Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Steam Boat Navigation
Hough, Franklin B., Author
Item Type
Section from Franklin B. Hough, A History of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties, New York: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time (Albany: Little & Co., 1853)
Grain Elevator. Ogdensburgh, R. R.
Miss L. J. Woolworth
A. L. Hoffman & Co. Albany
p. 563-68
Date of Publication
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 44.69423 Longitude: -75.48634
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.45535 Longitude: -76.5105
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.94923 Longitude: -76.12076
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Emailwalter@maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.caWWW address
Full Text

Steam boat navigation was first attempted on the great lakes, by the building of the Ontario, in 1816, by Charles Smyth, David Boyd, Eri Lusher, Abram Van Santvoord, John I. De Graff, and their associates, who in February 1816, made an unsuccessful attempt to secure an incorporation as the Lake Ontario Steam Boat Company, with a capital of $200,000. In their memorial before us, they state that they had purchased of the heirs of Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton, the right to the exclusive navigation of the St Lawrence. Their steamer, which is shown at the head of this chapter, is engraved from a drawing, by Capt J. Van Cleve. The boat was 110 feet long, 24 wide, 8 deep, and measured 237 tons. She had one low pressure cross-head engine, of 34 inch cylinder and 4 feet stroke. The latter was made at the Allaire works, New York. She was designed to be after the model of the Sea Horse, then running on the Sound near New York, and was built mainly under the direction of Hunter Crane, one of the owners. The first trip was made in 1817, and her arrival was celebrated at all the ports on the lake and river with the most extravagant demonstrations of joy, and hailed as a new era to the commerce of our inland seas. In every village [664] that could muster a cannon, and from every steeple that had a bell, went forth a joyous welcome, and crowds of eager citizens from the adjoining country, thronged the chores to salute its arrival. Bonfires and illuminations, the congratulation of friends and the interchange of hospitalities, signalized the event. The trip from Lewistown to Ogdensburgh required ten days. Fare $16. Deck fare $8. Master, Capt. Mallaby, U. S. N. The Ontario continued till 1832, seldom exceeding five miles an hour, and was finally broken up at Oswego. The Frontenac, a British steamer, at Kingston, and the Walk-in-the-Water, on Lake Erie, followed soon after.

The Martha Ogden, was built at Sackett’s Harbor, about 1819, with Albert Crane, managing, owner the first season. She was lost in a gale off Stoney point, and the passengers and crew saved by being landed in a basket, drawn back and forth on a rope from the wreck to the shore. No one was lost, and the engine was recovered and placed in the Ontario. The Sophia, originally a schooner, was fitted up as a steamer at S. Harbor, at an early day. The Robins, was another small schooner built over, but never did much business. The Black Hawk, built at French Creek, by G. S. Weeks, and owned by Smith, Merrick & Co., was used several seasons as a packet, and afterwards sold to Canadians, and the name changed to The Dolphin. The Paul Pry was built at Heuvelton, in 1830, by Paul Boynton, for parties in Ogdensburgh, and run some time on Black lake to Rossie. About 1834, she was passed into the St. Lawrence, at great delay and expense, and used as a ferry until from the affair at the Windmill, in 1838, she became obnoxious to the Canadians, and was run on Black river bay afterwards. The Rossie, a small steamer, was built near Pope's mills, about 1837, by White & Hooker, of Morristown, and ran two seasons on Black lake. This was a small affair and proved unprofitable.

An act of January 28, 1831, incorporated the Lake Ontario Steam Boat Company; capital, $100,000; duration till May, 1850. The affairs were to be managed by fifteen directors, and the office to be kept at Oswego. This company built the steamer United States, which was launched in November, 1831, and came out July 1st, 1832, under the command of Elias Trowbridge. Length, 142 feet; width, 26 feet beam, 55 feet over all; depth, 10 feet; engines, two low pressure ones of 40 inch cylinder and 8 feet stroke. Cost, $56,000. This steamer, so much in advance of anything that had preceded it on the American side, run on the through line till 1838, when, from having become obnoxious to the Canadians on account of the use made of her at the affair of the Windmill, she was run upon the lake only afterwards, and was finally broken up at Oswego, In 1843, and her engines transferred to the Rochester, This was the first and only boat owned by this company.

The Oswego was built at that place in 1833; of 286 tons; was used for several seasons on the through line, but after running six years, the engines were taken out and placed in the steamer St Lawrence. She was changed to a sail vessel and lost. The Brownville was built on Black river, below the village of that name, in Jefferson county. In going down the St. Lawrence, she took fire and was burned to the water's edge, but was run on an island, and her crew saved. She was afterwards rebuilt, and run awhile with the former name, and subsequently lengthened at Sackett's Harbor, and her name changed to the William Avery, The engines, built by Wm. Avery, of Syracuse, which had previously been high pressure, were changed to condensing. With a few minor exceptions, there are at present no high pressure engines [565] employed on the lake or river, except in propellers. In 1834, the Wm. Avery was run between Ogdensburgh and Niagara, with W. W. Sherman as master. She was dismantled in 1835. The Charles Carroll was built at S. Harbor, and run from Kingston to Rochester, in 1834. Afterwards she was rebuilt and lengthened at Sackett's Harbor, in the summer of 1834, and her name changed to the America. Her engine was high pressure. The America, with D. Howe master, was running from Ogdensburgh to Lewiston late in the season of 1834.

The Jack Downing was a very small steamer built by P. Boynton, at Carthage, Jefferson county, in 1834; drawn on wheels to S. Harbor, launched, fitted up, and intended as a ferry at Ogdensburgh ; but used for this purpose a short time at Waddington, and afterwards run from Fort Covington to Cornwall. Her engine was in 1837, transferred to the Henry Burden, a boat on a novel principle, being supported on two hollow cylindrical floats and the wheel between them. It was afterwards taken by the Rideau canal to Ogdensburgh, and used a short time as a ferry.

The Oneida, of 227 tons, was built at Oswego, in 1836. A. Smith was her first master. Her owners were principally Henry Fitzhugh, of Oswego, E. B. Allen and G. N. Seymour, of Ogdensburgh. In 1838, and during some part of 1840, she was in the employ of government. With these exceptions, this vessel made regular trips from Ogdensburgh to Lewiston, until 1845, when her engine was taken out, and she was fitted up as a sail vessel. The engine of this boat is now in the steamer British Queen, one of the American line of boats from Ogdensburgh to Montreal. Lost as a sail vessel on Lake Erie. The Telegraph, a steamer having 196 tonnage, was built near Dexter, Jefferson county, and first came out in the fall of 1836. She was owned by parties in Utica, Watertown and Sackett's Harbor. Sprague was her first captain. She was in the employ of government in the fall of 1838, the whole of 1839, and some part of the spring of 1840. Changed to a sail vessel and burnt on Lake St. Clair. The Express was built at Pultneyville, Wayne county, H. N. Throop, master and one of the owners, about the year 1839. It was used on the through line for several years, and afterwards ran from Lewiston to Hamilton. It was finally laid up in 1850. The Saint Lawrence, 402 tons, was enrolled at Oswego in 1839, the engines being the same as those which had been used in the Oswego. In 1844, it was rebuilt, and the tonnage increased to 434 tons. Her first trip was performed in June, 1839. Cost about $50,000. It was run till 1851, most of the time as one of the through line, when it was dismantled at French Creek. This is said to have been the first steamer on this lake, that had state rooms on the main deck. Length, 180 feet; beam, 23 feet; hold, 11 feet. In 1839, she was commanded by John Evans; in 1840-6, by J. Van Cleve. Her place on the line was supplied by the Cataract.

The George Clinton and the President, were small boats built at Oswego, in 1842, and the former was wrecked on the south shore of the lake in 1850. About 1842, a stock company called the Ontario Steam and Canal Boat Company, was formed at Oswego, who in 1842, built the Lady of the Lake, of 423 tons, G. S. Weeks, builder; used on the through line until 1852, when she was chartered as a ferry in connection with the rail road from Cape Vincent to Kingston. This was the first American boat on this water that had state rooms on the upper deck. J. J. Taylor was her master for several years. The Rochester, built for this company by G. S. Weeks, at Oswego, in 1843, of 354 tons, and run on the lake and river until 1848, since which she has run from Lewiston to [566] Hamilton. In July, 1845, the Niagara, of 478 tons came out, having been the first of a series of steamers built at French creek, by J. Oades. Her length was 182 feet; beam, 27 1/2 feet; total breadth, 47 feet; bold, 71/2 feet. Engine from the Archimedes works, with cylinder of 40 inches and 11 feet stroke. Wheels 30 feet in diameter. The British Queen was built on Long Island between Clayton and Kingston, in 1846 by Oades, the engines being those of the Oneida. Length, 180 feet; beam, 42 feet ; engine double, each cylinder 26 inches in diameter. The British Empire was built at the same time and place with the last.

The Cataract, came out in July, 1837. She measures 577 tons; and was commanded the first season by James Van Cleve. Length of keel, 202 feet, breadth of beam 271 feet, breadth across the guards, 48 feet, depth of hold 10 feet, diameter of wheels, 30 feet, engines built by H. R. Dunham & Co., at the Archimedes works in New York, and the cylinder has a diameter of 44 inches, and a stroke of 11 feet, cost about $60,000. She was commanded in 1847-8, by J. Van Cleve; in 1849-51, by R. B. Chapman; in 1852, by A. D. Kilby.

Ontario, built in the summer of 1847, length of keel, 222 feet; a deck, 233 feet, and over all, 240 feet 6 inches; breadth of beam, 33 feet 3 inches, and over all 54 feet 8 inches; depth of hold, 12 feet; machinery made by T. F. Secor & Co., New York, cylinder 50 inches in diameter and 11 feet stroke; tonnage 900, cost about $80,000.

Bay State. This magnificent steamer came out for the first time m June, 1849, with J. Van Cleve, master, the first season. She has a tonnage of 935, and the following dimensions, viz: length 222 feet breadth of beam 31 1/2 feet, total breadth 58 feet; depth of hold 13liMt; engines from the Archimedes works, New York, with a cylinder 56 inches in diameter and 11 feet stroke ; wheels 32 feet in diameter.

The Northerner, was built at Oswego, by G. S. Weeks, and came out in May, 1850, she has a tonnage of 905, length 232 feet, beam 30 1/2 feet, total breadth 58 feet, depth of bold 12 1/2 feet, wheels 32 feet in diameter, cost $95,000, engines by T. F. Secor & Co. of New York, with cylinder of 60 inches in diameter, and a stroke of 11 feet.

The New York, the largest American steamer on the lake, was built in 1851-2, and made her first trip in August last, with R. B. Chapman, master, cost about $100,000, tonnage 994, length 224 feet, beam 32 1/2 feet, entire breadth 64 feet, engines built by H. R. Dunham & Co. New York, Cylinder 60 inches in diameter, with 12 feet stroke, wheels 34 feet in diameter.

Besides the above, there have been built or run upon the river and lake, the John Marshall, Utica, Caroline, Prescott, Swan, Express, Gleaner, and a few others, mostly small.

Shortly after the formation of the Steam and Canal Boat Company, a new one was organized, called the St. Lawrence Steam Boat Company, The two were, in 1848, united in one, which assumed the name of the Ontario and St. Lawrence Steam Boat Company, having a capital of $750,000, and at present the following officers: E. B. Allen, president; E. B. Allen, G.N. Seymour, H. Van Rensselaer, A. Chapman, E. G. Merrick, S. Buckley, H. Fitzhugh, A. Munson, T. S. Faxton, H. White, L. Wright, directors; and James Van Cleve, secretary and treasurer.

This company is the owner of eleven steamers in daily service during the season of navigation. Their names, routes, and names of masters, as they existed in the summer and fall of 1852, are as follows: [567]

Express Line. — From Ogdensburgh to Lewiston, touching at Kingston, and all the principal American ports, except Cape Vincent. A daily line of four steamers, viz: Northerner, Capt. R. F. Child. Cataract, Capt. A. D. Kilby. Niagara, Capt. J. B. Estes. Ontario, Capt. H. N. Throop.

Mail Line. — From Ogdensburgh to Lewiston, touching at Kingston, and all the principal American ports, except Cape Vincent. A daily line of four steamers, viz: Northerner, Capt. R. F. Child. Cataract, Capt. A. D. Kilby. Niagara, Capt. J. B. fistes. Ontario, Capt. H. N. Throop.

The American Line, from Ogdensburgh to Montreal, a daily line of three steamers, viz : British Queen, Capt. T. Laflamme. British Empire, Capt. D. S. Allen. Jenny Lind, Capt. L. Moody.

Rail Road Ferry. — From Cape Vincent to Kingston: Lady of the Lake, Capt. S. L. Seymour.

Line from Lewiston to Hamilton, at the head of Lake Ontario; Rochester, Capt. John Mason.

It is a singular fact, that not a single accident has ever occurred upon any American steamer, on Lake Ontario, or the St. Lawrence, which has caused the death or injury of a passenger. This is not due to chance, so much as to skilful management.

It is believed that the steam packets on Lake Ontario, although they may be wanting in the gaudy ornaments, and dazzling array of gilding and carving, which is so ostentatiously displayed on the steamers of the North river, yet they will compare in real convenience, neatness and comfort, in the careful and attentive deportment of the officers and sub-ordinates employed, in skillful management, punctuality and safety, with any class of boats in the world. This opinion will be readily endorsed by any one who has enjoyed the accommodation which they afford.

Of the above steamers, the Niagara, Cataract, Ontario, Bay State, and New York, were built at French Creek by John Oades, and the British Queen and British Empire, by the same builder at the foot of Long island, in the St Lawrence. Of propellers, the pioneer on the lake was, the Oswego, built at that place in 1841, since which, about a dozen have been built on the lake. In 1851, a line now numbering ten propellers, was established by Crawford & Co., to run in connection with the Northern rail road for forwarding freight In 1852, this line transported about 30,000 tons of flour and produce, eastward, and 20,000 of merchandise, westward. Most of these vessels have cabins for passengers. Most of them were built at Cleveland, Ohio.

Prominent among the enterprises which are destined to exert their influence for the promotion of the commercial interests of Ogdensburgh, may be placed the project which has been planned and is expected to be earned into effect during the coming season, which is the construction of a submarine railway, for taking vessels and steamers out of the river for repairs. The want of such a convenience has long been a desideratum, by the commercial interests of the St Lawrence, but nothing was done towards effecting this object, till the 29th of September, 1852, when a meeting of parties interested was held, and a company formed, called the Ogdensburgh Marine Railway Company, with a capital of $15,000, and liberty to increase this amount at pleasure. This association was formed under the provision of a general act for the government of Marine Railway Companies, passed February 17, 1848. The following officers were chosen at the first meeting.

Henry Van Rensselaer, E. N. Fairchild, E. B. Allen, Edwin Clark, and Allen Chaney, trustees. Henry Van Rensselaer, president. Walter B. Allen, secretary. The duration of the company was limited to fifty [567] years. Shares $50 each. It is proposed to construct this work on the west side of the Oswegatchie, above the village a short distance and near Pigeon point. The shore at the place can be made a good ship yard, and the business which this enterprise will create, must lead to the rapid settlement of the western part of the village. The cheapness of a marine railway, when compared with the cost of dry dock, for the repair of vessels, gives to the latter an incomparable advantage over the former, while the benefits arising from each are alike. This contemplated improvement, with a ship yard, will give to Ogdensburgh, when combined with other advantages which the place possesses, an importance in a commercial point of view, that will greatly promote its growth and prosperity.

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Steam Boat Navigation