Tag Archives: Maritime History

The Sinking of The S.S. Normandie At NYC’s Pier 88


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Normandie_posterOn February 9, 1942 crowds gathered at New York City’s pier 88 to witness a spectacle. The largest ocean liner in the world was on fire. Fire fighting efforts successfully contained the fire after five and a half hours of effort, but the effort was in vain. Five hours after the flames were out the stricken vessel rolled onto its side and settled on the bottom of the Hudson.

The S.S. Normandie was a star crossed ship. Intended to be the pride of the French people, she was designed to be the height of shipbuilding technology and modern culture. Her first class passenger spaces were decorated in the trendiest Art Deco style and filled with luxuries. The radical new hull design, with a subsurface bulb beneath a clipper bow, and long, sweeping lines lent her previously untouched speeds while requiring far less fuel. She even had one of the earliest radar sets ever used by a commercial vessel, in order to improve the safety for her passengers. Continue reading

Battle of Plattsburgh: A Pivotal Naval Battle


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Saratoga (left) and Eagle (right) engaging Confiance at Battle of PlattsburghThey were headed this way. British troops had done that before, without success, but these were not just any British troops. They were 11,000 troops fresh from their victory over Napoleon.

By that third summer of the War of 1812, British shore raiding parties were taking a great toll in the Chesapeake Bay. Supported by a fleet of more than 30 warships, they would put troops ashore near a town, and either burn it, or demand ransom from the inhabitants. Continue reading

Debunking The ‘French Fort’ On Albany’s Castle Island


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the 1614 Block mapThe 400th anniversary of Albany’s first documented European settlement gives us an opportunity to clear up some inaccuracies surrounding its history. In particular, it is time to roundly debunk the stubborn myth that the French built the first European structure in Albany.

Several Wikipedia pages—”Albany“, “Castle Island,” “Fort Nassau“—claim that Albany’s first European structure was a fort on Castle Island built by French traders in 1540. The “Castle Island” page calls it a chateau and claims that the Dutch rebuilt the French fort, “which they called a castle[,] giving rise to the name of the island.” This is silly. There is no credible evidence of a French fort on Castle Island or anywhere in the region, and any account of a structure resembling a chateau is particularly absurd. So where did this myth come from? Continue reading

Working the Waters: Maritime Culture of Long Island


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Joey ScavoneLong Island Traditions will present “Working the Waters: Maritime Culture of Long Island” in collaboration with the NY Marine Trades Association “Tobay Boat Show” in Massapequa, New York on September 26 through September 28, 2014. “Working the Waters: Maritime Culture of Long Island” will present to the public first-hand accounts about the contemporary and historic traditions of commercial and recreational fishermen, the factors affecting these traditions and their future on Long Island in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and the decline of the bays.

The program is the culminating event of ongoing documentation by Long Island Traditions folklorist and executive director Nancy Solomon. Since 1987 Solomon has been documenting the culture and traditions of Long Island maritime tradition bearers, ranging from decoy carvers and driftwood painters to trap builders, boat model makers and net menders. Continue reading

Waterford Tugboat Roundup Turns 15 This Weekend


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Ben TugIt’s been called one of the largest maritime festivals in New York State. For three days, September 5th through the 7th, the Waterford waterfront (just north of Albany) will host the 15th Annual Tugboat Roundup.

A gathering and show place of both working and historic tugs of the Hudson River and New York State Canal system, the Roundup has evolved into a festival of boating at the Gateway to the Canal System. More than 35 boats are expected to be along the wall in Waterford this year, according to Tom Beardsley, Marine Event Coordinator. Continue reading

Researcher Pinpoints 1614 Albany Fort Location


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dutchalbanymapA local historian believes he has pinpointed the exact location of a 1614 colonial fort in Albany.

“Fort Nassau” was North America’s oldest Dutch trading house, built in 1614 near the present-day Port of Albany. But the precise location of the ruined structure has been largely forgotten over time as the natural and built environment changed during four centuries.

“Fort Nassau is very significant to American, Dutch and Indian history,” said John Wolcott, the researcher who identified the location. “But its exact location had been lost over the years. Not only has the geography changed, but the latitude readings provided by early maps have to be adjusted for problems caused by being inland using instruments of the time.” Continue reading

C.L. Churchill Named ‘Tug of the Year’


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Churchill from lcmm 4 without railingThe C.L. Churchill, a 50 year old wooden tugboat, has been named Tug of the Year for the 2014 Waterford Tugboat Roundup.  The Roundup is an annual three-day event in Waterford, NY highlighting the area’s heritage of waterborne commerce.

The C.L. Churchill is the accompanying tug to the Lois McClure, a replica canal schooner of the type which operated on some of the canals of New York State and Lake Champlain in the 19th century. The Roundup bestows the honorary Tug of the Year title to a different tug each year, typically one that brings its own unique history to the event. Continue reading

Andrew Roberts Named Lehrman Distinguished Fellow


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ARoberts11-4Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, and Lewis E. Lehrman, Chairman of the Lehrman Institute, has announced that Andrew Roberts, a leading military historian, will be the first Lehrman Institute Distinguished Fellow at the New-York Historical Society. Dr. Roberts will serve as the Distinguished Fellow for three years, from November 2014 through November 2017.

Andrew Roberts is the Merrill Family Visiting Professor at Cornell University. He has written or edited twelve books and appears regularly on international radio and television broadcasts. His forthcoming biography of Napoleon will be accompanied by a three-part television series on the BBC. He received a number of awards for his recent bestsellers Masters & Commanders and The Storm of War. Continue reading

Sailor Jack Allen: World Taveler, Philosopher, Killer


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Sailor Jack AllenIt was in October of 1887 that itinerant laborer Abel John Allen was arrested for the brutal murder of Ursula Ulrich in Jeffersonville, NY.  Nine months later he became the last man ever hanged in Sullivan County.

His murder of the widow Ulrich notwithstanding, the man known as Sailor Jack was a complicated fellow who packed a lot of living into his 34 years. He spent his time in the Sullivan County jail – awaiting first his trial and then his execution – writing about forgiveness, redemption, and having a “right heart.” Those writings reveal a world traveler, an astute observer of the passing parade, a philosopher. Continue reading

Long Island Traditions Annual Freeport Bay House Tours


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Beers Bay HouseOn Saturday August 16 and September 13, Long Island Traditions will sponsor its annual bay house tours in Freeport, NY. The tour will include conversations with local bay house owners and will be hosted by folklorist Nancy Solomon, director of LI Traditions. The trip will visit area bay houses on the 1½ hour tour on a traditional flat bottom boat.

The bay houses have a long history, dating from the mid-19th century when baymen harvested salt hay for the farmers during the winter. The bay houses provided shelter, along with storage for fishermen’s traps and duck decoys. The bay houses were originally built by fishermen and baymen and have been passed down from generation to generation within many families. In the Town of Hempstead two of the approximately 20 bay houses that either survived Superstorm Sandy or have been rebuilt during 2013-14 will be featured on this year’s annual tour. Continue reading

NY Maritime History: An Historic Battle with Pirates


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BHC1109On the morning of June 10, 1723, just before the break of dawn, a British warship stationed out of New York spotted two sloops sailing less than 50 miles south of Long Island. The captain of the warship, Peter Solgard, was all but certain the sloops were trouble. Three days before, he had been warned by a sea captain about a pirate crew under the command of a notoriously violent captain, Edward Low. But in the HMS Greyhound that morning, Solgard did not attack. Instead, Solgard tacked and set a southerly course, keeping the pirates in view but not approaching, “to encourage them to give him chase.” Continue reading

Exhibit Highlights Historic Ships At Steamship Lilac


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Hero Lilac in engine roomThe museum ship Lilac has opened for the summer at Hudson River Park’s Pier 25.  The exhibition Hero Project will be on view there through June 30.

With photographs by Jonathan Atkin, Hero Project is a selection from his on-going work-in-progress collaboration with dance artists aboard historic ships.  His mission is to increase visibility of our maritime heritage by reaching new non-maritime audiences. In the exhibition, dancers athletically grace the gritty vessels in oversize photographs mounted throughout Lilac, from the bridge to the engine room. For more on the project, see http://www.heroproject.us Continue reading

Roebling’s Wire Rope Modernized The D & H Canal


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John A. RoeblingJohn Augustus Roebling celebrated two milestones in June of 1849, his 43rd birthday and the beginning of construction of the Neversink Aqueduct on the Delaware & Hudson Canal. It was the third of the four aqueducts he would design and build for the canal company, and followed the completion of the Delaware and Lackawaxen Aqueducts the previous year.

Roebling (his given name was actually Johann August) was born in Muhlhausen, in Prussia, on June 12, 1806, the youngest son of Christoph Polycarpa Roebling and Fredericke Dorothea Mueller Roebling. He grew up in a world of private tutors, learned the music of Bach and the poetry of Goethe, and according to some sources, built a model of a suspension bridge when he was nine years old that bore a striking resemblance to what would be his most famous work, the Brooklyn Bridge. He gained admission to the prestigious engineering program at the Royal Polytechnic Institute in Berlin, where he studied languages and philosophy as well as architecture, bridge construction and hydraulics. He graduated in 1826, and went to work for the state, as was the requirement at that time, serving three years building roads in Westphalia. Continue reading

The Bluff Point Lighthouse on Lake Champlain


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bluff point collageThe Bluff Point Lighthouse on Valcour Island in Lake Champlain will be open most Sunday afternoons from 1 to 3 pm through the summer. Dedicated volunteers look after and interpret the lighthouse and island for visitors under the sponsorship of the Clinton County Historical Association.

The lighthouse, once the home of the lighthouse keepers, now is filled with themed rooms containing interpretive materials. The gallery around the light at the top of the building, is at the same level as the osprey nest at the top of the tower next to the building.

In recent years, the island has become a popular day trip for kayakers and canoeists as there is no public transportation to the island. There will be docents there this Sunday, barring heavy rain or lightning. Continue reading

National Register Nomination for NYS Barge Canal


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nys_barge_canal_system_map-100In recognition of a near century of service, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor – in collaboration with the NYS Canal Corporation, the Heritage Documentation Program of the National Park Service, and NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation – is sponsoring the nomination of the NYS Barge Canal System to the National Register of Historic Places.

The nomination includes the currently operational New York State Barge Canal, including the Erie, Champlain, Oswego, and Cayuga-Seneca Canals. The period of significance for the nomination is 1905, when construction began, through 1963. If approved, the historic district will include over 250 structures – every lock, lift bridge, guard gate, and dry dock on the system. Continue reading

War of 1812 Lecture: ‘The War No One Wanted’


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Map of Lake Frontier to Illustrate Campaigns of 1812-1814Communities on both sides of the St. Lawrence River had built an interconnected life of social contracts, trade, marriages, friendships, and respectful neighborliness in the years since the American Revolution. Thus, the approach of war in 1812 found little enthusiasm among the civilian populations of New York and Upper Canada.

Find out more about this unwanted and unpopular war when Victor Suthren presents The St. Lawrence War of 1812: The War No One Wanted on Saturday, May 10th, 2 p.m. at the St. Lawrence County Historical Association at the Silas Wright House, 3 East Main St., Canton. Continue reading

Warren Harding’s Chair: A Battle of Valcour Island Relic


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Warren Harding LOCIt’s remarkable how two unrelated historical events sometimes converge to form a new piece of history. In one such North Country connection, the job choice of a future president became linked to a famous encounter on Lake Champlain. The future president was Warren Harding (1921–23), and the lake event was the Battle of Valcour Island (1776). The results weren’t earth shattering, but the connection did spawn coast-to-coast media stories covering part of our region’s (and our nation’s) history.

In 1882, Harding (1865–1923) graduated from Ohio Central College. Among the positions he held to pay for schooling was editor of the college newspaper. In 1884, after pursuing various job options, he partnered with two other men and purchased the failing Marion Daily Star. Harding eventually took full control of the newspaper, serving as both publisher and editor. Continue reading

‘Shore to Shore’ Exhibit Docks At Waterfront Museum


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BoatyardRed Hook’s historic Lehigh Barge #79 will play host to the exhibit From Shore to Shore, which explores the worlds of craftsmen and the places where boats and ships are still being worked on today. Thirteen exhibition panels, accompanying audio video interviews and a timeline highlight profiles of master craftsmen, their tools and the historic boat yards where they work.

On May 3rd from 2 to 4 pm there will be a reception featuring curators Nancy Solomon and Tom Van Buren along with invited boat builders, boatyard owners, and waterfront preservation specialists. Continue reading

New Book: Hudson River Steamboat Catastrophes


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Hudson River Steamboat AccidentsBeginning in the mid-1800s, steamboats carried people between New York City and the Albany area on the Hudson River. Romantic images lull us into believing it was a quiet means of travel, but a crowded river, faulty equipment and the bravado of the captains resulted in at least one major catastrophe every year. Night boats collided and sank, carelessness caused boiler explosions, races put passengers at risk and fires would quickly swallow the wooden vessels.

The grand Empire of Troy suffered many collisions. The Swallow broke in two on a rock, Reindeer’s explosion took forty lives at once and the Oregon and C. Vanderbilt entered into an epic and dangerous race. Collected from eyewitness accounts, these are some of the most exciting and frightening stories of peril aboard steamboats on the Hudson River. Now, local historian J. Thomas Allison has written Hudson River Steamboat Catastrophes: Contests and Collisions (History Press, 2013). Allison provides an entertaining look at the romantic but perilous age of steamboat travel on the Hudson River, including tales of reckless captains racing each other and passengers’ eyewitness accounts of collisions, crashes, explosions, and fires. Continue reading

Albany Institute Hudson River Steamboat Event Sunday


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Hudson River Steamboat AccidentsThe Albany Institute of History & Art will host local historian J. Thomas Allison for a lecture about his book Hudson River Steamboat Catastrophes: Contests and Collisions. The lecture will be followed by a book signing. Allison will provide an entertaining look at the romantic but perilous age of steamboat travel on the Hudson River, including tales of reckless captains racing each other and passengers’ eyewitness accounts of collisions, crashes, explosions, and fires.

Hudson River Steamboat Catastrophes: Contests and Collisions focuses on nineteenth-century steamboat travel on the Hudson River. It points out that a crowded river, unreliable boat equipment, and the audacity of some steamboat captains created yearly catastrophes that put passengers and vessels at risk. Researched through eyewitness accounts, the stories are both exciting and frightening and give a real sense of the danger that traveled on the Hudson River. Continue reading