The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Superior (Steamboat), 1822

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Mr. Benj. Bidwell, so long at the head of the old firm, was a journeyman ship-carpenter and joiner, and worked on the steamer WALK-IN-THE-WATER, the first steamer on the lakes above the Falls. He was also employed on the steamer SUPERIOR, the first steamer, and so far as we can learn, the first vessel, ever built on Buffalo Creek.

In an old scrap-book, in which are written some of the "Early Incidents of Buffalo," we find the following account of the establishment of the first ship-yard, and how the steamer SUPERIOR, the first vessel launched in Buffalo Creek, came to be built there:.

"It was expected that the spring freshet would so widen and deepen the channel as to permit lake vessels, and even the WALK-IN-THE-WATER, (the only steamboat on the lake.) to enter safely. This boat had been built at Black Rock, and run to that place, not even touching at Buffalo, and the very prospect of having a steamboat arrive at and depart from Buffalo was highly encouraging. But while anticipating these benefits, the WALK-IN-THE-WATER was driven on shore a short distance from Buffalo, while on her last trip, in 1821, and bilged. The engine, boilers and furniture were saved, and there was no doubt that the Steamboat Company would build a new boat, as they had purchased from Fulton's heirs the right to navigate, by steam, that portion of Lake Erie lying within the State, which right was then deemed valid..

The citizens of Buffalo, without loss of time, addressed the Directors of the company, presenting the advantages that would accrue to them by building their boat at Buffalo. The company, immediately on learning their loss, made a contract with Noah Brown & Brothers, of New York, to build a boat at Buffalo, if it could be constructed as cheaply there as at the Rock, and if there would be a certainty of getting the boat out of the creek..

Brown came on early in January, passing on to Black Rock, without even reporting himself in Buffalo; nor was his arrival known here until he had agreed to build his boat at the Rock, and engaged the ship-carpenters of that place to furnish the timber. The Black Rock contractors, gratified with their success, agreed to accommodate Brown by meeting him at the Mansion House in Buffalo, in the evening, to execute the contract, which was to be drawn by an attorney in Buffalo. These gentlemen, with their securities, were punctual in their attendance..

As soon as it was know in Buffalo that the boat was to be built at the Rock, the citizens assembled in the bar-room of the Mansion House, and after spending a few minutes in giving vent to their indignation, it was resolved to have an immediate interview with Brown, and know why Buffalo had been thus slighted. Perhaps he might be induced to change his mind, if the contract were not already signed. The landlord undertook to ascertain this fact, and reported that it was not executed. A delegate to wait on Brown was chosen without any ceremony - there was no time to give specific instructions. "Get the boat built here, and we will be bound by your agreement." The delegate had never seen Brown, and on entering his parlor, had to introduce himself. This done, he proceeded:.

"Mr. Brown, why do you not build your boat at Buffalo, persuant to the wishes of the company ?".

"Why, sir, I arrived in your village while your people were sleeping, and being obliged to limit my stay here to one day, I thought to improve the early part of the morning by commencing my inquiries at Black Rock, and consulting the ship-carpenters residing there who had aided in building the WALK-IN-THE-WATER. While there, I was told your harbor was all a humbug, and that if I was to built a boat in Buffalo Creek, she could not be got into the lake in the spring, and perhaps never. Besides, the carpenters refused to deliver the timber in Buffalo. Considering the question of where the boat should be built as settled, I proceeded to contract for timber to be delivered, and shall commence building the boat immediately, at the Rock.".

"Mr. Brown, our neighbors have done great injustice, although they, no doubt, honestly believe what they have said to you about our harbor. Under the circumstances, I feel gratified in making you a proposition which will enable you to comply with the wishes of the Steamboat Company, and do justice to Buffalo, without exposing yourself to loss or blame. The citizens of Buffalo will deliver suitable timber at a quarter less than it will cost you at Black Rock, and execute a judgement bond to pay the Steamboat Company one hundred and fifty dollars for every day's detention after the 1st. of May.".

"I accept the proposition. When will the papers be made out ?".

"To-morrow morning. And if you wish it, a satisfactory sum of money shall now be placed in your hands, to be forfeited if the contract and ond are not executed.".

"This ,sir, I do not require, I shall leave at ten o'clock this evening, and my friend Moulton will prepare the necessary papers and see them executed.".

The judgment bond was signed by nearly all the responsible citizens and he contract for the timber taken by Wm. A. Carpenter, at the reduced price agreed on. To comply with this contract, both as to time and the quality of the timber, required no little energy and good management; but the contractor executed it to the satisfaction of all concerned.

The work of deepening the channel was now proceeded with, but many were the obstacles that the Harbor Company were continually encountering. A heavy bank of ice, resting on the bottom of the lake and rising several feet above its surface, had been formed during the winter, extending from the west end of the pier to the shore. This ice-bank arrested the current of the creek, forming an eddy alongside the pier, into which the sand and gravel removed by the flood were deposited, filling up the channel, for the distance of over 300 feet, and leaving a little more than three feet of water where, before the freshet, there was an average of four and a half feet. This obstruction of the harbor produced not only discourage- ment, but consternation. Various plans were devised for again clearing out the channel, and at length piles were driven down, and scrapers, formed of oak planks, were set to work, and by the 15th. of April, much more than half the work was accomplished, and every doubt as to the practicability of completing it removed..

Although the weather was more favorable for the prosecution of the work during the latter part of April, and the scraping continued with the utmost diligence, yet the 1st. of May came while there were still a few rods of the channel in which only about six and a half feet of water had been gained. As considerable work yet remained to be done on the boat, and no loss or inconvenience would accrue to the owners in allowing a few days to deepen the channel, yet no time could be obtained. The boat, having been completed, was now put in motion, and fortunately the pilot, Capt. Miller, having made himself acquainted with what channel there was, ran her out into the lake without difficulty. The boat was, however, light, and when full loaded would require much more water. The scraping was therefore continued.".

extracted from article "launch of steamer Milwaukee" published in the Buffalo Daily Courier Friday, June 3, 1859.

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William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Superior (Steamboat), 1822