Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Milwaukee (Steamboat), U16619, 2 Jun 1859
Full Text

Buffalo has long enjoyed the reputation of having turned out from her ship-yards some of the largest and most magnificent floating palaces to be found on any inland waters of this country, and the steamer MILWAUKEE, launched yesterday, and her consort the DETROIT some two weeks since, must only add to her already well earned fame. Each successive steamer launched from the yards on Buffalo Creek during the past 15 or 20 years has been an improvement, in model, construction and outfit, upon her predecessor, until it would seem that the very acme of perfection in Marine Architecture had been reached.
      Many of us remember well, to go back only 10 or 15 years, when the steamers NIAGARA and LOUISIANA were launched from the shipyard of Bidwell and Banta in 1846, how great an improvement they were considered upon anything then afloat. Then in 1847 the steamers BALTIC and DIAMOND. In 1848 the KEY STONE STATE and QUEEN CITY. In 1851 the LADY ELGIN. In 1852 the SOUTHERN MICHIGAN and NORTHERN INDIANA. In 1853 the CRESCENT CITY and QUEEN OF THE WEST. In 1854 the WESTERN WORLD and PLYMOUTH ROCK. In 1855 the WESTERN METROPOLIS. In 1856 the CITY OF BUFFALO. Each of these steamers, as they were turned out, from our shipyards, were far ahead of their predecessors, and we believe the steamers MILWAUKEE and DETROIT, now launched from the same yard, are destined, when completed, to far surpass any of those we have already referred to in almost every respect.
      All of the steamers whose names we have mentioned above have been built at the same yard by Bidwell & Banta, with the exception of the DETROIT and the MILWAUKEE, which have been built by Bidwell & Mason, the former a son of the senior partner of the old firm, and the latter for many years the foreman in the yard.
      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
      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
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 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."

The launch of the MILWAUKEE yesterday was a perfect success, and was witnessed by several thousand persons, who lined the docks from the Central Freight Depot to the New York and Erie Depot, the beach on the opposite side of the creek, the propellers and sail vessels in the neighborhood, and very many were on tugs, yawl boats and scows in the creek.
The hour fixed for the launch was 4 o'clock, and so many people having been disappointed when the DETROIT was launched some two weeks since, in being too late, were determined to be on hand early this time, so the crowds began to gather shortly after 2 o'clock, and by 3 P.M. good locations were at a premium, and every available footstand was secured.
      Every preperation had been completed several minutes before the hour of 4 o'clock arrived, and this being evident to most of those assembled, there was a good deal of anxiety manifested to see her go off, and many wondered what kept her.
While the vast multitude were watching with eager eyes for the start, a gun was fired and a small schooner slid gently from the stocks at the yard of Mr. O'Connor adjoining that of Bidwell & Mason, into the creek.
      Four o'clock having arrived, the four pounder, "Young America" of the Milwaukee Light Guard, stationed on the forward deck, boomed fourth, and the MILWAUKEE glided down the ways, gently into the waters of Buffalo Creek, and as she came up with the receeding wave, a shout arose from the assembled crowd. It was variously estimated that from 800 to 1,000 persons were on board of her at the time of the launch. A band stationed on her upper deck played several appropriate airs, and a hundred shots were fired from "Young America" by Capt. Harry Bingham of the Milwaukee Light Guard, who came down expressly with his four pounder to fire the salute. He was able assisted by Mr. Edward Irwin, of Co. C. of this city.
A number of gentlemen from abroad, with their ladies were present, among who were C.J. Brydges, President of the Detroit & Milwaukee Railway, and Managing Director of the Great Western. John Young, Esq., Vice President of the Great Western Railway and ladies. R. Inson, F. W. Gates, Directors G.W.R and ladies. Sheriff Thomas and ladies. T. Reynolds, Vive President of the Detroit and Milwaukee Railway. H.C.R. Becher, Esq., and Mr. & Mrs. Andrews of Boston.
The MILWAUKEE being the exact counterpart of the DETROIT launched two weeks since, we take the following minute discription of the two boats - prepared by those engaged in their construction and which was furnished to the Express:
      The boats were built at the Ship Yard of Messrs. Mason and Bidwell, under the superintendence of Julius Movius, Esq., for the Detroit and Milwaukee Railway Company.
Length over all 247 feet 6 inches, breadth of beam 34 feet, depth of hold 13 feet 4 inches. The keels are of white oak 12x14 inches; center keelsons 14x14 and 14x12. The frames' side 6 inches, are moulded 15 inches at the heels and 6 inches at the top height, and are placed 2 feet from the centers. They are diagonally braced with iron straps 3 1/2 inches wide and 5/8 inches thick. The are placed the same distance from centers as the frames. The space under the engines and boilers is filled in between the frames, forming a solid mass of timber 90 feet long, and bolted with iron bolts 1 inch in diameter. The engine keelsons are 2 feet 9 inches wide and 4 feet 6 inches high, securely bolted to the floor timbers with 1 3/4 inch screw bolts. There are six side keelsons 12x12 inches square, running the entire length of the vessel, and square bolted with 1 inch iron bolts. Above these are six bilge strakes 6x12 inches, and also square fastened with 7/8 inch iron bolts. The clamps are 5 inches thick and 32 inches wide, the ceiling between the clamps and bilge strakes is 3 inches thick well fastened with 8 inch spikes. Besides this, on the inside of the ceiling are 6 strakes of arches 5 inches thick and 8 1/2 inches wide, running from the keelsons, at each end of the vessel, up under the beams amidships. These are secured by 7/8 inch iron bolts driven from the outsides and riveted in the inside of the arches. The bolts are as close together as the frames will admit The deck beams are 9x9 inches square and placed 3 feet from centers. The wheel beams are sided 18 inches and moulded 16 inches in the center and 12 inches at the ends. The guard beams will vary from 10 to 12 inches square. The entire deck frame is secured to the hull with 160 lodge knees and 122 diagonal knees, sided from 5 to 7 inches, beside a large number of hanging knees, sided from 9 to 12 inches. These are all fastened with iron bolts from 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter. Under the main deck is a tier of stanchions, running from the center keelson to a stringer fitted to the lower side of the beams. These are securely fastened with 3/4 inch bolts. The lower deck is also secured to the hull with knees, well fastened. The guards are braced with heavy white oak timbers, secured to the hull with iron straps, and beside the usual "hog braces," they are well kneed on the outside.
The barband strakes are 9 inches thick, and 10 inches wide, and are bolted through the keel with 1 inch bolts. Between each frame the plank on the bottom is 3 inches thick; those on the sides from 3 to 5 inches thick, all of the best quality of white oak, square fastened, with large spikes, but bolted with 1/2 inch bolts, driven through the plank timbers and ceiling, and riveted inside. From the deck to the rail the frames are the same as below, and the bulwarks, on the inside and outside, are 2 inches thick. Under the rail, both inside and out, and running the entire length of the steamers, are two oak stringers, 3 inches thick and 12 inches wide. These are bolted together through the timbers and the rail, which is 4 inches thick and 14 inches wide, is securely bolted to the end of the timbers, and also to those stringers, thus forming a complete arch, and adding 4 feet to the depth of the hull. This is an entire new feature in steamboat building. They will be the same rig as the ocean steamships, and will spread about ???? yards of canvas. The standing rigging is manufactured from the best Russian Hemp, and running rigging from the best Manilla.
      All the rigging, cordage, &c., was made specially for these vessels, to the order of Messrs. Taylor & Jewett; these gentlemen having the contract to furnish the boats with everything connected with their business as ship chandlers. Instead of the old fashioned windlass, they will be furnished with Brown's patent capstan; which article has been so severely tested on the seaboard, and will enable the officers to let go one or two anchors at a moment's warning, besides not occupying more than one quarter the space required for the common windlass.
The gentleman's cabin and dining room is on the lower deck, and will, with comfort, seat 100 passengers - there are 14 state rooms in the ladies cabin, all furnished with a double bed and berth, and besides officers rooms on the upper deck there will be 10 commodious state rooms.
Each boat will have a large and comfortabe saloon neatly fitted up.
The engines are being built at the Shepard Iron Works, under the direction of H.O. Perry who for the past 10 years has been connected with that establishment The diameter of each cylinder, 60 inches and 12 feet stroke; diameter of wheels 34 feet; diameter of shafts 16 inches (wrought iron); beam strap 4 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches; diameter of side pipes 22 inches; diameter of air pump 50 inches; length of connecting rod 23 feet, and 9 inches in diameter. Stevens cut-off will be used on both engines. They will be upward of 1,000 horse power, and will make from 15 to 19 revolutions per minute, with 30 pounds of steam. The engine frames are made of the best Georgia pine procured in New York for that purpose. The boilers were also made at the Shepard Iron Works, and are the up returned tubular boiler. Extreme length 23 1/2 feet; diameter of shell 10 feet; bed of fire-box 11 feet 3 inches. Each boiler has two flues 23 inches in diameter; 2 flues 20 inches; 2 flues 15 inches, and 164 flues 4 inches, which will give a fire surface , exclusive of a steam chimney, of 3,296 square feet. Each boat has two boilers. They are so constructed as to burn wood or coal, and so arranged that in case of accident to one boiler, the steam can be shut off and the engine worked with the other. With the exception of the heavy forging, all the work has been done in Mr. Shepard's shop, which is amply fitted for it.
There are any number of first class steamers laying idle at most of our lake ports that might have been chartered or purchased by the parties building the steamers MILWAUKEE and DETROIT, and put upon that route, but there are none expressly adapted to the service required between Milwaukee and Grand Haven, the terminus of the Detroit and Milwaukee Railway. Steamers are required for this route that could run summer or winter, in fine weather and stormy, and that could be relied upon to make connections. No expense has therefore been spared in making these steamers just what was required and that they have sycceeded, it is scarcely necessary to wait their trial to become convinced of. They will be rapidly pushed forward to completion, and are expected to leave for their destination about the first of August. Both boats will be ready at the same time and both will proceed to Milwaukee together and we believe it is the intention of those interested, that both boats shall take up a pleasure party on their first trip.
We believe the owners have been pecularily fortunate in the selection of their officers. The MILWAUKEE which was launched yesterday will be commanded by Captain W.S. Cross, of Milwaukee. Captain Cross has been master on the lakes since 1842, and has earned an enviable reputation. He is a driving, go ahead, thorough seaman, though cautious and by no means reckless. We have known him for years, when sailing the SAM HALE, D. NEWHALL, REPUBLIC, and BADGER STATE, and he was always up to time. He has made very many friends around the lakes who rejoice at his good fortune in being offered the position of Master on the MILWAUKEE. His first officer is Wm. Kynaston also of Milwaukee and a thorough-bred sailor. His second mate will be Thomas Collins, and Thomas Fitzpatrick will be first engineer.
The DETROIT will be commanded by Captain D.H. McBride. Captain McBride was three years master of a sail vessel, and for fourteen years has commanded some of the best steamers on the lakes. His last boat was the QUEEN OF THE WEST, which he sailed five years without any accident. His reputation as a sailor and a gentleman are too well known here at home to require one word from us, and we will leave his boat to speak for him when she gets on her route. His first officer will be Capt. James Mitchell, and his first engineer Mr. John Stark. A better selection of more competent men for the various positions could not have been made.
      Our article having extended longer than we had intended, we are compelled to defer a notice which we proposed to give of the interior arrangements and fittings up of the boats, as well as mention of all who contribute in the least to their construction until a future day.
      Buffalo Daily Courier
      Friday, June 3, 1859

      . . . . .

      Buffalo, June 2. - The Detroit and Milwaukee Railway Company's steamship MILWAUKEE was launched this afternoon in fine style, from the shipyard of Mason & Bidwell. A salute of 100 guns was fired under the direction of Capt. Bingham of the Milwaukee Light Guard, with their piece, the Yound America. About 5,000 peopel were present.
      Detroit Free Press
      June 3, 1859

      . . . . .
Steam paddle MILWAUKEE. U. S. No. 16619. Of 1,039 tons. Built Buffalo, N.Y., 1859. Home port, Buffalo, N.Y. DISPOSITION:-- Lost 1868.
      Merchant Steam Vessels of the United States,
      1790 to 1868. The Lytle - Holdercamp List

Item Type
Launch, Buffalo
Date of Original
Local identifier
Language of Item
William R. McNeil
Copyright Statement
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Emailwalter@maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.caWWW address
Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


Milwaukee (Steamboat), U16619, 2 Jun 1859