Railroad Ferries of the Hudson: And Stories of a Deckhand

Railroad Ferries of the Hudson: And Stories of a Deckhand

Railroad Ferries of the Hudson: And Stories of a Deckhand

Railroad Ferries of the Hudson: And Stories of a Deckhand


Railroad Ferries of the Hudson and the Stories of a Deckhand is a complete business, economic, technical, and social history of the ferryboats that were once operated across the Hudson River to Manhattan from New Jersey and that were owned and operated by various railroad companies inconjunction with their commuter and long-distance passenger trains. The work also covers the Staten Island Ferry (formerly operated by the Bando Railroad) and New York Waterway's present-day revival of services connecting with New Jersey Transit commuter-train services.


The early history of the Hoboken Steam Ferryboat Co., as it was first named when incorporated by Colonel John Stevens on November 3, 1821, is tied closely to Robert Fulton’s Paulus Hook Ferry Co. of Jersey City.

Jensen’s Communipaw Ferry, of 1661, was the firstknown commercial ferry route on the North River, but it has had nowhere near the impact on ferryboat history and technology as either the Paulus Hook or Hoboken Ferry companies.

Robert Fulton is commonly known as the father of modern steamboating, yet he really was not the inventor of the steamboat; rather, it was he who successfully applied the ideas of several other men into one unit capable of performing the necessary task.

Shortly before the turn of the nineteenth century, there were some important experiments underway by Colonel John Stevens, who has been referred to as the father of the American railway. Many experiments had been conducted in both America and Europe with handpowered, propeller-driven boats. As early as 1799, Colonel Stevens conducted experiments with a steam screw propeller. in 1802, he built a 25 ft. long, flat-bottomed boat with a 5-ft. beam, which was powered by a small rotary engine, with a multitubular boiler. in the summer of 1802, he launched this boat, named Little Juliana for his daughter, in the Hudson at Hoboken and ran it occasionally until the following winter. She attained a speed of 4 miles per hour.

Messrs Nicholas Roosevelt and Robert R. Livingston became involved with the colonel and, in 1803, they decided to replace the rotary engine with a noncondensing reciprocating engine and a multitubular boiler. During the trials on the Hudson River, the boiler gave way, adding another year to the experiment. Colonel Stevens converted the Little Juliana to a twin-screw boat in 1804, which was described in many writings over the years as having a cylinder 4½ inches in diameter and 9-in. stroke: the beam was omitted; the boiler 2 feet long, 15 in. wide, 12 in. high, consisted of eighty-one tubes, each 1 in. in diameter; the boat was 25 ft. long, and 5 ft. wide. This was tried May 1804, and had a velocity of four miles an hour. After having made repeated trials with her, his son undertook to cross from Hoboken to New York, when, unfortunately, as the boat nearly reached the wharf, the steam pipe gave way, having been put on with soft solder. This boiler being damaged, the next one was constructed with the tubes placed vertically. the engine was kept going for a fortnight or three weeks, the boat making excursions up and down the Hudson River. For a short distance, it is said, the boat would go at a rate no less than seven or eight miles an hour.

Hoboken is truly the birthplace of the steam ferry. However, long before the practical introduction of the steamboats, the Elysian Fields in Hoboken were a popular pleasure resort for New Yorkers, who came hither in all kinds of small boats for a day’s outing. the first charter for a regular ferry operation was granted to Hermanus Talman in 1774. the ferry was then known as the Horsimus Ferry, after a small creek in the south end of Hoboken, which was then virtually an island. This early row-and-sail operation was given importance by the establishment of a stage line to New Bridge, near Hackensack, by Andrew Van Buskirk in 1775. It was on . . .

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