The Towing Steamer Pittston
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
Most of the steamboats built during the period before the Civil War were originally passenger vessels, and it was only in the later years of their service that they were rebuilt for towing purposes. Not so with the steamboat “Pittston”- she was one of the few sidewheel vessels built purposely for towing on the Hudson river, and she was in use for 57 years, hauling heavily laden barges on the river.
The wooden hull of the “Pittston” was built at New York in 1852. She was 108 feet long, breadth of beam 20 feet, depth of hold six feet, and her gross tonnage was rated at 74 with net tonnage at 58. The Allaire Iron Works of New York built her vertical beam engine which had a cylinder diameter of 32 inches with an eight foot stroke.
The “Pittston” was constructed for the Pennsylvania Coal Company and was considered one of the finest vessels of her type to appear on the Hudson river. During this period the offices and yards of the Pennsylvania Coal Company were located at Port Ewen and the towboat “Pittston” was placed in service towing canal boats off the Delaware and Hudson Canal from Eddyville to Port Ewen. She was under the command of Captain Thomas Murry with James Mollin as chief engineer, and she continued on this route for a period of 13 years.
In 1865 the Pennsylvania Coal Company moved its headquarters to Newburgh and the towboat “Pittston” was purchased by Thomas Cornell of Rondout. For the following five years the “Pittston” towed out of Rondout along the river to various ports, and in 1871 she was placed in regular service between Rondout and the city of Hudson. A year later, 1872, found the “Pittston” in service on the route between Rondout and Newburgh, towing in line with the towboats “Frank Carter,” “Ceres” and later the “Isaac M. North” of the Cornell Line. The crew of the “Pittston” during the years of the Newburgh run are listed as captain, William Roberts; pilots, Wash Saulpaugh and Joel Rightmyer; chief engineer, James Purdy.
In the year 1875 the “Pittston” was withdrawn from the Newburgh route and placed in service between Rondout and Eddyville on the Rondout creek, taking the place of the steamboat “Maurice Wurtz” which had been towing on this route since 1857. The “Pittston” was used for towing the canal barges of the Delaware and Hudson Coal Company from tidewater at Eddyville to Rondout and she was under the command of Captain George E. Dubois, with Alonzo Woolsey as chief engineer.
The “grand old days of the Delaware and Hudson Canal” came to a close in 1898 when the canal was abandoned, and the towboat Pittston” was then used around the Rondout harbor and as a helper for tows on the river. In September 1909 the “Pittston” was found to be in an advanced state of wear, and she was sold and broken up after 57 years of continuous service as a towboat.
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.
The Pittston is one of many wrecked and abandoned boats in and around the Rondout Creek. To learn more about shipwrecks and other vessels, take one of our new Shipwreck Tours aboard our 100% solar-powered tour boat Solaris!
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