and Albany lines- and then the fun began, lasting until at one time the fare between the metropolis and Troy and Albany was only ten cents. The “Sunnyside” of the Troy Line and the “Drew” of the People’s Line of Albany were the chief rivals of the “James B. Schuyler,” and the captains of the three vessels resorted to all kinds of schemes to give their boat the advantage in the race for the lion’s share of the business.
Several of the incidents recalled by Mr. Murdock relative to this keen competition are extremely amusing. Working on the ill-fated “Sunnyside,” along with William Fairbrother of Port Ewen, Mr. Murdock was an eyewitness to these various pranks which were written into the record of the “Schuyler.”
One of the favorite tricks of the skipper of the “James B. Schuyler” was to pull up along side of one of the opposition vessels such as the “Sunnyside” and then strike up the band aboard the “Schuyler.” The passengers aboard the other boat would crowd to one side of the vessel to better enjoy the music and this would cause the boat to list to one side, raising one paddle wheel out of the water and cause the vessel to lose speed and let the “James B. Schuyler” forge ahead to the next landing. On one such occasion the “Schuyler” was playing this trick on the “Sunnyside” when the “Dean Richmond” passed both vessels. The “Schuyler” immediately took out after the “Richmond,” caught up with her, and began the band playing all over again. The resourceful skipper of the “Dean Richmond” ordered the safety valves on his boat to be lifted, thus making a terrific racket and drowning out the band aboard the “Schuyler” so his passengers could not hear and therefore would not rush to one side of the steamboat.
Another incident told by Mr. Murdock records the happenings of a rainy night at Albany. The “Schuyler” docked at the Albany landing above the “Dean Richmond” and along the railroad tracks, waiting for passengers from the train. Clem Hancox, son of the owner of the “Schuyler,” went ashore with a red lantern under his coat, and when the train came along, he waved the danger signal, stopped the train, and while the train crew were investigating to find out why the engineer had stopped the train above the station, the train passengers, believing the station had been reached, left the train and flocked aboard the “Schuyler.” When the train finally arrived at its regular destination, there were no passengers left for the “Dean Richmond.”
Old Commodore Hancox at one time had decided that he would pay no wharfage at the Troy landing. so the train owners built a high board fence around the landing of the “James B. Schuyler.” When the steamboat pulled into the dock there was no place for the passengers to land. The Commodore’s men were immediately ordered ashore with axes and bars, and soon the high board fence was only a mass of splintered lumber floating away down the river. The police were called and the crew of the “Schuyler” was escorted to the city jail. Then it was that the Commodore decided to pay the usual wharfage.
The “James B. Schuyler” continued running as an opposition boat until the fall of 1875, and in the winter of that year the People’s Line and the Citizens’ Line united to buy off Commodore Hancox and bring an end to the destructive competition which was ruining the business of all three of the companies.
The “James B. Schuyler” was used for excursions around New York Harbor during the summer of 1876 and was then stripped of her staterooms, her boilers placed in the hold, and she was converted into a regular excursion boat. Later she was used on the Fishing Banks run, continuing here until 1896, when on October 18, as she was laying at her wharf in New York, she caught fire and was totally destroyed. Her hull was sold and taken to Port Washington on Long Island, where it was broken up.
George W. Murdock, (b. 1853-d. 1940) was a veteran marine engineer who served on the steamboats "Utica", "Sunnyside", "City of Troy", and "Mary Powell". He also helped dismantle engines in scrapped steamboats in the winter months and later in his career worked as an engineer at the brickyards in Port Ewen. In 1883 he moved to Brooklyn, NY and operated several private yachts. He ended his career working in power houses in the outer boroughs of New York City. His mother Catherine Murdock was the keeper of the Rondout Lighthouse for 50 years.
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