SHIP-BUIlDING ON THE LAKES.
BUFFALO AND THE DISTRICT OF BUFFALO CREEK, N. Y.
It was originally our intention, in preparing a series of articles
on Ship-building on the Lakes, to have gone back to the earliest
period in its history, when the schooner Washington, the
first American vessel built on Lake Erie, was launched
at Four Mile Creek, near Erie, Pa., in the summer of 1796,
and trace up to the present time, through each successive
stage of advancement, the rapid progress made in this important
art; but we regret that, after several days spent in examining the
records kept in the Custom-House at Buffalo, we were unable
to obtain any information relative to early ship-building at that
port, or in the District of Buffalo Creek. It appears that the
Collectors of the several Districts are not obliged to retain in
their offices records of all vessels built in their respective
Districts ; all that the law seems to require is, that where a
vessel is built in any one District, if she is to remain in that
District, (that is, if her managing owner is a resident thereof,)
she is enrolled, and a copy of her enrollment remains in the
Collector's office ; but when the managing owner resides in
another district from where the vessel was built, she is furnished [p. 290]
with a ship-builder's certificate, and a temporary enrollment is
given her, with which she can proceed to the port where she is
to be enrolled, and no record is kept at the port where she was
built of her ever having been constructed there. In this re-
spect we consider the law relative to the enrollment and regis-
tration of vessels defective in an important particular.
But little care seems to have been exercised by those having
charge of the early official records of the District, to preserve
them in a manner that they might be accessible to persons
desirous of referring to the early history of the city, and
that they might be forthcoming when the historian should require them. Such, however, has not been the case ; and not only
are the records very incomplete, but several of the first set of
books which were kept in the Custom-House have been lost or
mislaid, so that they are not to be found. We have therefore
been compelled to depend in a great measure on the books of
one or two of our oldest ship-builders, in making out the tables
Most of the officers of the Customs on the Lake frontier are
attentive, and are desirous of furnishing all the statistical and
general information in their power, and many of the citizens
engaged in trade and commerce, and in the transportation and
shipment of produce and merchandise, have frequently furnished the public with useful information on the Lake trade and
commerce ; but it has been difficult to obtain full detailed statements on some of these points, owing to the absence of proper
legal requirements and authoritative departmental instruction
in that respect.
The American frontier on the Lakes has been divided into
seventeen districts. These districts have not been established
on geographical position or territorial limits of States, but to
suit the convenience of the Custom-House.
The District of Buffalo Creek has a coast line of one hundred
miles in extent, commencing at the Falls on the Niagara River,
and thence extending southward and westward, embracing the
ports of Schlosser, Tonnawanda, and Black Rock on the river ;
Buffalo, on Buffalo Creek, at the foot of Lake Erie, and Cattaraugus Creek, Silver Creek, Dunkirk, Van Buren Harbor, and [p. 291] Barcelona, on the southern shore of Lake Erie, being all the ports
between the Falls of Niagara and the eastern State line of
Prior to the year 1809, we can find no mention of any vessels having been built in this district. During that year, however, a small Durham boat, of about ten tons burthen, was
constructed at Black Rock. The first schooner built in the
district, so far as we can learn, was the Experiment, of 29
65-95th tons, at Black Rock, in 1813.
In 1816 three vessels were built at Black Rock -- the sloop
Hannah, of 48 73-95th tons, the schooner Erie, of 77 47-95th,
and the schooner Michigan, of 132 30-95th tons burthen. We
do not find that any vessels were built at the Rock in 1817.
The first steamer on the lakes, above the Niagara Falls, was
called the Walk-in-the- Water, of 338 69-95th tons burthen;
was built by Noah Brown, at Black Rock, in 1818.
In 1822, the first steamer, and so far as we can learn the first
vessel, was built at Buffalo. She was called the "Superior," of
346 38-95th tons burthen, and was built by Noah Brown, the
same who built the steamer Walk-in-the- Water.
Previous to the year 1821, Buffalo had no harbor, and the
smallest class of coasting vessels could not enter and depart
from Buffalo Creek without interruption, and the entry of one
or two small vessels in a day, excited more interest then than
the arrival of a hundred steamers and sail vessels would now.
The steamer Walk-in-the-Water, which had then been running
nearly three years on Lake Erie, ran from Black Rock to parts
on that lake, not even touching at Buffalo.
A harbor company had been formed early in the year 1821,
with the view of deepening the channel, and making a harbor
which vessels might enter at any time with safety.
This company having finished the pier, and the creek having
been carried by a new and straight (although shallow) channel
into the lake, a harbor was completed, and measures were im-
mediately taken to establish a ship-yard.
In an old scrap-book, in which are written some of the "Early
Incidents of Buffalo," we find the following account of the es-
tablishment of the first ship-yard, and how the steamer Superior, [p. 292]
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 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
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 Blaek 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. The gentlemen, with their securities,
were punctual in their attendance.
As soon as it was known 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 yet 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, pursuant to the
wishes of the Company?"
"Why, sir, I arrived in your village while your people were sleeping, [p. 293] 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 build the boat in Buflfalo 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
"Mr. Brown, our neighbors have done us 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 the Rock, and execute a judgment bond to pay to the Steamboat Company one hundred and fifty dollars for every day's detention of
the boat in the creek 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 bond
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 the 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 three hundred 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 discouragement, but consternation. Various plans were devised for again clearing
out the channel, and at length piles were driven down, and scrapers, formed
of oak planky were set to work, and by the 15th April, much more than [p. 294]
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 first of May came while there was 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, hav-
ing 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 fully loaded would require much more water. The scraping was
From 1822 to 1845, quite a large number of steamers, propellers and sail vessels were built in this district, but the register
kept at the Custom-House, containing the certificates of builders
of vessels, could not be found, and we are therefore compelled
to pass over that period, and simply give a list of the vessels
built in the district during the past ten years, with their names,
tonnage, and by whom built.
Buffalo, from the unsurpassed advantages offered by superiority of location, naturally takes the lead of any other lake city
in this important branch of industry. Her ship-yards have
already sent forth upon the Western waters steamers which
must elicit the wonder and admiration of the world.
Steamers, propellers, and every class of sailing vessels, can
be built at that port with greater advantage to the owner in the
important item of economy, and at the same time equal, if not
superior, to all others in quality and model. The timber used in
the construction of vessels can be procured as cheap at that
port as at any other on the lakes, and the item of iron, which
enters largely into the construction of vessels, can be laid down
there at a much lower figure than at any other point on the
Buffalo is also well supplied with machine and boiler shops,
furnaces, &c., and machinery can be made as cheap there as
elsewhere, and considering the great expense of transportation,
and the disadvantages of having the hull and engine built at a distance from each other, perhaps cheaper. Buffalo has four large [p. 295]
ship-yards, with any amount of vacant ground, admirably located on the creek and ship-canal, for ship-building purposes.
Connected with one of these yards, there is a dry dock of sufficient capacity to admit a vessel of over 3,000 tons, with marine
railway to facilitate the hauling out and repairing of vessels.
There is also near the same yard a large derrick, for the
handling of large boilers and heavy machinery. These, and
other facilities which she possesses, give to her the pre-eminence
of a ship-building city, and to these facts may be attributed the
reason she has turned out annually the large amount of tonnage
noted hereafter -- more than double the amount of any other
lake city, excepting Cleveland.
This branch of industry has hitherto given constant employ-
ment to from twelve to fifteen hundred mechanics, who were
enabled to earn good wages throughout the year. This fall,
however, owing to the general depression, and the tightness of
the money market, there is scarcely any vessel-building going
on. Only two schooners, of about 300 tons burthen each, are
now on the stocks, and we can hear of no contracts making for
the construction of any more. There will doubtless, however,
be two or three propellers, perhaps a steamer and a few sailing
vessels, commenced during the present winter.
There is at present no demand for vessel stock, and prices of
lumber, &c., would be merely nominal.
SHIP-BUILDING ON THE LAKES.
No. 1.-- Buffalo, N. Y.
List of Vessels with their tonnage and by whom built from 1845 to 1854
inclusive, at the Port of Buffalo, N. Y.
|Steamer||Niagara||1,084||Bidwell & Banta. |
|Propeller||St. Joseph||460||" |
|"||Pocahontas|| 426||Jones. |
|Schooner||Watts Sherman||199||Bidwell & Banta. |
|"||M. A. Myers||16||" |
|Steamer||Baltic||800||Bidweil & Banta. |
|Steamer||Belle||240||Bidwell & Banta|
|Brig||Wm. Monteath||261||" |
|"||H. B. Bishop||265||"|
|"||Wm. Adair||81||Cameron. |
|"||Robert Emmett||245||Bidwell & Banta. |
|"||Charter Oak||184||" |
|"||Green Bay||233||" |
|Steamer||Key Stone State||1,354||Bidwell & Banta. |
|"||St. Louis||210||Bidwell & Banta. |
|Schooner||E.K. Bruce||240||" |
|"||Henry Hagar||237||Jones. |
|"||P. P. Pratt||196||Van Slyck |
|"||Helen Kent||92||Laurie. |
|Steamer||Tom Sims||150||Bidwell & Banta. |
|Propeller||M. B. Spaulding||419||" |
|"||Illinois||530||Bidwell & Banta|
|Barge||Liberty||126||Van Slyck. |
|Propeller||Henry A. Kent||442||Jones. |
|Steamer||Lady Elgin||1,037||Bidwell & Banta. |
|"||Lathrop||55||Van Slyck. |
|Schooner||B. F. Davidson||154||Bidwell & Banta. |
|Steamer||Southern Michigan||1,470||Bidwell & Banta. |
|"||Northern Indiana||1,475||" |
|"||Golden Gate||770||" |
|"||City of Oswego||357||" |
|Propeller||Edith||549||Bidwell & Banta. |
|"||Frederick Follett||37||Wafford. |
|"||B. F. Bruce||168||Chapman. |
|"||G.W Tifft||81||Sims. |
|Schooner||Fox||405||Bidwell & Banta. |
|"||Robert Willis||367||" |
|"||Henry L. Lansing||369||"|
|"||West Wind||255||Jones. |
|"||May Queen||43||Carpenter. |
|Steamer||Crescent City||1,756||Bidwell & Banta. |
|"||Queen of the West||1,851||"|
|"||St. Lawrence||1,844||Jones. |
|Propeller||Northern Michigan||359||Bidwell & Banta. |
|"||Young America||359||" |
|"||A. S. Field||116||" |
|Brig||Young America||346||Jones. |
|"||Arabian||353||Bidwell & Banta. |
|Steamer||Western World||2,002||Jones. |
|"||Oriental||950||Bidwell & Banta. |
|"||Hamilton Morton||144||Collier. |
|"||Wm. Peck||172||Sims. |
|Barque||Great West||765||Weeks. |
|"||Emily J. Roelofson||385||" |
|Brig||Empire State||396||" |
|Schooner||Maple Leaf||299||" |
|"||Geo. M. Chapman||318||" |
|"||Robert Bruce||312||" |
|"||Three Bells||305||" |
|"||Richard Mott||296||" |