Have you ever sailed up the Hudson River? It truly is a wonderful feeling to hop on a boat in New York City and take your sweet time as you make your way north. First, you pass by the steep cliffs of the Palisades, then around the curve of Anthony’s Nose, pass the barracks at West Point, then around the ruins of Bannerman Island, and finally to the base of Main Street in Poughkeepsie. Making that journey on a sailboat could take you a few days depending on the wind, but with a good steam boat, it only took about 4 hours. And when you journeyed on one of the stylish Hudson River Day Line ships, you traveled in a little bit of elegance.

The Hudson River Day Line prided itself on speed in the early 1860’s. Alfred Van Santvoord had taken over some of his father Abraham’s business of steamboats that ran on the Erie Canal and the Hudson. At the time they had the fastest ship on the Hudson, the Daniel Drew which in 1855 had set the record for fastest time from Albany to New York City (7 hours, 20 minutes). In 1863 the company added the Armenia so that one ship could leave from Albany and another from New York City, going back and forth. This was the humble beginning of a line of ships that would last a century, though the name “Hudson River Line” didn’t appear until 1879.

By the 1880s the old boats were replaced with two new iron-hulled ships, the New York and the Albany. Both were about 300 feet long and had a max capacity of 4,500 passengers, though the company bragged about only taking 2,500 so that there was plenty of room “which is so essential to comfort.” The company also stressed that it was strictly first class and claimed “The peanut and sausage eaters, the beer drinkers, the pipe smokers, the expectorators, the loud talkers, the lifelong enemies of soap and water, are never seen there.” In other words, if you wanted a ticket, you must be dressed in your finest Sunday apparel. The dining rooms were formal, the interiors were mahogany and turned oak, the experience was unforgettable.

After the turn of the century with faster trains and even automobiles coming into use, the Day Line was seen more and more as a source of luxury day trips. A family could take the boat to parks like Kingston Point for picnics and sightseeing, or up to the Catskills for hiking excursions and a weekend stay in one of the mountain top hotels. Periodicals like the “Hudson River Guide and Magazine” were filled with timetables for the various steamboat lines as well as lists of summer hotels and boarding houses. The newspapers in 1915 showed that the fleet was now made up of the Albany, Hendrick Hudson, Robert Fulton, and Washington Irving. 

The original owners of the Hudson River Day Line sold the company by the late 1940s which was excellent timing to get out of the business. The post war years would see a steady decline in steamboat travel with ample automobile production and new highway construction, the way Americans traveled was changing forever. The last of the steamboats to take travelers on a regular schedule was the Alexander Hamilton which ended its run in 1971. It would be wonderful to once again see a big, beautiful steamboat propel its way up the Hudson River Valley again, for now be sure to check out this excellent online exhibit presented by the folks at the Hudson River Maritime Museum! 

Sources:

William H. Ewen,  Steamboats on the Hudson River.  p. 51. 2011

Peter Hess, The Story of the Hudson River Day Line. 2017

386 B. Hibbard, Hudson River Day Line, 1903 – 386.3 – H, Local History Collection

Donald Ringwald, Queen of the Hudson, 1954, 386.3 – H, Local History Collection

The Hudson Valley Guide and Magazine, Vol 1-No. 3, 1905 – 386.3 – H, Local History Collection

Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle, June 5 1915

https://www.hrmm.org/hudson-river-steamboats.html