Side-wheel steamers from 1800


The Bard brothers, James and his twin John, specialized in painting a few of the Long Island Sound and Boston steamers.

During the year 1850, the Ocean, a down-east side-wheel steamer, was pictured in an oil portrait. This vessel ran between Bath, Maine, and Boston. Measuring 220 feet in length, she was built with the then-new safety device of boilers on the guards.

The steam engines were installed at the very edge of the overhanging main deck, one on each side. The concept was that if they exploded, they would therefore blow away from the vessel into the water.

However, the vessel was never subjected to the test due to an accident in 1854 when she was rammed off Boston by another vessel, the Cunarder Canada, and burned to the waterline.

Fanny. The earliest remaining Bard water painting from about 1831 was of the Fanny, a 120-ton side wheeler constructed in 1825. The Fanny was 120 feet long, 18 1/2 feet in breadth.

This vessel is considered halfway between the “sawmills afloat” of the Fitch-Fulton era and the latter fully mechanized vessels of 1850.

Fanny was unusual due to the tall smokestack that created strong drafts, her minuscule super structure, a stern symbol of sailing vessels, and an engine, termed cross-head, which had piston and connecting rods that operated vertically in a steeple-like frame rather than what is called a “walking beam,” which was found on the country’s later side wheelers.

Sylvan Grove. Bard’s painting of 1871 illustrates the Sylvan Grove, a steamer that operated on the East River side of Manhattan Island. This vessel was built in 1858.

The Sylvan Grove was the second of five similar craft. This vessel aided the public with her top speed of 17 1/2 miles per hour, whereas former steamers usually traveled at about 10 miles per hour.

This era was when commuting was considered a pleasure.

Mary Powell. The Mary Powell, a Fall’s River Lines admired by many passengers, was also known overseas. The best qualities designed into such a vessel seemed more pleasantly composed in the boat than her contemporaries.

This vessel was also equipped with the boilers on the guards. Although admirers of the Mary Powell declared she had a reputation for speed, there is no recorded evidence to prove the statement.

There is no doubt however, that she proved her mettle for conformity, quite admirable speed and regularity.

She did in one time trial more than 22 miles per hour.

Many decades later there was only a small number of the world’s ships that could do better.

Armenia. The Armenia was one of the most esteemed and speedy of Hudson River steamers. One factor that added to her popularity was that she was outfitted with a steam calliope; rarely was such a musical instrument placed on eastern steamboats.

The calliope was reported to be so actively used that the hills never ceased to reverberate.

The Armenia was 185 feet long, the side wheels were 29 feet 4 inches in diameter and an unusually lofty walking beam.

After five years of service the ship was lengthened to 212 feet and supplied with a second boiler. At first it had one smoke stack, but with the additional engine a second stack was added.

The steamboats end came when it caught fire while laid up for the winter. It was a total loss.

Steamship. In the paintings of Bard – there were more than 350 rendered – the background is suggestive and the perspective elementary. Every steamship is illustrated broadside, traveling at full speed with the prow casting up sufficient waves.

The ship is usually in strong white colors and a noticeable feature. Without Bard’s paintings, history would not be aware of what attractive specimens of steam vessel architecture our forefathers were quite capable of creating.

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