Night Boat …. Night Boat …. Night Boat …. That once familiar cry of dozens of youngsters who would rush to the banks of the Hudson at the first blasts of the Night Boat's whistle as she blew to the drawbridge at Albany, and a cry so familiar to many of us who have spent most of our lives along its banks has drifted away into oblivion, but the memory lingers on. For that one proud fleet of night line steamers, some of them quite appropriately called "floating palaces" is likewise but a memory. Yet it was but a few short years ago that hundreds of folk, both old and young would stroll down to the docks, sit on the benches in Riverside Park or line the rail of the bridge waiting for the boats to leave, and would watch as the brilliantly lighted steam boats would gracefully glide through the open span, play their powerful searchlights along the shore as many a young maiden, with her beau, would pretend to shy at the strong rays, and would continue to watch as the river queen faded away in the distance "round the bend."
Yes, all of the nightline steamers have answered the last bell, and, with the passing of the last, the "Berkshire", all hope for a renewal of nightly passenger steamer travel to the metropolis has vanished. Thus a "finis" is written to a huge chapter in Memories Garden which to many of us river folk, who love the sound of the splashing paddle wheels, the purring of the engines, the escaping steam in the piston cylinder and the golden throat of the steam whistle, seems like the passing of old friends. Indeed, the only comforting thought is the Day Line's resumption each spring, something which is looked forward to by many of us quite as the robin the tree top or the crocus pushing its way upward to the sunlight.
Many of my readers will remember the double-ended ferries "W.M. Whitney", "R.C. Reynolds", W.H. Frear", and "C.V.S. Quackenbush" of the Albany-Troy Steamboat Co., which made half hourly trips to Troy, stopping at Midway Beach on their way back and forth. Thousands of area folk took advantage of the cooling breezes of the Hudson during the hot summer evenings on a trip to Troy for a dime.
Then too, they must remember the little passenger steamers "C.H. Evans" and "General" that made regular trips to Castleton for a quarter, the afternoon sailings of the "Alice May" and "Ursula", one of which left Albany every week day at three and stopped at all towns and villages on her way to Catskill. And the "Jacob Tremper" and "Milton Martin" with the spare boat, "James T. Brett", as one of them left from Albany every morning except Sunday loaded mostly with beer for landings all the way to Newburgh.
And surely those same readers cannot forget the engineless barges named "Empress", "Geraldine", "Baldwin", "Merchant", and "Harvest Queen" that used to carry thousands of excursionists down the river about fifteen miles to Bareana Park at Coeymans. There is scarcely a church within twenty miles of the Capitol Building at Albany, that has not at one time sponsored a Sunday School or Church picnic on these hay barges towed by one or more little steam tugs, such as the "Arnold", "Skinner", "Chubb", "Guide Star", or "Paul Le Roux".
And who that has ever seen can forget that grand old steamer, the "Mary Powell", affectionately called "The Queen of the Hudson," a steamer known all over the world, and who's name in steamboat lore has become quite as famous as the river itself, and rivaled only by the "Tashmoo" of the Great Lakes. Built in 1861, she ran on the Hudson for 56 years without a major accident, and without the loss of a single life. She holds the record of being the fastest sidewheeler ever to sail the Hudson.
Even though she was dismantled in 1920, she still lives, for at Indian Point, her bell rings out a welcome as the steamers of the Day Line land there. [Editor's Note: The "Mary Powell" bell is now in the Hudson River Maritime Museum yard.] The name from across her pilot house adorns the front of a cottage at Connelly, N.Y., and her deep-throated golden whistle echoes and re-echoes among the hills and mountains along the river as the "Robert Fulton" blows for a landing.
Finally, from out of the past, we can see the hundreds of tugs, old side-wheelers, steam canalers, ice and hay barges as they lay at the docks from the lumber district in North Albany to the slips at the south end of the city. We can see the "Norwich", built in 1836, as she proudly took her place in the Hudson-Fulton parade in 1907, the "Oswego," at the "Rensselaer" dock in 1918 on her last trip up river, the large tugs "Pocahontas", "Osceola", "Washburn", and "Cornell" together with many smaller tugs as they docked awaiting orders. And we can see several of them even to this day, tied up in Rondout Creek, at Sleightsburg, awaiting the call to the boneyard.
Editor's Note: A marine railway is a wide track that leads on an inclined plane from dry land to deep water. A carriage rolls on the rails. A boat can be placed on the carriage and lowered into the water until she floats. A boat needing bottom work can be positioned over the carriage and drawn out of the water by cables or chains over the rails. The one at the Baldwin ship yard was built 1883-1884 and is about 8-10 feet wide. There was a heavy timber bulkhead at the deep water end to prevent the carriage from rolling off the track into the shipping channel.
This article was written by Tracey I. Brooks and originally published in "Steamboat Bill of Facts" Journal of the Steamship Historical Society of America issue of December 1946.. The language, spelling, grammar and references in the article reflects the time period when it was written. Thank you to HRMM volunteer Adam Kaplan for transcribing the article. For more information about Tracey I. Brooks visit New York Heritage here:
If you enjoyed this post and would like to support more history blog content, please make a donation to the Hudson River Maritime Museum or become a member today!
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
Become a member and receive benefits like unlimited free museum admission, discounts on classes, programs, and in the museum store, plus invitations to members-only events.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum receives no federal, state, or municipal funding except through competitive, project-based grants. Your donation helps support our mission of education and preservation.