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Hudson River Valley Heritage

About this collection

The Hudson River Maritime Museum’s digital collection reflects the maritime and industrial history of the Hudson River, primarily from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries.


Browse all Hudson River Maritime Museum collections


Browse the Oral History Collection: The Hudson River Maritime Museum’s Hudson River Commercial Fishermen’s Oral History Collection consists of nearly 20 interviews with commercial fishermen in the early 1990s. Ten of these interviews have been digitized and are available here on HRVH through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Locations discussed range from New York City to Albany and time periods from the 1920s to the 1990s. The focus of these interviews is primarily on the decline of the commercial fishing industry, including changes in fishing techniques and gear, changes in water quality and pollution, economic and market changes, and changes in fishing populations, including government regulation.


You can learn more about one of our interviewees, Thomas Turck, by visiting Turning Tides: A Hudson River Fish Tale. A story of the American Shad fishery in New York's Hudson River. Dedicated to the memory of Thomas J. Turck. Created by Daniel Douglas.


Browse the Hudson River Day Line Collection: The Hudson River Maritime Museum’s Hudson River Day Line Collection is an extensive archive of photographs, objects, ephemera and printed materials from the 1860s through 1971.The Hudson River Day Line was the most famous of the Hudson River steamboat lines carrying millions of passengers over the decades on excursion trips from New York to Albany and points in between on fast, beautifully appointed steamers. Images from the steamboats Armenia, Daniel Drew, Chauncey Vibbard, Albany, New York, Hendrick Hudson, Robert Fulton, Washington Irving, DeWitt Clinton, Peter Stuyvesant, Alexander Hamilton and Chauncey M. Depew are represented in this digital collection. The photos and ephemera presented here are part of the extensive Donald Ringwald Collection at the Hudson River Maritime Museum.  Ringwald was the leading expert on the Hudson River Day Line and the author of the book, “Hudson River Day Line,” as well as numerous articles and two other Hudson River maritime books, “The Mary Powell” and “Steamboats for Rondout.”

Browse the Tugboat Collection:
 Tugboats- The Workhorses of the Hudson - The Hudson River was the great natural highway into the interior of New York State for centuries.  Transportation for people and goods was by boat for over two hundred years after the arrival of European, mostly Dutch, settlers in the early 17th century.


Because of the growth of New York City into a major port and population center as immigrants poured into the city in the 19th century, the need there for food and building materials soared.  The Hudson Valley produced many of the products needed, and shipped them by sailing vessels called sloops and schooners for at least two hundred years from the beginning of settlement in the 1600s.  Steamboats came on the scene gradually after 1807 carrying mostly passengers for many decades. Eventually steam towboats pulling multiple barges and canal boats took over the freight traffic on the Hudson. Though not speedy, these long tows were the cheapest way to ship bulk cargoes. Older passenger steamboats such as the Norwich were used at first as towboats.  Sidewheel steamboats such as the Oswego were built as towboats starting around 1850.  Propeller driven tugboats in the familiar shape that we know today began to be seen in the 1860s.


Rondout, the port of Kingston, was a major shipping point, and the busiest port on the Hudson for most of the 19th century (1800s).  The major product shipped from Rondout was coal brought here from eastern Pennsylvania over the Delaware & Hudson Canal from 1828 to 1898. Coal was the main fuel of the steam age of the 19th century, so Rondout boomed from coal transport.  Local products also shipped from Rondout during the same time were Ulster County bluestone shipped widely for use as sidewalks;  Rosendale cement, a sturdy natural cement used in building New York City; and bricks from local brickyards also used to build New York City.   Ice cut from the Hudson River was shipped to New York City on barges to be used for food preservation.  Food products were also shipped, including grain from the Midwest brought to the Hudson over the Erie Canal, and hay for the many horses in the City.


The Cornell Steamboat Company of Rondout became the largest towing company on the Hudson by the 1880s because of the enormous amount of freight to be transported to New York City from the Hudson Valley, especially from Rondout. Towboats and tugs pulling long strings of barges could be seen day and night on the Hudson from the 1850s through the 1930s.  The Cornell Steamboat Company had a virtual monopoly on towing on the river from the 1880s through the 1930s.  The company had a fleet of up to sixty tugboats of all sizes at one time. There is much less tug and barge activity on the Hudson today than there was even in the 1950s as freight was being shipped by rail and later truck, and the old cargoes like bluestone, ice, and cement had mostly disappeared from the scene.  Today the main cargoes shipped by tug and barge are oil, crushed rock, and some cement.


Browse the Hudson River Night Boat Collection: From their earliest days, Hudson River steamboats ran at night as well as during the day. Although not a numerous as their daytime counterparts, night boats quickly became popular, especially with businessmen who wanted to travel between New York and Albany without missing daylight working hours. Smaller night boats carried cargo—mostly food products, including milk—to New York City from upriver ports as well as transporting some passengers.


Early overnight steamers ran before the invention of radio and radar, even before channel markers and other navigation aids that we take for granted now. Accidents were inevitable. In 1845, the steamship Swallow, running at night—and possibly racing—during an April snow squall, lost her way and ran up on a large rock off Athens, New York. The vessel broke in two, panicking passengers jumped into the frigid river, and 15 people died.


By the 1860s, night boats had become large, elegant vessels favored by wealthy New Yorkers. They featured crystal chandeliers, gilded woodwork, elegant dining rooms with fine cuisine, live music, and beautifully decorated staterooms. Saratoga, an elegant spa town, attracted passengers who took night boats to Albany, then traveled to Saratoga by train. Taking the night boat had become the fashionable way to travel between New York City and Albany.


Honeymooners regularly chose the Albany Night Boat, a practice that continued to the end of the night boat era.


In the twentieth century, the Hudson River night boats fell into a steep decline. By the 1930s, neglect, the Great Depression, and changing transportation options caused the night boats to lose not only their previous wealthy passengers but also their glamorous reputation. The last Albany Night Boat made its roundtrip voyage from Manhattan in January 1941.

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