Friday, November 4, 2011

Steamboat Model/ FRANCIS SKIDDY c.1859 -Rex Stewart

    A pen and ink drawing of the famous four-stacker FRANCIS SKIDDY as she appeared
   nightboat-converted on the Hudson River c.1860. Drawing by TITANIC victim and noted 
   maritime artist, Samuel Ward Stanton.

                  FRANCIS SKIDDY -Painting, James Bard c.1859, shown as a dayboat.

Much has been said and written about the Bard Brothers, John and James, two maritime artists known for their acute draftsman-like style of painting; particularly on those subjects that embraced the Hudson River steamboat. In this genre they were the forerunners.

To this end, I very much enjoyed their folkart approach to the medium -as well as their penchant for adding minute detail those renditions they painted, whether on canvas or paper. I equally enjoyed researching every detail of their vessels- comparing their studies to the vintage photos of that period, when possible. It was this process that brought me to conclude
that their works were accurate and that I could use their studies to assist my blueprints.

However, the scale was somewhat imbalanced and that flaw I couldn't point, because these individuals were artists -not draftsmen.

The river, by and large, introduced to both traveller and riverman a beautiful array of sidewheelers. Each having its own distinctive quality and character -uniquely built and easily recognizable from both river during a port to port passing or from the shoreline. Their design and colorschemes were fascinating to examine, whether in that generation or the generations to follow.

By and large, the sidewheeler, especially those that operated on the Hudson River was a sight to behold...and it opened an entire new door for me, even as a contemporary
artist/craftsman. A model or even a series of models were 'rare' concerning these vessels -and the reality was that no one had a clue relative to their configurations. Not a builder or even a historian which struck me as odd.

                                                                                      Author and friend, Donald C.Ringwald

It was fitting to explore how these early draftsmen arrived at their paddlebox concepts. The half-circular paddleboxes were highly definitive, distinquishing one steamboat from the other; but not every steamboat carried such intricate workmanship. Some 'boxes' were simple in design; yet, there were other features that made a sidewheeler appealing or familiar to the area where it operated. Such was the case with a large and fast steamer that came to the Hudson River in 1851. The steamer was called the FRANCIS SKIDDY.

She was the largest and finest vessel that had ever been built for the Hudson River. When finished, she was considered the zenith of steamboat architecture. Her model was one of the most beautiful and faultless ever constructed. Sumptuously  fitted up, her cabins were spacious -being finished in mahogany forwhich steamboats of this period was noted. The main cabin was in the hull, extending the entire length and dining tables were made to seat 500 people. The SKIDDY was built for dayline service between New York City and Albany.
Speed was of dire necessity and she made the run 146 miles, with 6 landings, in 7 1/2 hours.                                                                          

    Van Loon Ryder Model of FRANCIS SKIDDY -Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C.

Built in 1851 at New York, her wood hull was made by the George Collyer Shipyard. Her length was 322 feet with a hull beam of 38 feet. Her depth of hold was 10 feet 4 inches and she carried a water draft of 5 feet 6 inches. her vertical beam engine was built by James Cunningham and Co. and her four boilers were by John F. Rodman out of New York.

FRANCIS SKIDDY began trips in June, 1852 and for a period left New York every morning, returning back from Albany at night. Several years later she was greatly altered -being rebuilt as a nightboat operating between New York City and Troy with the steamboats COMMODORE, HENDRICK HUDSON, RIP VAN WINKLE and C. VANDERBILT running at different periods with her. On the night of November 5, 1864 while coming southbound she ran ashore at Staatsburgh and sunk. The hull was broken up and the engine placed in the new steamboat DEAN RICHMOND.

With this enlightening history I thought it would make for an interesting model. Only a few models were built of this steamer by the late Van Loon Ryder of whom his cousin, Grant Van Loan, I developed correspondence and a friendship with for a number of years.

I spoke with author and historian Donald C. Ringwald about the possible project and he spoke about the rarity of a 'Stewart Model' being part of a unique collective body of contemporary works that the Hudson Valley needed to have. There was also another individual whom agreed and involved himself, a New York realtor by the name of Everett C. Britz. He respected my work enough to write these words:

        Dear Rex -

        Based on these qualifications, I personally believe
        that you are the foremost interpreter of the "Skiddy"
        of all times and that your translation of your knowledge
        into a model will make it the model of the "Skiddy" fpr
        future generations.

With those words I, with the assistance of both gentlemen, began to research and draft the plans for what was to become the most attractive SKIDDY model in the entire Hudson Valley. It took months of planning, as Mr. Britz was also interested in having it as one of his collective body of steamboats -and referred another gentleman to me who lived in Asia of whom was heir to the Skiddy Family.

His relatives lived in Greenwich, Connecticut.

It was a nice balance to build a steamboat model and have so much history attached to it.
I found myself becoming associated with every link to the Skiddy name, nationally and internationally. It was good to know that the work was appreciated by a group of men and women who respected the era of this industry to trust my workmanship. Cost was not a criteria and I learned that when something is priceless and worthy, cost is blind. And it was because of this association that the best steamboat models in the Northeast started to surface.

          Port bow detail -FRANCIS SKIDDY Model c.1859, wood and scratchbuilt to scale

The history of FRANCIS SKIDDY is another account of a famous steamboat that has been recorded for future generations. Although there exist video footage showing how these vessels operated during those times, one can only imagine riding them.

Every era has its 'today'. What we think is ancient wasn't ancient at all, and what our young generation will deem 'old' won't be old at all. It's just a passing of time and time events that shaped our culture in the period that it was experienced. Steamboating was no exception and I'm delighted to have this ability to preserve the aspect of this lifestyle that was so important to those who lived it. Steamboating is a bygone era, but it's also our culture -whether or not it's embraced.

                    FRANCIS  SKIDDY c.1859 -the model, scratchbuilt of wood and scaled
                  to 1:150  

For more information about commissioning a fine quality Hudson River steamboat model email: or call 1-774-757-7137. You may also visit  

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