Editor's Note: The tone of these historic newspaper articles reflect the time period in which they were written. Many thanks to museum volunteer Carl Mayer for compiling, organizing, and transcribing these articles.
In the 1960s, historian, expert boat modeler, and former antiquities thief Forrest Van Loon Ryder published a column in the Greene County News called "Old Timers: Boats of the Hudson."
In this article, entitled "Steamer Redfield burns at Sandbar between Athens and Hudson on 1910-06-20," published on September 16, 1965, Van Loon Ryder recounts the history of the steam freighter William C. Redfield.
Although not a sidewheeler, at the time of her appearance the WILLIAM C. REDFIELD was considered one of the most modern freight boats on the Hudson River. She carried one stack and had four large openings on each side of her housing for loading freight and also boasted a small saloon for passengers on the second deck. The vessel was named for a man who made historic contributions to steamboat navigation, William C. Redfield of Cromwell, Connecticut. At a time when frequent boiler explosions were creating a fear of steamboats, Mr. Redfield devised Safety Barges, built in the manner of steamboats, but without power and towed by a steam boat. These lavishly furnished barges were popular from 1825 to around 1830 when their favor diminished, due to lack speed, and to fewer boiler disasters which eventually restored the public's confidence in steamboats. Mr. Redfield, who was superintendent of the Swiftsure Towing Line, also suggested the system of towing lets of canal boats, rather than having one of two canal boats on either side of the towboat. Quite often he would have towboats towing as many as 40 or fifty canal boats and barges.
The REDFIELD was constructed for Commodore Alfred Van Santvoord for service between New York and Albany. After serving on this route five years she was sold to new owners who placed her in service between Stuyvesant, Coxsackie and New York as a freight and passenger carrier. Running in line with the THOMAS MCMANUS these two large propeller vessels were a familiar site on this route for many years. Eventually the Catskill Evening Line acquired title to the REDFIELD and MCMANUS, and the two steamers continued to run in line until August 27th, 1902, when the MCMANUS burned at her pier in New York.
Finally the REDFIELD was returned to the route for which she was originally built and in later years was used only as a freight carrier.
The REDFIELD was destined for a fate similar to that of her old running mate, the MCMANUS. On June 20th, 1910, as the REDFIELD was being tied up at her Athens dock, a fire was discovered in her hold. In flames, she was towed to the Middleground, a sandbar between Athens and Hudson, where she burned to the waters edge and became a total loss.
STATISTICS: Lewis Minnersley, builder, East Albany, NY. Wood hull, 370 tons. Length 182 feet; beam 33 feet; depth 10 feet. Fletcher & Harrison No. 49, single cylinder engine having a 36 inch cylinder with 34 inch stroke.
An article from the Boston Globe dated June 21, 1910 recounts the accident:
ANCIENT STEAMER BURNED.
Sidewheeler W. C. Redfield, Built in 1864, Destroyed on the Hudson at Athens.
HUDSON, N Y, June 20 - The freight steamer W. C. Redfield, owned by the Catskill & New York steamboat company, was destroyed by fire this afternoon, while lying at Athens, across the river from here. Her crew escaped unharmed.
The vessel was at her dock when the flames were discovered and buildings along the water front were endangered. A ferryboat towed the steamer onto the flats, where she burned to the water’s edge.
The Redfield was a sidewheeler of 700 tons, built in 1864, and was for many years of her early usefulness in passenger service on the Hudson.
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