~ Remembering ~ Excursion Vessels of New York Harbor

By Theodore W. Scull

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The City of Keansburg and Americana at the Battery on July 20, 1952.
(Photo: Steamship Historical Society of America.)

The twin-stacked, 231-foot City of Keansburg was completed at Harry A. Marvel Company shipyard at Newburgh, New York in 1926 for the Delaware & New York Steamboat Company, more popularly known as the Keansburg Steamboat Company. She was propelled by two sets of 750-horsepower three-cylinder triple expansion engines with steam supplied by two oil-fired 250-popund pressure watertube boilers. She carried up to 2,036 passengers on three round trips a day to New Point Comfort Beach at Keansburg, New Jersey. Later when the Keansburg pier and its miniature railway were destroyed by fire in 1961 (other reports indicate a hurricane), the steamboat shifted to an Atlantic Highlands pier until fire in turn destroyed that pier in 1965 (or 1966). She then ran harbor excursions until laid up in 1968.

Behind her is Meseck Line’s 210-foot Americana. Built in 1908 by the Buffalo Drydock Company at Buffalo, New York, she first operated on Lake Erie with sister Canadiana, and then came to New York in the 1930s. Carrying up to 2,700 passengers, her two oil-fired scotch boilers gave 150 pounds of steam pressure to the three-cylinder 1120-pound triple expansion engine. Her regular route was via the East River and Hell Gate to Playland, Rye Beach on Long Island Sound and in the shoulder seasons, she made Hudson River excursions until 1953, so this summer 1952 photo shows her in her last full season.

The Circle Line’s Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island boats now use the Battery landing, and today service to and from North Jersey ports operates with high-speed ferries from Wall Street and East 34th Street.

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Another photo showing the City of Keansburg passing through Hell Gate and under the Triboro Bridge on June 9, 1968.
(Theodore W. Scull Collection)

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The City of Keansburg to the left and the Potomac tied up at the Battery in June 1964.
(Theodore W. Scull Collection)

The 199-foot S. S. Potomac was built in 1910 by Harlan & Hollingsworth as the City of Philadelphia for the Wilson Line’s Delaware River passenger and freight service. Subsequently she was rebuilt and renamed Liberty Belle, U.S.S. Liberty Belle IX 72, Asbury Park, Freestone and in this photo Potomac for the Tolchester Line. She operated to the New York’s World Fair in 1964-1965 and to Bear Mountain and Rye Beach. She was withdrawn in 1967 and went to Baltimore when it is believed that she never sailed again.

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The John A. Meseck at the Battery (Date between 1958-1961).
(Theodore W. Scull Collection)

The John A. Meseck was built in 1929 by the Bethlehem Steel Company, Quincy. Massachusetts as the 240-foot Naushon for service from New Bedford and Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Her 2400-horsepower engines could propel her at 15 knots.

During World War II she operated for the British Government in the English Channel and participated in the Normandy invasion as Hospital Ship 49. Following the war, the Todd Shipyard in Hoboken rebuilt into the 3,200-passenger John A. Meseck of the Meseck Line, and for the 1947 season she operated from Jersey City and Manhattan to Rye Beach and Bridgeport, Connecticut. Then in 1957, she was sold to the Wilson Line and repainted in the colors seen in the photo. She operated excursion services to Long Island Sound but dropped the call at Bridgeport until 1961 when the Wilson Line closed down its New York runs. She went south the Baltimore, Wilmington, and Norfolk but was likely never used.

(Text largely adapted from The Boats We Rode, by Franklin B. Roberts and John Gillespie, Quadrant Press 1974.)

Future photo essays will recall the Hudson River Day Line and other excursion operations, and in the late spring, we will describe the boat excursions available this summer.