Barges! Their Inception of the Barge Enterprise -- the SULTANA and EMPIRE as Pioneers -- the Progress and Growth of The Enterprise
Previous to the year 1862, a great deal of difficulty had been experienced by the shippers of lumber, in view of the rapidly increasing manufacture and demand of that staple in all parts of the Union. The Saginaw Valley as the great lumber producing section of the West, was especially cramped for facilities to move the product. But just as the uses of steam were discovered, in the day and hour which demanded the introduction of some power to take the place of wind and water, in the propulsion of machinery, and just as the Railroad and Telegraph were given by an all-wise Creator, to His creatures, at just that age of the world when they were demanded for the development of our vast domain, and for the furtherance of the increased demands of civilization in all parts of the world, just as an all-wise providence, in just the right time, opens the mind of man to an appreciation of those arts and sciences, which the age and necessities of the time demand the development of; just so, was the mind of an enterprising lumber merchant, John S. Noyes, Esq., of the city of Buffalo exercised upon the subject of cheap transportation, or at least increased facilities for transportation, and as a result of his study we have the system of barging, now grown to be one of the most important branches of our lake commerce. Mr. Noyes, being of a utilitarian cast of mind, saw in the city of Buffalo, and at Detroit as well as various other points on the lakes, a number of hulls of what had been the most gorgeous and elegant steamboats which ever graced the waters of a nation - these had outlived their usefulness and though sound and good for many years of navigation, were no longer needed for the purposes of their creation. Mr. Noyes saw in these hulls; stripped of their gorgeous and cumbrous cabins, the solution of the problem he had been studying upon. At that time the steamers SULTANA and EMPIRE were laying at what was supposed by everybody to be their Machpelah, near the fort of Belle Isle in the Detroit River. More unpromising subjects for the inauguration of a great enterprise were never selected, but the prophetic mind of Mr. Noyes saw in them the pioneers of a revolution in the carrying trade of the west. Raising them from their sunken condition, her laid out $23,000 in overhauling and strengthening the hulls of these once proud steamers, and in the spring of 1862, they made their appearance once more upon the lakes not now propelled by the ponderous and beautiful machinery which had been the pride of their owners and masters in the years past, but in tow of the noble tug REINDEER on whose decks stood Captain Sim Keeler, now of Bay City, every inch a sailor and just the man to lend his aid to the successful inauguration of a great project. Captain Jack Meyers, whose lamentable fate as a felon is still fresh in the minds of our readers, was in command of the two barges. Captain Coon of Detroit soon (afterwards succeeded by G. W. Hotchkiss, now of the Courier) had charge of the Saginaw end of the route, while the proprietor handled the business of unloading and general oversight at Buffalo. The barges were supposed to be, one in the Saginaw river and the other on the Lake, or at Buffalo all the time. The tug would call for one barge at the mouth of the river, leaving the other to be loaded, during the trip of the first one. The SULTANA carried 600,000 feet, while the more pretentious EMPIRE was satisfied with no less than from 850 to 900 M. But one crew was carried for both barges, for on arrival of a barge light, the crew took posession of the loaded one and returned to Buffalo. The agent at the Saginaw end having a temporary crew under his charge with whom he loaded the barge left for that purpose. This matter of loading involved an expenditure of an average of one dollar and fifty cents per thousand feet, including tow bills, loading and lighterage. The bar at the mouth of the river not permitting the passage of vessels 7 feet to 7 ½ feet draft of water, it was no unusual thing to lighter out to the EMPIRE as much as 600 M feet of her cargo. The success of the enterprise being demonstrated by the first two months of the experiment, the steamer ST. LAWRENCE was purchased by Mr. W. R. Abbott, brother-in-law of Mr. Noyes, and being stripped of her upper works, was sent to Saginaw under the charge of G. W. Hotchkiss, who loaded her with the largest cargo ever loaded on one vessel upon the lakes, clearing from Bay City about the first of September, 1862, with 1,140 M feet of lumber. The ST. LAWRENCE encountered heavy weather on her trip down, and, being immensely long, partially hogged, entering the St. Clair river with several joints spread apart 6 inches. The ST. LAWRENCE only made two more trips, and was sold to Erie parties for a dry dock. After his first trip in the St. Lawrence, Mr. Hotchkiss returned to the Valley and took charge of this end of the route. In the spring of 1863, the hull of the steamer OCEAN QUEEN was sent to the Saginaw river by Noyes & Co., to be used as a lighter, but her immense length and height out of the water made her too cumbersome for that purpose, and she was placed in the lake line with the EMPIRE and SULTANA. On her return from her first trip to Buffalo, she experienced heavy weather and was lost on Lake Huron. During the fall of this year the SULTANA was lost on her down trip and the season closed, leaving the EMPIRE alone in her glory. During the succeeding winter, the EMPIRE was further strengthened by heavy inside arches, and a year later with a solid back bone of timber. During the winter of 1863-4 the barge OCEAN, formerly the steamboat of that name, was put in good shape by Larned Wiswall & Co., of Port Austin, and has been running ever since. The EMPIRE continued running until the fall of 1870, when she met her destiny on Long Point, in Lake Erie. The EMPIRE registered as a barge 1,140 tons and was built at Cleveland in 1844. The SULTANA 725 tons was built at Algonac in 1847. This then was the inception of the carryng of freights by other than the usual and established modes of transportation, an innovation which was at first met with disfavor by shippers and insurers, sustained at last only by the indomitable energy of John S. Noyes and his success in instilling his own faith into the breast of Capt. E. P. Dorr, who was the general agent for the board of Underwriters and whose favor alone kept the enterprise on its feet, when without it, it must have been crushed beneath the opposition of the vessel owners. To-day the barge interest is a recognised interest on our lakes, and more property is transported by means of towing barges than by any and all other styles of navigation. The "what is it's" and the "boxes", "tubs" and "floating coffins" of eight years ago is no longer a subject of derision, as we find not only dismantled steamers, but first class vessel hulls engaged in not alone the lumber trade, but also in the wheat and grain trade from Chicago to Buffalo, and new ones are being constructed each year to swell the numbers. Barges can carry lumber cheaper than can vessels or steam craft, on account of the numbers which can be taken in tow by a tug, and the fixed rates and almost certain time that can be figured for the trip. And not alone upon the lakes has barging grown to the immense proportions which gives confidence to the public and to the Underwriter, but upon the sea coast is barging being extensively and successfully introduced, and there can be little doubt that it will extend its proportions with the demands of commerce, and be found the cheapest method of transporting freights from one locality to another. In contrast with the days of doubt and feebleness, the days of experiment, and of a struggle to overcome the objections urged by the fearful and unbelieving, we submit the statement that in nine years the business of barging has increased so, that from reliable sources of information were are enabled to say that in the season of 1871 there are 128 lake barges engaged upon our chain of lakes and rivers (besides those used exclusively for river transportation) in conveying the products of our forests, our salt works, and our farms to market. These barges are of a capacity of 39,700 tons custom house measurement, and employ about 500 men in their constant business, beside over 2,500 men who are temporarily engaged in the loading and unloading. The capital invested in these barges will exceed one million of dollars. There are not far from fifty steam barges and tugs engaged in the towing of these barges, which are not included in any of the figures above given. Of these probably a carrying capacity of 6,000 tons (an estimate) should be added to our former estimate of tonnage, while the aggregate of capital represented by them would be at least half a million of dollars. The barge business proper may be set down at an inside limit of tonnage 45,000 tons, Capital invested one and a half millions of dollars. The old styles of transportation are rapidly giving way to the new - and ere many years we may expect to see the carrying trade of the lakes monopolised by Propellers, and the barges which accompany them.
July 2, 1871