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The first steamers began operating on the Erie Canal in the late 1850s, as documented by this fascinating article “History of Steam on the Erie Canal” published in 1873.

In the early 1870s Baxter Steam Canal Boat Transportation Company had seven cargo steamers operating between Buffalo and New York City, but by 1877, Baxter declared bankruptcy. More than a dozen boats of Baxter design continued operating on the Morris Canal for some time.  Cleveland Steel Boat Company had some steel steamers that towed steel barges on the pre-Barge Canal in the late 1890s; to see their boats, click here and scroll. 

Interestingly, some steamers at this point were referred to as “propellers.”  I wonder why and when the replacement by the word “tugboat” happened.

W. H. Follette was a wooden steamer out of Buffalo launched around [maybe in] 1909.  As so many similar craft did, she carried some freight in her hold, but also towed one or more engineless consort barges.  She was owned by the Shippers Navigation Co. Inc. of Syracuse.  In July 1924 she was sold to Frank Peterson, withdrawn from Barge Canal service,  and taken to Florida.  She was 92′ x 18′ x 6′.  Though she was registered in 1919 as a first class boat, her insured value of only $8,700 suggests nine years had taken their toll.

Built in 1909 an almost identical Tuscarora.  She was built in Tonawanda, and 92′ x 18′, crewed by five and powered by a 120 hp steam engine, she was owned by Grain Transit Co. of Battery Place in Manhattan.  In July 1922 she was sold to Lake Champlain Transportation Company and renamed Buffalo.  Then she sold again in July 1924 to Brooklyn and Buffalo Transportation Corp, but in two months later she was seized by US Marshalls, who sold her to L. Forsyth where she may have operated until April 1936.

In 1918 U.S. Railroad Administration (USRA) Director General William G. McAdoo announced that American canals and waterways, as well as railroads, were taken over by the U. S. Government to control wartime transportation. McAdoo favored rails over canals and not surprisingly, the 1918 and 1919 new Barge Canal seasons did not meet the expectations of New York interests. When NY interests were successful in protesting USRA operation, responsibility for the 1920 Barge Canal operations season was placed with separate office under the Secretary of War. USRA, however, had made a significant contribution to the Canal’s floating equipment with contracts for 51 steel barges, 21 concrete barges, and 20 self-propelled steel freighters named for NYS counties.  That’s Monroe below.

The 20 freighters were approximately 150′ x 20′, with a 12′ depth of hold. 

The steel steamer had two 38-foot cargo holds with a total cargo capacity of 450 tons. How ludicrous to imagine mules like Sal who towed and carried huge loads of cargo on their backs.

The main cargo carried by each of the USRA steamers in 1920 was grain, but they also carried chemicals, metals, and general merchandise.

The pilothouse was built in two sections so the upper one could be removed to meet the Canal’s low bridges; the stack was hinged so it could be lowered. The oil-burning boiler provided the steam for a vertical fore and aft, 400 hp, compound reciprocating engine designed by Gibbs and Cox and spinning two 5′ 8″ diameter propellers.  Two balanced rudders provided steering. Each unit had quarters for a crew of 12, as they hauled a string of up to five  consort barges

Here a westbound Monroe tows its barges out of the flight.  I wonder how many locking were required, or if all fit in a single Barge Canal lock.

The USRA “steel fleet” was superseded by the McDougall ILI fleet 101 through 105

Here’s a closer up of Monroe.  Note people fishing at the point in the bulkhead off vessel port.

Monroe was sold to Munson Inland Water Lines in 1932, who in spring 1936 reported  she had sunk in Westchester Creek in the Bronx.  She was dismantled by April 1940.  Here the “fleet” heads out into Crescent Lake.  If time travel were possible, it would be fascinating to see the settlement/lack thereof along the way to Buffalo!

I’m including this next vessel here, although it was built as a barge and converted to a motor ship.  I’m not sure what type of diesel engine she had.  Frank A. Lowery was built in 1918 in Brooklyn as a 150′ x 21′ x 11′  barge Occo 101, owned by the Ore Carrying Corporation.  In 1926 and 1927, she changed hands twice and was renamed  barge L.& L. 101.  In 1929, she was  renamed Frank A. Lowery after the new owner, who converted to a motor ship with a 240 hp diesel.  The hull was shortened from 150′ to 104′. She was in freight service with a crew of five. Her canal service ended around 1953.  For more info, click here.

All photos thanks to the Canal Society of New York collections, and any errors, WVD.

Off topic but it must be acknowledged: feliz dia de san patricio!



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