The Steamer Rip Van Winkle
Sometimes you run across history when you least expect it. In selecting today's steamboat biography, chosen on a whim for the name, we unexpectedly encounter steamboat captain Samuel Schuyler. Schuyler was a Black steamboat captain based in Albany operating in the 1840s and, as you'll see from the article below, a shrewd and savvy businessman. His sons later took over the family towing business. You can learn more about the Schuyler family in one of our past blog posts "Exploring the History of the Black Hudson River Schuylers."
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
The “Rip Van Winkle” was built for the Hudson river, to run between New York and Albany as a day boat. The career of this vessel forms one of the most interesting chapters in steamboat history on the river which carried the historic “Half Moon” in her quest for a short route to India.
George Collyer built the wooden hull of the “Rip Van Winkle” in 1845, and her horizontal half-beam engine was built by W.A. Lighthall. She was 242 feet, three inches long with a breadth of beam of 25 1/2 feet. She was rated at 640 tons. Her cylinder was 50 inches with a 10 foot stroke, and she carried two iron boilers on the guards, each boiler being 28 feet long with a 7 1/2 foot shell diameter.
When she first appeared, the “Rip Van Winkle” was a wonder both in performance and appearance, and she was dubbed the “steam yacht.” She was placed on the Day Line in opposition to the Troy boats, “Niagara” and “Troy,” but she failed to make the time required and was hauled off the route.
Staterooms were added to the “Rip” and she then became a night boat competing with the old People’s Line and with the famous steamboat “Belle.” The “Express” was running with the “Rip Van Winkle” at this time- making three different night lines running out of Albany in 1845. Towards the end of this season, the People’s Line bought the “Rip Van Winkle,” and in 1846 she was sent to the Delaware river to run between Philadelphia and Cape May.
In the fall of 1846 the “Rip” was returned to New York by the People’s Line and was placed in service in opposition to the “Belle,” the only opposition vessel to the People’s Line during that period.
One morning when the “Belle” arrived in New York, her captain, Samuel Schuyler, found the “Rip Van Winkle” berthed in the slip at Park Place. Old Captain Schuyler was incensed at this action and posted bills that he would continue to operate despite all opposition, and would carry passengers to Albany free of charge [editor's note - to undercut the "Rip Van Winkle" and drive them out of business]. This was the only time in the history of the Hudson river that passengers were regularly carried on river vessels for no charge, although in later years various opposition lines did charge as low as 25 cents per person. The result of this move on the part of the foxy old captain was the retirement of the “Rip Van Winkle” from the field, leaving the “Belle” to run the balance of the season alone.
The following year Captain Schuyler purchased the “Rip Van Winkle” and ran her in opposition to the People’s Line until 1851 when he sold her to Daniel Drew and retired from passenger traffic, devoting his time to the towing business. Daniel Drew rebuilt the “Rip Van Winkle” and during the year of 1852 ran her to Albany. Then he sold her to Captain Jacob H. Tremper who placed her in service between Rondout and New York. Later the “Rip” worked out of New York as an excursion boat, and then in 1859 she returned to Hudson river traffic, running out of Coxsackie. In 1865 she was placed on the Troy route, running in line with the “C. Vanderbilt.” She remained on this line under the direction of Captain O.T. Simmons, until 1867 when she again went to New York for excursion purposes.
During 1870 the “Rip Van Winkle” ran to the Fishing Banks, and then in 1871 she was purchased by Thomas Cornell of Rondout. In the spring of 1872 she was chartered to the Citizen’s Line, taking the place of the “Thomas Powell.”
On April 16, 1872, while on her way from Troy to New York, the “Rip Van Winkle” ran into the Maiden Lane bridge at Albany, carrying away her starboard wheel and shaft, and seriously damaging her engine and hull. No lives were lost in this accident, but the “Rip” was taken to Port Ewen and laid up until 1879.
In the fall of that year, the “Rip Van Winkle” was towed to Rondout where her boilers and engine were removed. Back she went to Port Ewen, and there her hull was broken up by Daniel Bigler in the year 1880. Today the bell of the “Rip Van Winkle” can be seen by local residents, hanging in the tower atop the Cornell Shops in Rondout- a reminder of the once fine steamboat which sailed the waters of the Hudson.
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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