Sunday, May 5, 2013

Shall We Travel on the River?

Once upon a time, steamboats offered passenger service up and down the Hudson--for travelers going from place to place and for tourists on excursion. The Alexander Hamilton, seen in the picture docked here in Hudson, traveled between New York and Albany from 1924 until 1971 when it was retired. After spending time at South Street Seaport and the Brooklyn Naval Yard, the Alexander Hamilton ended up at Naval Station Earle in Middleton Township, New Jersey, where on November 8, 1977, it caught fire and sank during a storm.

Decades after the destruction of the Alexander Hamilton, there is a plan to bring a passenger steamer back to the Hudson River--not one of the original Hudson steamers, since none survives, but the National Historic Landmark vessel S. S. Columbia

Designed by the celebrated naval architect Frank Kirby and the artist Louis O. Keil, the Columbia was built in Wyandotte, Michigan, in 1902. Today, it is one of only two turn-of-the-century excursion steamers still in existence, the other being its sister ship, the Ste. Claire. Until 1991, the Columbia and the Ste. Claire took holidaymakers from downtown Detroit to Bois Blanc Island, a Canadian island where an amusement park had been created as a destination for the steamers. Since 1991, when the steamers were retired and the site of the amusement park sold to developers, the Columbia has been docked beside an industrial plant on the Detroit River, deteriorating.

Columbia newly shrink-wrapped
In 2004, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy had Columbia "shrink-wrapped" in an effort to reduce the deterioration. At the time, they were considering purchasing and restoring the steamboat. 

Columbia in March 2013
Two years later, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy decided not to pursue the restoration project, and in 2006, the Columbia was awarded to the S.S. Columbia Project. The first step for the New York not-for-profit--an undertaking still to be accomplished--is to get the Columbia from Detroit to New York, so that the restoration can begin.

The Columbia's restoration is promised to "incorporate green technologies into her historic structure, promoting and demonstrating principles of stewardship and sustainability." The intention is to engage the public throughout the restoration process, inviting people to witness craftsmen, artisans, artists, and apprentices at work. Ultimately, the restored steamer will be a "floating mobile museum and cultural venue," offering daily excursions that combine "an enjoyable visitor experience with unique ease of access to the rich scenic, cultural, historic, and environmental resources of the Hudson River Valley and New York Harbor."

Assemblymember Didi Barrett and State Senator Terry Gipson hold up a model of the S.S. Columbia as J. Winthrop Aldrich (right) speaks about the S.S. Columbia Project to guests gathered yesterday for the "Nope-Not-Yet" Shad Party, hosted by Joan K. Davidson, Furthermore, and the Hudson River Foundation.


  1. It would nice to see our riverfront be a welcoming place for the Columbia to visit. As it is now, and where it seems to be headed, it would be a bit of an embarrassment to receive visitors among dump trucks and rusting industrial buildings. Which will take longer to restore, the Columbia or our waterfront?

  2. This is very ,very exciting and I really look forward seeing a steamship on the river. I hope we can encourage a Hudson stop. Wonderful !

  3. Unless this steamboat is equipped with its own berth, where does anyone suppose it could dock here?

    The waterfront planners gave the city dock to their friend, and then the council turned around and appointed this friend our "Dock Master" (I believe he lives in Coxsackie, which is why the kayak docks were still locked this weekend).

    Oh yeah, we gave him a lease too, which he abuses in half a dozen ways: he abuses the lease itself; state regulations for parkland; and the city's the new zoning.

    Think of all of these fun characters each time the S.S. Columbia, or whoever else, cruises right passed Hudson.

    And if and when the shad return in numbers sufficient enough to re-start the fishery, recall that our same waterfront planners dropped from the narrative the only people in the area who are commercially licensed to fish shad. (In doing so, Ms. Roberts ran afoul of the state's Coastal Management Policies.)

    Mr. Moore said on WGXC that these people should have taken part in the waterfront process, when actually they did. They're on record for having taken a part, and Mr. Moore is on record merely stating that they didn't.

    When it comes time to review Mr. Moore's and Ms. Roberts' LWRP, the US Department of Commerce is not going to appreciate what they did and how they achieved it.

  4. I believe the only place the steamship could dock would be the Holcim dock, and for that they would need permission. We did get permission during the Quadricentennial to use the dock for those vessels that were too big for the city dock, i.e., needed water of greater depth and were too long for the city dock. Permission was granted either by Holcim or its leasor,O&G. I can't remember which.


  5. The kayak dock is now opened, reportedly due to a complaint.

    But did anyone else notice the new rip-rap around the slips?

    I seem to recall Scenic Hudson discouraging rip-rap shorelines, but does the public have any say? The DPW just does what it wants, right?

    From the draft LWRP: "the rip rap which serves to stabilize the embankments are part of the DEC mandated clean up of [the Lockwood and Best Oil] sites and many not be disturbed" (p. 125).

    Naturally that didn't stop anyone in Hudson when it was time to sink the pilings for the new docks.

    But that was the old rip-rap, which was allegedly "mandated" (the word was Roberts', so there may be no truth in it at all).

    Is voluntarily adding more rip-rap even permissible in these federal- and state-regulated waters? Doesn't the city first require a DEC Freshwater Wetlands Permit at the very least?

    Does any anywhere care about anything anymore? Or is the problem just this place?

  6. Must be nice, being King/Queen. There's shore enough but a shortage of know-how.

  7. The added Rip Rap was added by National Grid workers as part of their original cleanup contract back a few years ago. The locks for the transient and kayak docks were unlocked and are supposed to be unlocked. They were unlocked but someone unauthorized locked them. Ronny Gaylord from the city is the only person with the key for access. Regardless, they are supposed to be unlocked for the end users. The park with Rip Rap is from the Charlie Butterworth era. That is why the Gazebo is in wrong spot where it was supposed to be up closer to the Street as opposed to near the water blocking views and the bathrooms are in the wrong spot as well. The wharfs were supposed to be wrapped with Sheet Piling and done correctly and not with Rip Rap. The Rip Rap was used to save money and "do it cheaper". The moneys for all the docks came from the state which was prompted by the mishap with the cruise boat getting hung up on the old wooden pilings. That money almost got diverted for non water front needs by yours truly from TSL but she never succeeded. The state had a nice design for the waterfront but was not adhered too one bit by the old powers to be. That is why it is screwed up down there. My understanding is the kayakers would like a grasping rail to facilitate getting in and out of their boats and also the roller moved inboard closer to main dock to help particularly with longer kayaks. If users want things done, and have questions and like them addressed, all they have to do is ask. To accommodate a large vessel such as the ones pictured, neither of the slips are large enough to contain them and if the city wrapped the slips with sheet piling like they were supposed to, then the cruise boat would have been in one of them like original state plan and a long dock of sheet piling could have been installed parallel to accommodate larger vessels. Even the "Halfmoon" would have possibly been in Hudson if they adhered to some of the state designs. My understanding originally was that the kayak launch was supposed to be in the next slip down where the old car crusher used to be where it is a much longer slip, shallower and more protected. Again goes back to individuals who did not adhere to original plan and not consulting the end users.

  8. Agreed Mr. Walsh, frustrating!

    But when you write "if users want things done, and have questions and like them addressed, all they have to do is ask," the suggestion is not as straightforward as it seems.

    Some questions raised shouldn't require asking. For example, why must people ask each year for the docks to be unlocked?

    It took weeks of asking around last year, which begged the question: ask who?

    If the "Dock Master" - whose name is not posted as required by Hudson code - does not have a key to the docks (duh!), then why are residents supposed to know who Mr. Gaylord is, and why he needs to be consulted?

    Such things should be made obvious and automatic. The fact that they are not serves a different purpose, the reminders of which are unending and offensive: the function of newcomers is merely to supply fresh money for the exclusive designs and purposes of Hudson's Old Boy Network (HOBN).

    The HOBN enjoy every confidence they'll eventually wear down anyone who tries to get in their way, even at the state level. (Think of the DEC's permitting official Michael Higgins, known affectionately as He Who Looks The Other Way.)

    Thinking locally, how long did it take before Mr. Moore became a facilitator, a crucial part of the HOBN support structure, despite everyone's initial hopes for him?

    The fact that I'm supposed to crawl to the DPW each year to ask for the poorly designed and illegally-obtained docks to be unlocked is meant to function as a subliminal reminder that mere residents should remain "mere," and know their place in the pecking order.

    Our collective error is in supposing that the better aldermen can fix any of this on their own; only by working together as a community can the HOBN be challenged.

    (The lonely voice of a self-professed "Communitarian" among the self-described "Progressives.")

  9. The following comment was inspired by Gossips' new post, "1867 House Tour Continued," but is more topical here.

    The new post shows the Cyrus Curtiss house, on Warren and 1st Streets.

    Today's gazebo in the unfortunately-named Henry Hudson Waterfront Park stands next to the same dock identified as the "Curtiss Dock" on a 19th c. map.

    When I went to the City Historian to ask for support in my effort to reestablish the old name for the dock, I was asked in an incredulous tone "Why would you want to do THAT?"

    Yet it took only the stroke of a pen to baptize our unfortunately-named "Rick's Point," and to get someone other than Rick to pay for the sign. Apparently these were self-evident benefits to society.

    No less uninspired in my opinion, the curiosity of most of Hudson's self-professed historically-minded folk doesn't reach to the waterfront itself. Why?

    Is there a lack of leadership in that community? Why are we stuck with these waterfront place-names then?

    Henry Hudson was a dictator who was murdered by his crew. Did anyone think of learning about Hudson first? (His first mate who chronicled the trip has never had anything named after him.)

    And "Rick's Point," well ... Why not "HOBN Point"? Wouldn't that have been a more apt?

    1. What is/was Rick's point? Sure wasn't Navigation. Every move they make diminishes public Navigation more than it promotes.

  10. These are examples of when, “time sensitive grant money”, needing to be spent, becomes the prime directive over enhancing Navigation for public use. Another example of the lack of Navigational knowhow: Mother Nature, the Lady Faithful, gave Hudson a natural canoe sluice, clearly visible on Google Earth. It runs from Fosters to North Dock. Move the City pound to the other side of Dock Street and unlimited easy access is obtained, with very little cost. This is what happens when citizen stewardship is trumped by political “grant grabbers”…

    1. If North Bay was accessible from behind the DPW, residents might discover where the DPW dumps its old street cleaner brushes. That will never do!

    2. That's right, without cost there can be no grant. Without grants there would ne no graft. Don't know what I was thinking...