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.
Last week we had Captain William O. Benson's account of the Rensselaer and her unusual winter excursion. Today we learn more about the vessel herself.
No. 176- Rensselaer
The tale of the steamboat “Rensselaer” has yet to be completed, but she will remain a familiar figure to the present generation who remember her sailing up and down the Hudson river.
The steel hull of the “Rensselaer” was built by T.S. Marvel & Company at Newburgh in 1909- a sister ship, the “Trojan,” being constructed at the same time. Her engine was the product of W. & A. Fletcher Company of Hoboken, and her joiner work was executed by Charles M. Englis of Greenpoint, New York.
The dimensions of the “Rensselaer” are listed as: Length of hull, 317 feet three inches; breadth of beam, 42 feet three inches; over guards, 75 feet; depth of hold, 12 feet five inches; gross tonnage, 2690; net tonnage, 1790. She was powered with a vertical beam engine, diameter of cylinder, 72 inches, with a 12 foot stroke. Her wheels were of the feathering type, 27 feet outside diameter of the buckets, which were 11 by five feet in width.
The “Rensselaer” was built for the Citizens’ Line for night service between New York and Troy. She sailed on her maiden trip on Saturday evening, July 3, 1909, from New York up the river, under the command of Captain Charles H. Bruder with William Fairbrother as chief engineer, and her initial run proved that she was the equal of her recently-built sister ship, the “Trojan.”
Known for her magnificent furnishings, the “Rensselaer” soon gained prominence on the river. She is completely steam-heated, equipped with electricity, licensed to carry 1,200 passengers, has 240 state rooms, carried in three tiers of galleries above the main deck. Several of these staterooms have private baths attached- these baths being tiled in white with all modern appliances. In every respect both the “Rensselaer” and the “Trojan” were in keeping with the standards of Hudson river steamboats.
The “Rensselaer” and “Trojan” were in service on the Troy run until the spring of 1918, when they were placed on the Albany and New York route, replacing the steamboats “Adirondack” and “C.W. Morse,” which were taken over by the federal government to house recruits at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At the close of the first World War the government returned the two river steamers from service at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and the “Rensselaer” and her sister ship were returned to the Troy-New York route- running until the fall of 1927.
The next recording of the career of the “Rensselaer” is dated 1935, when, during the winter months, the “Rensselaer,” “Trojan” and “Berkshire” were purchased by Sam Rosoff of New York. During 1935 and 1936 the three vessels were in operation under the Rosoff banner, and then in 1937 only the “Trojan” and the “Berkshire” were in service. What will be the end of the “Rensselaer” is yet unknown, but one noteworthy event in her career that should be recorded was the mid-winter excursion carried by the “Rensselaer” on January 29, 1913.
On this date over 300 members and friends of Troy, No. 141, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, chartered the “Rensselaer” for an excursion down the Hudson river. Amid floating ice cakes and falling snowflakes, the “Rensselaer” and her party of merrymakers sailed down the Hudson for several miles and back again. Approximately three hours were consumed in this mid-winter excursion- an event that may never again be equaled in the pages of Hudson river steamboat history.
The U.S. government took an option on the “Rensselaer” and towed her to Hoboken, N.J. in early February 1941 for possible war use as housing. She was not used and was cut down into a barge, the “James River,” which was scrapped in the early 1960s.
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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