In 1825, the Erie Canal was completed with the hopes of improving and expanding economic opportunity between the areas surrounding Lake Erie and the Hudson River. Having proved to be a great success, the state of New York seized many opportunities to further develop the waterway. As such, they undertook multiple enlargement projects. The final project integrated the Erie Canal into the New York State Barge Canal system. Finished in 1918, the system also includes the Cayuga-Seneca, Champlain, and Oswego canals. All of which were originally built within a few years of the Erie Canal’s completion. The project not only enlarged the dimensions of all four canals but also altered their original routes.
The Barge Canal era is represented in a shipwreck located in Kingston’s Rondout Creek, the Frank A. Lowery. Constructed in Brooklyn, New York the same year that the Barge Canal was completed, the Lowery was likely built to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the new-and-improved waterway.
The barge Frank A. Lowery, then registered as OCCO 101, began operation under the ownership of the Ore Carrying Corporation. According to the 1921 publication of the Annual Report of the Superintendent of Public Works for New York State, “the Ore Carrying Corporation … engaged in the transportation of iron ore from Port Henry on Lake Champlain, to Elizabethport, N.J.”. The report also notes that in terms of the amount of ore shipped per season, the company was substantially more productive in 1920 than it was in 1919. In fact, the company shipped over three times the amount of ore in 1920 than it did the previous season. Having joined the company’s fleet in 1918, the OCCO 101 likely assisted the company in achieving this feat.
Ownership was transferred to the L. & L. Canal Line in 1926 and the vessel was renamed L & L. 101. As shown in the 1930 publication of Inland-waterway Freight Transportation Lines in the United States, the L. & L. Canal Line shipped steel and pig iron on the New York State Barge Canal. Based in New York City, the line had six wooden barges that could be found traveling the waters to and from Buffalo, New York.
Finally, Frank A. Lowery purchased the vessel and renamed it after himself in 1929. Though much about Lowery remains unknown, the Merchant Vessels of the United States publications for the years 1930 and 1936 list Lowery as living in Creek Rocks, New York. However, in the publication for the year 1951, he is listed as living in Athens, New York. The later record also notes that he owned six vessels, including the Frank A. Lowery.
While it is unclear who initiated the renovations, the vessel was refit with an engine in 1929. This renovation distinguished the Lowery from other canal boats and allowed for its classification as a Hoodledasher, or a powered canal boat. As such, it could move itself through the water with two hundred and forty horsepower and could be used to both tow and carry cargo. Following these renovations, the Lowery measured 104 feet in length, 21 feet in beam, and had a tonnage of 195 net tons. Surely, such a vessel was viewed to be a more efficient option.
The Frank A. Lowery was put to use as the leading vessel of the Lowery flotilla, which also included the six barges it towed. A 1955 New York District Court case, further discussed below, provides a glimpse into the history of the vessel under the ownership of Frank Lowery. This includes what was transported in the vessel’s cargo hold as well as the routes it covered:
“The Lowery flotilla . . . sailed the waters of the Hudson River and Barge Canal for a considerable number of years. It was old in the service of carrying cargo, well known to the trade and canal and river people, and on many… occasions it carried scrap iron west from New York City to Buffalo, and grain east from the terminal at Buffalo to the City of Albany.”
In 1953, the Frank A. Lowery was involved in an incident that resulted in a district court case. According to the case report, the Lowery flotilla was on its way to the Port of Albany when a steel barge collided with the last vessel in the flotilla tow, the Marion O’Neill. The steel barge was being pushed by the Ellen S. Bouchard of the Bouchard Transportation Company. Having caused a chain reaction, the Marion O’Neill then collided with yet another barge in the tow, the Mae Lowery, and both vessels subsequently sank.
The Mae Lowery’s misfortune continued when it was struck by the unsuspecting Clayton P. Kehoe of the Kehoe Brothers Transportation Company nearly two hours after the initial collision. The day’s events resulted in one presumably fatal casualty, the captain of the Marion O’Neill.
The Lowery was abandoned east of Rondout Creek’s Sunflower Dock following an accident in 1953, perhaps the one mentioned here, and her valuable effects were salvaged five years later. The vessel’s tell-tale hanging and lodging knees, half-round bow, and parallel sides allowed for the easy identification of the wreck for many years. However, the structure continues to deteriorate with the erosive nature of weather and ice. Soon, only her keel will remain.
Lauryn Czyzewski is a Hudson River Maritime Museum volunteer. Her interests include twentieth and twenty-first century maritime history and shipwrecks. She graduated from SUNY Potsdam with a bachelor’s degree in Archaeological Studies. Lauryn would like to thank the editors of this article, Sarah Wassberg Johnson and Mark Peckham.
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