The Matton Shipyard
Located in Cohoes, New York, at the junction of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, the Matton Shipyard turned out barges, tugboats and other medium sized craft between 1916 and 1983. The yard is situated on low flat land on the west bank of the Hudson River on Van Schaick Island just below the mouth of the third sprout of the Mohawk River. The yard occupies approximately seven acres and during its operation, it was served by road, navigable waterways and by rail. Drawbridges and bascule bridges between Waterford and Albany posed no practical vertical clearance issues for Matton-built boats during the years in which the yard was active but the Federal Lock in Troy limited the overall size of craft produced or serviced by the yard to the dimensions of the lock chamber.
The Matton family built a canalboat yard on the Champlain Canal in Waterford in 1899. In 1916 as the completion of the New York State Barge Canal neared, John E. Matton seized the opportunity to relocate the yard to the Hudson River where it would be better positioned to build and repair the larger capacity boats that could soon transit the new and greatly enlarged canal. Matton built a dock, and office, a planing mill, carpenter’s shop and floating drydock on the site and named it the John E. Matton Barge Plant. The yard benefitted from an almost immediate demand for tonnage as a result of inland shipping demands during World War I and over the next 10 years built more than 40 wooden canalboats and barges. In addition to these, the yard also built a small ferry in 1922 and a small tugboat in 1929.
John Matton’s son Ralph joined the firm after graduating from the Rensselear Polytechnic Institute in 1922 and the name of the yard was changed to John E. Matton & Son, Inc. During the 1930s, additional land was purchased and new storage buildings and shops were added to the facility. The site was prone to seasonal flooding but its buildings and facilities proved largely resilient.
In 1938, the Matton yard began the first of many steel tugboats. The 119-ton tug was launched the following year and named for John E. Matton who suffered a debilitating stoke that year. Thereafter, Ralph Matton assumed control of the firm’s operations. John E. Matton died in 1959.
The shipyard expanded its physical plant and workforce during World War II as it accommodated the demand for military contracts. During the war years, the yard produced 12 tugboats, an oil barge and six 110 foot long wooden submarine chasers under government contracts. New facilities were added to the plant including a warehouse and lofting building, a stores building and a watchman’s office, kennel and perimeter fencing for security. Barracks were built for military personnel assigned to the yard. By the end of the war, the yard employed 340 men.
The Matton yard launched a 210 foot-long oil barge for the Oil Transfer Co. in 1949 on new steel ways that led into the Hudson River. Military contracts for tugs, scows and lighters were let during the Korean Conflict and in 1954, Matton took over a contract to build 15 tugs from American Boiler Works in Erie, Pennsylvania. Commercial tugs continued to be built until Ralph Matton’s death in 1964. The yard was sold to Bart Turecamo of Turecamo Towing shortly thereafter but continued in operation as the Matton Shipyard Co. Turecamo, based in Brooklyn, operated the yard in a manner similar to his predecessors. Oral histories suggest that the manual process of lofting boats and cutting out full scale framing templates continued and that the antiquated belt driven machinery in the planing mill also continued in use. Boats were still launched using a team that drove wedges to transfer the weight of a boat from the building ways to the launching ways. Launches were traditionally scheduled for Friday mornings so that employees could have a catered lunch and then take the afternoon off.
Between 1966 and 1983, Turecamo built nine commercial tugs and four launches for the New York City Police Department. The last boat built by the firm, the 106-foot tugboat Mary Turecamo, hull no. 345, was launched in 1982. The yard was subsequently sold to a commercial sandblasting company which operated on the site briefly before selling it to the New York State Office of Parks and Recreation for use as future parkland.
The lightly-framed shipyard buildings did not seem to have a future in the context of parkland development and little effort was made to maintain them. Most became ruins as roofs fell and flooding episodes gradually took their toll. Attitudes slowly changed and an appreciation for the site’s significance in regional history grew. A preservation forum was hosted by New York State Parks in 2008 and the shipyard site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. And in 2016, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor’s Heritage Fund launched the Matton Shipyard Project. This initiative has brought city, state, federal agencies and local citizens together to develop an approach to the use of the shipyard that preserves and celebrates its history, architecture and archaeology, remediates hazards and establishes public access to recreational opportunities along the Hudson River. Phase I of a three-phase plan is currently underway and addresses the removal and mitigation of hazardous materials and the stabilization of the important surviving buildings. Phases II and III anticipate the establishment of visitor facilities, shoreline stabilization and restoration and interpretation project.
Bowman, Travis. National Register Nomination Form, 2009.
Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor website, as consulted 2020.
Mark Peckham is a trustee of the Hudson River Maritime Museum and a retiree from the New York State Division for Historic Preservation.
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