Sunday, March 18, 2012

Building the towboat AMERICA c.1853 / A Maritime Collectible

                   Towboat AMERICA, New York c.1852 - James Bard. Collection of the
                 Albany Institute of History and Art c.1982

The Hudson River has been the subject of great admiration for many decades, both for its reminenscent beauty and prolific history. From Native-Americans to European Industrialists, the river has accumulated a notable wealth not matched. Historical accounts, especially from foreign dignitaries have attested of the river's beauty and pictureques towns along the shoreline.

With this stretch of water from New York City to Troy, New York, there came an invention of the steamboat monopoly. It was first tested in the southern tier of the United States , but its first successful run was on the Hudson River with the famed CLERMONT -built by Robert Fulton in 1807. From that day onward the river soon became a busy waterway for all types of
commercial craft, large and small.

One type of vessel entering this water highway was the sidewheel towboat. These magnificent machines would prove worthy in the annals of American maritime. The AMERICA was a steamboat that was built strictly for towing. Most steamboats of her time were passenger steamers converted into tow steamers , but AMERICA was one of several built exclusively for this type of service. She was a massive sidewheeler and ranked as the third largest tow to appear on the Hudson River in 1852.

       Profile plan of Hudson River towboat AMERICA c.1852, as researched and drawn by
      maritime artist, historian and craftsman Rex Stewart c.1987

I admired James Bard painting of AMERICA that hung in the East Wing of the Albany Institute of History and Art during my tenure as an art student. It was this painting which inspired my research, twenty years later, to develop a rare set of one-of-a-kind plans on the famous towboat.

What made AMERICA so special to research and build was that she was commissioned, built and owned by an American man of color in an age when the country was moving toward Civil War and racial division. It was unheard of in those times for any man of this background to own a commercial steamboat monopoly such as the one owned and operated by Samuel B. Schuyler out of Albany, New York. Even today, some 120 years later, it's unheard of in America's maritime that a contemporary man of color is designing and building unique one-of-a-kind steamboats of America's past. Yet, it's these events that has motivated my ability to grasp and comprehend the American steamboat in minute detail as never before.

Mr. Schuyler who captained steamboats, before opening his business which he called the Schuyler Line, remained pliant to the needs of the communities which he served. He was well respected among his peers and celebrated by steamboatmen up and down the Hudson Valley, especially when his successful towing business ran in unison with the two other companies in the area which was the Austin Line and the Betts Line.

             Samuel B. Schuyler's steamboat stock share c.1873 - Schuyler Towing Line

AMERICA was built in 1852 at Brooklyn, New York. At 212' feet she was one of the largest tows to service the Albany-New York City route. Not only was she a large vessel, but she was heralded for her Herculean power and beautiful lines.

Building this rare scale replica was a test of both skill and ingenuity. No such plans were existant in the Hudson Valley -or in the entire State of New York. Sixty years prior, a prolific modelbuilder named Forrest Van Loon Ryder made the same claim when his models appeared during the late '50s - early '60s. And though his steamboats were limited in detail, he became the respected forerunner of his day. Since then, with painstaking research and countless hours, bringing together details that have been overlooked for decades, I have been fortunate to develop a body of works that has not been rivalled. I felt it was important to
research and build (from my own plans) the steamboat as it actually appeared for the period; the towboat AMERICA being one of them.

        Maritime artist and craftsman/historian Rex Stewart working on one of his signature
       steamboat models, the Hudson River sidewheel towboat AMERICA c.1853. Here, he
       carefully rigs the American flag to the rail.

AMERICA's fanciful paddleboxes and prolific hogframe system made her the steamboat to model. Furthermore, in my arsenal of steamboats, she made for a handsome nautical accent for those owning or had desired to own river-related memorabilia.

Many hours went into designing her rare and distinctive plans, based on the James Bard painting of 1852 and a later photo which showed her 1875 appearance from an old glass negative of my late friend, Herman Boyle. Those references proved invaluable and priceless to my research -as well as her dimensional data from the publication Marine Engineering.

         Towboat AMERICA's walking beam marine engine. Made entirely of wood, approxi-
         mately 154 pieces make up this detailed miniature. These models are museum
         collector pieces and are well respected in the maritime steamboat community.

It took approximately a week to research, scale and finish the plans; and one month to complete the 1/8" = 1' build. This type model is the first ever to come on the circuit as a Hudson River steamboat collectible and has been a favorite among this genre of enthusiasts.
The supporting photos shows the beauty and size of this once famous 'work horse'. Her accurate appearance of 1853.  Her career ended in 1902 when she was broken up at Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

                        Port View -River Towsteamer AMERICA  c.1853, Rex Stewart

                                 Port Overview Detail -AMERICA c.1853 , Wood Model

                              Starboard View of Hudson River Towboat AMERICA c.1853

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

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