Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tow Sidewheeler SYRACUSE c.1857

                         Towboat sidewheeler SYRACUSE in New York Harbor c.1877

The Hudson River was a waterway dotted with sail and steam during America's young Industrial Age. Some of the world's most interesting vessels were travelling this river, from sailing sloop to massive nightboat. The river had its own life of whistle, voices and churning water that seem to have echoed every ten to twenty miles from Troy-Albany to New York City. This was the heydey of steamboating.

The towboat entered the river in the late 1840s and established itself as the 'workhorse' of rivercraft.These large vessels were cumbersome in appearance, yet their featured large stack and complicated steel-wired tie rods, and hogframe system, made these sidewheelers unique and appealing to river communities.

Day and night, port to port, they ran -from the northern tip of the river (Albany-Troy) to the southern tip (Newburgh-New York City). One such towboat that received maritime accollades for its appearance and river tasks was a sidewheeler named SYRACUSE.

                       Painting of tow steamer SYRACUSE by American artist James Bard

The wooden hull of SYRACUSE was built at Hoboken, New Jersey in 1857 and was powered by an engine constructed by Berman at New York City. She was 218 feet long, breadth of beam 35 feet and five inches, with a gross tonnage of 608 and a net 459 tonnage. Her vertical beam engine had a 72 inch cylinder with a 12 foot stroke.

Built exclusively for towing, SYRACUSE became the sixth largest tow to make her appearance on the Hudson. She was constructed for Jerry Austin of Albany and was the most handsome and most powerful of any of the fleet of towboats on the river. The Austin Towing Line, operating between New York and Albany placed SYRACUSE in service in 1857, running in line with the steamboats OHIO, GENERAL MACDONALD and AUSTIN.
these vessels serviced the Line for many years, and in the summer of 1876 the OHIO, becoming of no further use, was run ashore on the east side of the river (above Castleton) and broken up. The other boats continued running until the fall and were sold thereafter.

                            Scale model of towboat SYRACUSE as she appeared in 1857.

Samuel Schuyler who operated the Schuyler Towing Line, purchased SYRACUSE while the Cornell Steamboat Company of Rondout bought AUSTIN, GENERAL MACDONALD and S.O.PIERCE. Schuyler rebuilt the SYRACUSE and added her to his towing fleet -operating her until 1893 when he discontinued his business and sold the steamer to the Cornell Company.

        Overview of SYRACUSE showing walking beam engine detail and superstructure

The Rondout company serviced the towboat on the Rondout-New York route where she remained until 1898. After 41 years of continuous service, SYRACUSE was sold to J.H. Gregory who took her to Perth Amboy, N.J. and scrapped her.

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

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