By Mary McTamaney
One hundred eight years ago this week, ten thousand people gathered along the shore at Newburgh just where the modern boat launch meets the gates to the former Consolidated Iron Works scrap yard. That was the location of the great Marvel Shipyards where vessels of many types were designed and built in the days when Newburgh was a powerful shipbuilding city. Early in the twentieth century, Marvel was creating steamboats of various sizes. The grandest of them all was the 400-foot Hendrick Hudson. On March 31, 1906, the completed hull of the Hendrick Hudson was sent “down the ways” and into the river.
According to local newspapers, “The shipyard was thronged, a dozen boats in the bay were well-filled with passengers, Washington Heights was black with interested sight-seers, the Tower of Victory was full and all roads or streets led traffic to the shipyard. As early as 2 o’clock the people were flocking southward. Half an hour later, there were thousands at the shipyard waiting with as much patience as they possessed for the great steel hull of the new vessel to slide down the well-greased ways.” Ships were constructed in intricately-built support structures and for their test launch, the massive wooden cradle that held the hull was heavily greased to allow the weight to slide smoothly downhill once the supporting blocks were removed.
The giant Hendrick Hudson was built to be the new flagship of the Hudson River Dayline fleet of passenger liners. These big steamboats carried people and cargo along the length of the river from New York City to Albany with many stops at smaller cities and towns between. The 1887 dayliner New York had been the largest of the fleet but, in the first decade of the twentieth century, it had to be lengthened and enlarged along with the 1881 Albany to accommodate increased demand for river travel. Steamboats were in daily use by local citizens to visit friends and family in nearby communities, by shoppers who went to bigger cities like Newburgh to buy what they couldn’t find near home, by regional businesses who shipped goods and by tourists who luxuriated in their comfortable outside deck chairs or inside in the posh lounges and dining rooms.
On the day of the Hendrick Hudson’s launch, the dayliner New York left Manhattan at 11:30 bound for Newburgh bringing 2,000 guests of the steamboat company to witness the “christening party,” as the Marvel Company called it. Such was the importance people gave to the elegant “floating palaces” that took them through downstate along the “river road.”
As the picture of the launch shows here, the hull gave only a hint of the capacity of the Hendrick Hudson that would be completed by the end of the summer. On March 31 st , the fun was seeing such a massive thing set out and actually float, especially after all the effort that local workers had put into her construction. The finished Hendrick Hudson was able to carry 5,000 people, making her the world’s largest passenger ship in her day. She could travel at 25 miles per hour thanks to eight mammoth boilers that supplied steam to her engines. The Hendrick Hudson’s hull was constructed of steel “on the plan of a modern New York City skyscraper, a rigid framework of steel acting as a support for the joinery of the upper decks” said the Marvel Shipyards. “Seven steel water-tight bulkheads will make the vessel practically unsinkable, and all enclosures around the boiler and machinery spaces will be built up of heavy steel plating, eliminating all danger of fire.” The nineteenth century had witnessed many steamboat fires that took hundreds of lives out on the water. Families who remembered such a loss of life or legends like the loss of favorite son Andrew Jackson Downing in the burning of the steamboat Henry Clay would want to see such progress in engineering.
The newspapers on that March day in 1906 tell of the proud Newburgh shipyard workers knocking out the blocks supporting the ship. “There was a small army of these men and they worked like Trojans for 25 minutes. In the meantime, the camera fiends were out in force and were apparently ‘taking’ almost everything in sight.” Slowly, then rapidly, the big new steamship hull slid east and splashed into the river. She floated beautifully!
I have found just this one launch picture. Somewhere, the grandchildren of the “camera fiends” may still have some pictures of that day or other pictures of the proud workers of the many shipyards, including Marvel’s, that filled south Newburgh.
The above article by Mary McTamaney, City of Newburgh Historian and Society board member, has been adapted from column originally printed in the April 2, 2014 issue of the Mid-Hudson Times. Posted here with permission.