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. See more of Murdock's articles in "Steamboat Biographies".
No. 177- Norwich
Running a close second to the Mary Powell for its fame on the Hudson river comes the old Norwich, known to followers of the river’s history as the “Ice King.”
The wooden hull of the Norwich was built by Lawrence & Sneden at New York in 1836, and her engine was the product of Hall & Cunningham of New York. From stern to stern the Norwich measured 160 feet; her breadth of beam was 25 feet five inches; depth of hold five feet nine inches; gross tonnage 255; net tonnage 127. Her engine was of the crosshead variety with a cylinder diameter of 40 inches with a 10 foot stroke, and she carried one boiler in her hold.
The Norwich was built for the New York & Norwich Steamboat Company and ran on Long Island Sound for a number of years after she was launched.
The year 1843 marked the appearance of the Norwich on the Hudson river- in service between Rondout and New York as a passenger and freight carrier; and about 1850 Thomas Cornell purchased the steamboat and converted her to a towboat.
It was about the middle of the nineteenth century that the Norwich began a procedure which was to gain for her the title of “Ice King”- a title which was never disputed! Her construction was such that heavy river ice usually broke before her onslaught, and in the early spring and late fall the Norwich was a familiar figure breaking ice along the river.
The bow of the Norwich was so constructed that she could run upon and break down heavy ice fields, and the bottom of the steamboat was well protected with copper and steel. Her paddle wheels were fashioned out of live oak and iron, and her commander, Captain Jacob DuBois often said that, “She could run through a stone yard without damaging herself.”
The spectacle of the Norwich battling heavy ice was always interesting to watch, and occasionally when endeavoring to break down large mounds of ice, the staunch vessel was turned over on her side. At such time prompt action was necessary by the crew in the shifting of chain boxes and weighty ballast to right the vessel. The wheels of the Norwich were so placed that one of them could be detached quickly- and thus the tilting of the steamboat was of little importance. It is safe to assume that the Norwich saved many thousands of dollars of damage by her successful attempts at breaking up the ice in the river and thus preventing floods and serious jams.
Frequently the Norwich was called upon to rescue vessels caught in the ice on Long Island Sound, and in the year 1851 she fought what was perhaps her greatest battle with the ice. The steamboat New Haven was caught in the ice, and the Norwich went to her aid. Rows of ice so high that the stranded New Haven could not be seen from the pilot house of the Norwich was finally crushed down by the old “Ice King,” and the Sound vessel was released from its perilous position.
Usually the first vessel on the river in the spring and the last to tie up in the winter, the Norwich was also a conspicuous figure in the steamboat parade in New York harbor on September 25, 1909. On two occasions the Norwich was almost destroyed by fire, (December 16, 1906 and August 30, 1909) and both times she was rebuilt and placed in service.
Many of the well-known figures in Hudson river history were connected with the Norwich at one time or another, including Captain George B. Gage, Captain Stephen Van Wart, Captain Jeremiah Patteson, Captain Delzell, Captain Harry Barber, Captain James Welsh, and Captain Jacob DuBois.
The Norwich continued her career on the Hudson river until 1921 when she was deemed of no further use and was tied up at Port Ewen. In November 1923 the Cornell Steamboat Company sold the Norwich to Michael Tucker of Port Ewen, who broke her up for scrap. Today the fame of the Norwich is constantly recalled through stories passed from one individual to another, and visitors to the Senate House in Kingston are reminded of the old “Ice King” when they view the bell of the Norwich which is displayed in the local museum.
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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