Troy's Steamboat Era
by Don Rittner

On September 4, 1807, a small steamboat named the Clermont made its maiden voyage from New York City and reached Albany the following morning. It was the beginning of the steamboat era - one that would capture a travelling population for over a century.

Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton were granted a 30 year "privilege" to use their boats to carry people and freight on the river. The first such boat was the "FireFly" that began transporting people between Albany and Troy in September, 1812. For two shillings you could travel each way, or rent the ship for a three hour evening excursion for $4 dollars.

However, Chief Justice Marshall of the Supreme Court ruled this privilege unconstitutional on May 2, 1824 and led the way for a number of steamboat companies to form almost overnight.

Trojans didn't waste any time and immediately created the Troy Steamboat Company on March 31, 1825. Troy's first steamboat, appropriately named the "Chief Justice Marshall," arrived at the Ferry Street dock the following March. Shortly after, the Constitution and Constellation began regular trips between Troy and New York City. In 1826, the first "day" boat, the New London began the voyage to the city.

By 1844, eight steamboats, ten steamboat tows, 24 freight barges, and 27 sailing vessels, owned by Trojans, were in the business of carrying freight and passengers.

By 1871, the Citizen's Steamboat Company was organized by Joseph Cornell, George W. Horton and Captain Thomas Abrams, supported by local subscriptions, for a night line between Troy and New York City. After purchasing several boats such as the Thomas Powell, Sunnyside, C.Vanderbilt, and Connecticut, the firm launched the impressive City of Troy (1876), a 300 foot long steamboat with 112 state rooms and 250 separate rooms for men and women, and the Saratoga (1877), also 300 feet long with 113 state rooms and 250 rooms for men and women.

Boarding the steamboats in Troy took place either at the State Street landing or Broadway landing (earlier boats launched at Ferry). You could board the first by going through the ticket office at River and walking through and over a long covered platform to the boat. On Broadway, a covered shed kept you from the elements. Daily trips took 10 hours.

Between 1809 and 1876, 72 different steamboats went up and down the river between Troy and New York City.

Albany steamboat companies such as the Hudson Navigation Company also had their boats ply between Troy, Albany, and New York. Trojans could board the night boats Trojan or Rensselaer nightly. In fact, Albany Day boats continued running into the 1960's. In 1962, the Albany Day Line was purchased by Francis J. Barry.

The Alexander Hamilton was continued in service by Day Line, Inc., a subsidiary of Barry, and was in operation until 1971, retiring at the ripe age of 47. Designed by J. W. Millard & Brother, it was built in 1923-24 by the Sparrows Point plant of the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company, 348 feet length, 76 feet extreme beam, 13.8 feet depth of hold and $750.000 cost.

The Peter Styuvesant, another old day boat became part of the Anthony's Pier 4 restaurant in Boston. Most of the other boats were sold and scraped. The design of the Lake George boat Saint Sacrament was based on this old steamer.

The Albany Night liner had several giants in its service‹the Adirondack, the C.W. Morse and the Berkshire, the largest river steamboat ever built in the world.

I would be interested in knowing if any of the local steamers are still in operation or preserved. Also, if any of our readers have interesting stories about riding the steamers I would be most interested in listening.