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Not all tugboats on the Barge Canal in the first half decade were steamers, but most of them were.  More on the early diesel tugs in another post.  The photos in this post are arranged chronologically.  In these days before metadata was even imagined, I’m very grateful for photographic prints that have dates written on them.  Thanks to the unnamed photographer(s) who seemed to be documenting the commercial traffic of the era.  One interesting feature of the photos for me is that they documented the surroundings as well:  buildings and lack of them, nature and lack of it, other infrastructure and lack of it . . .

I find it odd that the caption identifies Jessie–the towed vessel but not the tug doing the towing, Harold.  And Jessie, whose name is not legible, appears to be a boat-shaped lighter or a bumboat;  maybe it was one once and now the engine has been removed to make way for cargo. That stone building just beyond Harold‘s stern is still extant, as part of Lockport locks and Canal Tours.

August 3, 1921 in Wayne County, it’s Geo. S. Donaldson somewhere between Palmyra and Newark, an area I know very well, but given how much the canal sides have changed, I can’t tell if the tow is east or westbound or exactly where it is.   Benjamin Cowles towed gravel from a pit somewhere near Palmyra on the pre-Barge Canal waterway.  He went on to form Buffalo Sand and Gravel.

The next day, the photographer, maybe the same one, captured Benj. L. Cowles eastbound at Lyons E28A.  Here‘s some case law referring to this tugboat.  Given the caption, let me quote from this article about ownership of the transmarine fleet:  “Submarine Boat Company operated the Transmarine Corporation (Transco) or Transmarine Lines a shipping company from 1922 to 1930, with 32 ships and 29 barges they had built. Providing East Coast, West Coast, Texas, Cuba and South America with cargo shipping services. [They had] the 206 dwt barges working on the [Barge Canal] with five tugboats. Barges moved cargo from New York City to Buffalo, New York in seven to nine days.”

Since Lyons and Clyde share a border, the same photographer may have taken this photo on August 4, 1921.  Note that on the forward portion of the wheelhouse, there is a Cowles Transportation sign. 

On August 10, it’s Lotta L. Cowles east of Clyde.  

Here’s Crescent two weeks later than her photo above, and no Cowles Transportation* sign is to be seen, and at lock E-23, about 50 miles to the east of Clyde.   Maybe the sign was being repaired or repainted. 

Here is one of the most amazing photos I’ve happened onto.  According to the caption, the locking operation is in the hands of no less a celebrity than the NYS governor Nathan L. Miller.  Maybe current NYS governor Kathy Hochul might see fit to operate some locks this coming summer as she runs for her office.

NYC as well as Buffalo have an Erie Basin, and this is the one in Buffalo.  That Erie Canal is now encompasses a marina and has high-end real estate on the inland side. I believe Belle dates from 1880, and I’m not sure if the boat alongside is Helen E. Taylor or Helene Taylor.

More to come, as I continue to alternate b/w photos with color ones.

These photos are used with permission of the Canal Society of New York.  Any errors of interpretation, WVD.

*Ben Cowles was an accomplished person.  Born in Buffalo in 1863, as a young man he left Buffalo to work in the sixth boro for at least 15 years as a ferry and tug captain.  At age 38, he returned to Buffalo the 8th largest US city in 1900) and was appointed harbor master.  In 1905, he founded Cowles Shipyard.  Besides building boats, he bought old Lake Erie steam fish tugs and adapted them for use as tugboats on the canals.  For a short period, he had a business partnership with the Mattons of Cohoes.  At its peak, Cowles Transportation owned/operated 16 tugs, 11 barges, and 3 lighters.   (Low Bridges and High Water, Charles T. O’Malley)

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