"Oldest Steamboat in the World"

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AndyHall

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This morning I came across these images at the LoC, from c. 1909, of the little sidewheeler Norwich, that was being then touted as "the oldest steamboat in the world." She was built in New York in 1836 -- same year as the Alamo, for reference -- and survived until 1924. As far as I know she was not used as a transport during the Civil War, but is very typical of the small, older civilian steamers that were, and these are just great images.

Norwich2.png


Norwich3.png


Here is a blurb about her from Johnson & Lightfoot, Maritime New York in Nineteenth-Century Photographs:

One of the longest-lived steamboats [on the Hudson] was the Norwich (160' x 25'3", 255 gross tons), built in 1836 by Lawrence & Sneeden of New York for the New York and Norwich Steamboat Co. She was not large enough to compete with the large steamboats coming onto the sound and was sold to the New York & Rondout Line for passenger and freight service on the Hudson. Converted to towboat service, in which she operated from 1850 to 1923, she was unexcelled as an ice-breaker, opening up the channels in the spring. The Erie Railroad paid her to clear a passage through the ice for its barge and steamboat traffic from the rail terminal at Piermont to New York. Verplanck and Collyer, in Sloops on the Hudson, write that Capt. Jacob Dubois required one week to work the Norwich 20 miles through heavy ice to New York City from Piermont.​

Here is an image of Norwich at Rondout on the Hudson in 1878, from Johnson and Lightfoot:

Norwich4.png


The boat is fitted with a crosshead, "steeple" engine, so called because the frame in which the crosshead moves up and down resembles a church steeple. In this arrangement the vertical steam cylinder is directly below the frame and in line with the paddlewheel shafts. This arrangement was common into the 1850s, gradually being supplanted by the "walking beam" engine, in which the cylinder was placed forward or aft of the paddlewheel.

CrossheadEngine.png
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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Hm. Between this and the Belle, I'm wondering... all the surviving steamers today are sternwheelers, at least on the U.S. inland waters. What was the last sidewheeler?
 
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godofredus

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There is always a big discussion on factories / mechanization in the South. In spite of the huge number of steamboats on the ante-bellum southern rivers, I have not been able to find any built south of Cincinnati. Am I wrong? I am trying to put to death the story that the South did not have factories to compete with the North, but all the data I find goes the other way.

Great picture by the way. Wonder what the advantage was between stern-wheeler and side-wheeler.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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hm.... looks like one of the candidates for "the last sidewheeler" may be the President, which seems to have been active as an excursion steamer into the early 196os. (When I say "last," I'm thinking of Mississippi-style steamboats built for commercial use. There are of course others that have been built since, but they're not 'genuine' in the same sense, and there seem to be some in areas other than the lower Mississippi...)
 

AndyHall

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There is always a big discussion on factories / mechanization in the South. In spite of the huge number of steamboats on the ante-bellum southern rivers, I have not been able to find any built south of Cincinnati. Am I wrong?
You're not wrong. The large majority of original steamboat construction (both hulls and powerplants) occurred on the Ohio River, from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati to Louisville/Jeffersonville, with some at places like St. Louis. There was some scattered boat-building and repairing/refitting various places along the river, often using machinery recovered from other boats, but it was mostly on the Ohio.
 
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DaveBrt

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This morning I came across these images at the LoC, from c. 1909, of the little sidewheeler Norwich, that was being then touted as "the oldest steamboat in the world." She was built in New York in 1836 -- same year as the Alamo, for reference -- and survived until 1924. As far as I know she was not used as a transport during the Civil War, but is very typical of the small, older civilian steamers that were, and these are just great images.

View attachment 16592

View attachment 16593

Here is a blurb about her from Johnson & Lightfoot, Maritime New York in Nineteenth-Century Photographs:

One of the longest-lived steamboats [on the Hudson] was the Norwich (160' x 25'3", 255 gross tons), built in 1836 by Lawrence & Sneeden of New York for the New York and Norwich Steamboat Co. She was not large enough to compete with the large steamboats coming onto the sound and was sold to the New York & Rondout Line for passenger and freight service on the Hudson. Converted to towboat service, in which she operated from 1850 to 1923, she was unexcelled as an ice-breaker, opening up the channels in the spring. The Erie Railroad paid her to clear a passage through the ice for its barge and steamboat traffic from the rail terminal at Piermont to New York. Verplanck and Collyer, in Sloops on the Hudson, write that Capt. Jacob Dubois required one week to work the Norwich 20 miles through heavy ice to New York City from Piermont.​

Here is an image of Norwich at Rondout on the Hudson in 1878, from Johnson and Lightfoot:

View attachment 16594

The boat is fitted with a crosshead, "steeple" engine, so called because the frame in which the crosshead moves up and down resembles a church steeple. In this arrangement the vertical steam cylinder is directly below the frame and in line with the paddlewheel shafts. This arrangement was common into the 1850s, gradually being supplanted by the "walking beam" engine, in which the cylinder was placed forward or aft of the paddlewheel.

View attachment 16591
The 4-stacker in the background of the first photo looks like the light cruiser Chester. She was built in 1908, 3,700 tons, 2 5" guns and 2 torpedo tubes.
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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You wonder how some of these ships avoided being brought into service, maybe especially something as potentially servicable as a towboat? Were there just so many that it was not really necessary to cast a very wide net?
 

Carronade

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Can we identify the cruiser as Chester specifically, or just one of that class? Sisters Salem, Birmingham.

Called scout cruisers and later light cruisers, they were fast but lightly armed, just two 5" 50 caliber guns and six 3". Later they were upgunned a bit, with four of the new 5"51s.
 
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Wow! What a beautiful little lady! It's a shame a ship like this didn't survive, or that a replica has not been built, as it would make a great setting for a reenactment. Steeple Engines are new to me, whenever I've seen them before I guess I assumed they were misdrawn walking beams. It ought to be noted that, during the war years, most steam boats, even on the rivers, were side-wheelers. If I recall correctly the stern wheel wasn't common till after the war. The famous "Pook Turtle" ironclads actually had a weird unicorn of a wheel, which I suppose you could dub a "well wheel" or "center wheel", as it resided in a water tight well in the middle of the boat. This was (in it's original concept) to avoid snags disabling the boats working to remove them, and later (on the iron clads) to avoid disabling by enemy fire.
 
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Mark F. Jenkins

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and later (on the iron clads) to avoid disabling by enemy fire.
Yeah, although as it turned out, they really weren't all that vulnerable to damage. For the most part, if a shot took out a 'bucket' or two, the boat simply had a slight reduction in speed/power until they could slap some new wood across there... and they definitely did not help steering/maneuverability. The only later purpose-built boats with anything remotely similar were the Osage and Neosho, though those were sternwheelers for all practical purposes.
 
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Interestingly, reading into it more, Norwhich's engine is also informally known as a "Square", "A-Frame", or "Sawmill", and the "Steeple" name is probably best avoided because apparently there are several different marine engines called by the same name. The Crosshead engine's big flaw is that it's top heavy, so it's use was restricted to ships on the inland and coastal trades, and it fell from favor as time went on for this reason.

From what I understand and if memory serves, a lot of the resistance to the sternwheeler was that the structural techniques of the era did not allow for a large single wheel to be placed at the rear of the boat, as it's weight uncountebalenced was too much for the wood construction techniques of the day. Then hog chains came in and basically turned the boat into a bridge structure wise, with everything held in tension by steel cables, and thus stern wheels became practical. You can kind of see parallel thinking with all those aintihogging beams on the Norwich.

Also of note a lot of western river boats mounted their side wheels close to the stern, presumably so that there isn't as much space between them and the rudder. From what I've read, having a long distance between your propulsion and your rudder has an significant effect on how your boat steer, since the water has a longer distance to pass from wheel to rudder.
 
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Yeah, although as it turned out, they really weren't all that vulnerable to damage. For the most part, if a shot took out a 'bucket' or two, the boat simply had a slight reduction in speed/power until they could slap some new wood across there... and they definitely did not help steering/maneuverability. The only later purpose-built boats with anything remotely similar were the Osage and Neosho, though those were sternwheelers for all practical purposes.
Apparently, they could not be backed against the current which seems like a rather glaring design flaw to me. I wonder why Eads let the City class be built without watertight compartments, given that was sort of how he got involved with the Army\Navy in the first place? What exactly was his relationship with Pook in building them? It has always seemed to me Eads yards tended to produce pretty high quality ironclads for his day, some of the Milwaukee class monitors are really only second to the Canonicus class as the best of the war.
 
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archieclement

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Sidewheelers had the advantage of better maneuverability, as the speed of the wheels could be changed independently of one another, permitting sharper turns

The William H Black operated mainly on the Missouri river, the OPEC embargo did her in as it consumed 7000 gallons of heavy oil a day.
 
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Patrick H

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I just realized how old this thread is, but I've never seen it before. Glad I clicked in. I immediately noticed the four-stacker in the background. I assumed it was warship of some sort, but I could not have said what it was. The masted ships in the distance are beautiful, too.
 
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