Sailing up the Hudson River is a very delightful experience and is considered a leisurely activity for those who are not in a rush to make their way north. Making this journey through a steamboat can take you up to four hours, but the whole experience would be one of peace and beauty.
However, if we go back in time, there was the Hudson River Day Line. This company boasted the speed at which they could transport passengers up the Hudson River.
The Hudson River Day Line was a line of premier quality steamboats that ran on the Hudson River. These steamboats were used from the 1860s all the way up to the 1950s. It carried millions of people that wanted to travel between New York City and Albany. Through this route, it also made stops at the major towns that came in between.
These boats were elegantly designed and were speedy. Thus, this day line of steamers was widely known and was also super popular among those looking to travel along the Hudson River.
Let us take a deeper dive into the Hudson River Line and its history.
The Hudson River Day Line was first a business of steamboats. It was owned by Abraham Van Santvoord but was later taken over by his son Alfred Van Santvoord. This steamboat business was originally on the Erie Canal and the Hudson River. It was named the ‘Old Line Steam Tow Boats’ and until 1848 only worked to tow old passenger boats.
With the addition of Alfred, the company grew and grew till it was extremely popular among the people who lived along the Hudson River. When the Hudson River Day Line added Albany and New York to their route, their passengers increased substantially. These boats were described to be first-class, and so were their passengers. It is reported that people who smoked, smelled, or talked loud were never a part of the crowd that traveled on these steamboats. The passengers wore their Sunday best and lounged on the deck enjoying the light breeze and engaged in light conversations about the weather or the history of pancakes even. Summertime was perhaps the best time to embark on the steamboats and enjoy the cool breeze. Almost all of the passengers wore straw hats, and many even lost them to the winds.
For entertainment purposes, an orchestra was added. This helped create an ambient environment that pleased the passengers on board. Additionally, there was also a newsstand that had all the popular newspapers available.
The Hudson River Day Line was well known for being punctual, which was quite uncommon in the 1800s. The steamboats stopped for no one, and if you happened to be late, you could not get onto it.
This line of steamboat prided themselves on their speed, and at one point in time, they even had the fastest ship that sailed on the Hudson River. This ship was Daniel Drew that set a record of the shortest time from Albany all the way to New York City. This time was 7 hours and 20 minutes. Later on, in 1863, the company added an additional boat called Armenia. With two boats, one could leave New York at the same time as one left Albany. The two boats could go back and forth to transport double the passengers.
When the 1880s rolled around, the boats became old and had to be replaced. The replacements were two ships that were iron-hulled. They were named New York and Albany. Both of these ships were around 300 feet long and could carry around 4,500 passengers. Despite the huge capacity, these ships only took 2,500 passengers. The reason for the reduced passenger limit was that they wanted there to be plenty of room and comfort. With their passengers being strictly first class, they wanted to provide them with the best conditions adhering to their class. Hence, we see lavishness in the interior. For example, the dining rooms were classy and formal with mahogany and turned oak furniture.
With the passage of time, faster trains and automobiles came into the picture. People used the Hudson River Day Line as more of a luxury trip. They were often used to going to weekend stays and resorts. For example, many passengers used the Hudson River Day Line as transportation to Catskill for hiking excursions and vacations. Many of the passengers also took these boats to visit Kingston Point, which was a popular park where people went sightseeing and enjoyed picnics.
To ensure that those wanting to ride the Hudson River Day Line knew of the schedule, periodicals such as the ‘Hudson River Guide and Magazine’ were published. This periodical contained the timetable for the many steamboat lines. It also has listings for summer hotels as well as boarding houses that the passengers could stay at when they went for such excursions.
Till 1915, the fleet of ships consisted of the Albany, Hendrik Hudson, Robbery Fulton, and Washington Irving. The 1920s is probably when the Hudson River Day Line was the most successful. It transported a staggering two million passengers in its peak year, which was 1925. At this time, multiple steamboats were running to cater to all the passengers they had. These steamers included Chauncey Vibbard, Daniel Drew, Albany, the Hendrick Hudson, the Robert Fulton, the Washington Irving, the Alexander Hamilton, and the Peter Stuyvesant.
In the 1940s, the owners of the Hudson River Day Line sold the company. This was quite timely as steamboat travel was steadily being replaced by automobile travel. To further decrease the popularity of these steamboats, new highways were built. With such constructions, people started using them more than steamboats.
The Hudson River Day Line Boats
The Hudson River Day Line had many boats that ran from New York to Albany carrying millions of passengers throughout its entire run. There were many boats that were used in this business, and all of them were steamboats. As one ship became old, it was promptly replaced by a better and faster ship. The boats used by this company boasted that they could get their passengers all the way from New York City to Albany in a record time of 7 hours and 20 minutes which reiterates how their boats were well-built.
Let us take a look at some of the ships used by the Hudson River Day Line.
The Chauncey Vibbard steamboat was often called the Vibbard and was built in 1864 in New York. The main purpose of this ship was to be of service to the passengers of the Hudson River Day Line and was the first of its kind. Soon after it started running, the ship established itself as one of the fastest steamboats that tread the water of the Hudson River. It was so popular that it received an upgrade after only two years and was lengthened. This increased capacity allowed Vibbard to carry more customers than ever. It received more rebuilds and alterations until it finally broke down in 1902 after serving the company for 36 years.
The ship was named after Chauncey Vibbard, who was a well-known railroad executive. He was also one of Van Santvoord’s partners. The completed ship measured 265 feet in length and had a beam of 35 feet. Additionally, it could hold a depth of 9 feet and 6 inches and could carry 794 tons. She made use of a vertical beam steam engine.
The most prominent trip of Vibbard’s career was when she took President Ulysses S. Grant from New York to Rhinebeck in 1873.
Alexander Hamilton was a steamboat built particularly for the Hudson River Day Line in 1924. This ship, Alexander Hamilton, like others in the fleet, was mainly used to transport passengers from New York City and Albany. It sailed the whole route for several years but later on, her run was shortened to only go up to Poughkeepsie. From there, it turned around and returned.
This ship was built by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation and ran its course from 1924 till 1971. The only reason it stopped running was that the company was sold. Otherwise, Alexander Hamilton could have lasted more years than she did.
The size of the ship was quite impressive as she measured around 300 feet in length which makes it one of the bigger steamboats at that time. Additionally, she could handle a large number of passengers. It was estimated that Alexander Hamilton could handle more than 3000 passengers at a time. The propulsion system that this steamship used consisted of a total of four Scotch marine boilers. She is considered one of the last Day Line ‘sidewheelers’ that sailed along the Hudson River.
Albany and New York
In the 1880s, owners of the Hudson River Day Line believed that they needed to promote and market their company better. To do so, the owners of the Day Line felt that they needed to bring in some new boats that are both larger and faster. Along with that, they wanted to attract a certain kind of audience. To attract the first-class audience, they needed to make their boats functional, elegant, and beautiful. Hence, two new steamers were built that incorporated all the elements needed to attract first-class passengers.
The Albany and New York were built on iron hulls that were around 300 feet in length. Their size allowed them to accommodate around 1500 passengers. The Hudson River Day Line claimed their ships to be the fastest and best steamboats in the world, and truly, these boats did not fall short. They were most definitely the finest boats and were perfect for the first-class citizens it hoped to attract.
Both boats were spacious and had cabins that were made using highly polished wood. Additionally, they were luxurious and lavishly decorated. The walls were adorned with various paintings and statues to add to the environment. It also had dining rooms situated on the main deck where the passengers could enjoy their dinner.
The Robert Fulton was added into the fleet of Hudson River Line ships in 1909, especially for the Hudson- Fulton Celebration. This ship replaced New York and met a tragic end in Newburgh where it burned down.
The interior of this ship was lavishly decorated as it had five murals that were painted by marine artist Samuel Ward Stanton. These murals displayed the development of steam navigation on the Hudson River. This ship, accompanied by Hendrick Hudson, Robert Fulton, and Albany was a part of the first division of the great naval parade. This parade marked 100 years of steam navigation and 300 years of the voyage along the Hudson River.
The Hudson River Day Line was a monumental company that ran for more than a hundred years. Popular among the first class, the Hudson River Day Line ships were super luxurious and spacious. Furthermore, there were always refreshments and entertainment for the guests so that they could relax and enjoy the fresh breeze as the ship sailed up the river.