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Farewell to a Seafaring Grand Ol' Lady

August 24, 2017

 On Wednesday, July 26th demolition crews began the task of scrapping the historic steam powered ferry boat Binghamton 112 years after it first ferried passengers across the Hudson River and a decade after she served her last customers and closed her doors as a local landmark restaurant. Today the Binghamton is no more than an eyesore, damaged beyond repair by time and tide as she lists precariously to one side while settled on the muddy river bottom across the Hudson from Grant’s Tomb near 125th Street. When viewed from the water-side it is evident why the old ferry boat must go. The hull has collapsed, the interior is exposed to the elements and the river water wash into the lower deck spaces.  As well, it has been a magnet for trouble in the past as people attempt to enter it.  There have been false fire alarms called in and kids have been trapped on it when the tide changes because there’s no way to enter or exit it when the tide is up.
 Therefore, the Binghamton has become problematic and so her two wooden levels will be dismantled and the concrete filled steel hull will be torched into manageable pieces and all the debris then loaded into an awaiting barge to be unceremoniously carted away. The 230-foot long Binghamton, having a steam engine installed on each end, has a rich maritime antiquity; Including being involved in some unfortunate events along the way such as its 1906 collision in the fog with the ferryboat Passaic resulting in the death of a porter, and her 1912 collision with a boat-load of immigrants bound for Ellis Island. Too, there was the occurrence concerning a Civil War pensioner who stuffed his pockets full of nails for ballast, then jumped to his death from the ferry in 1909. But, on the upside, the Binghamton did her patriotic duty and transported troops during World War II. In all, she plied the murky waters of the Hudson between Hoboken and Barclay Street in Manhattan from 1905 until her retirement in 1967.


  It’s expected to take three months to completely purge the remains of the vessel from its dockage in Edgewater, NJ where the weather-battened craft has lain since 1975 when former New Jersey Senator and political power-broker Nelson Gross converted her into a popular dining facility and nightclub called Binghamton’s. The facility boomed until 1997 when a teenage bus-boy and his two accomplices kidnapped Gross and forced him at gunpoint to withdraw $20,000- from his account at a local bank then drive them across the George Washington Bridge in his own silver BMW sedan and into Washington Heights in Manhattan. Once there, they beat and stabbed him repeatedly leaving his body in a wooded area on the New York bank of the Hudson.
In 1982 the Binghamton was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and so artifacts from it will be preserved and donated for display at The New Jersey Maritime Museum located at the Jersey Shore in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island. Thus far, a bench, a dinghy, and a few doors from the ferry have been earmarked for the museum, one steam engine may be included if it’s salvageable. The Binghamton was propelled by that engine on her many thousands of trips over 60 years while carrying approximately 125 million passengers across the Hudson river between lower Manhattan NYC and Hoboken, New Jersey.
Binghamton was initially built for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad’s Hoboken Ferry Company to transport 986 passengers along with their vehicles, and she was perhaps the last surviving steam ferry built to serve New York Harbor where commercial steam navigation and double-ended steam ferries had their beginnings, and whose designs significantly shaped other early vessels of their kind. Prior to the Pennsylvania Railroad building Penn Station in Manhattan and tunneled under the Hudson River, all New York-bound rail lines from the west terminated at the New Jersey river bank of New York Harbor. Consequently, only a small number of independent and railroad-affiliated ferry companies provided any passenger or light freight service across the harbor. So, one specific type of ferryboat, the “double-ender,” was commonly utilized in New York Harbor for that purpose

 

 

Steam navigation saw its first commercial success in New York Harbor with the maiden voyage of Robert Fulton’s North River Steamboat the Clermont from New York to Albany in 1807. Then four years hence, in 1811, John Stevens inaugurated what is alleged to be the world’s first scheduled steam ferry service on the Hudson River between Hoboken and Manhattan utilizing the vessel Juliana. Subsequently, the first American double-ended ferries began to run the following year with the paddle-wheelers Jersey and York of Robert Fulton’s York & Jersey Steamboat Ferry Company among the first. Outstanding for the transportation of vehicles, the double-enders were well suited for operating in New York Harbor where there was considerable demand for speed and efficiency as vehicles could drive on-and-off from either end deeming time consuming docking turn-arounds unnecessary. It’s estimated that a total of over 400 double-ended ferries operated in New York Harbor during the nineteenth and twentieth century’s with the peak years being 1906 - 1908 when around 150 double-ended ferries were in service in the Harbor.
The Hoboken Ferry Company was a subsidiary of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (DL&W) and the company owned a fleet of six ferryboats when it ceased operations in 1967. These vessels took their names from principal stations along the DL&W RR’s main line from Hoboken, NJ to Buffalo, NY. Three of them, the Binghamton’s sisters Elmira, Scranton, and Pocono were built in 1905 as well. Another, the Ithaca was destroyed by fire in 1946. And, of these, the Binghamton is the only existing survivor.
The Binghamton’s Template engine, a double compound marine steam engine, is of an axially symmetric design. Eventually, double compound engines were obsolete by more efficient triple steam engines and later on diesels. The Binghamton was one of six identical screw-propelled, double-ended ferryboats built by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry-dock Company at Newport News, Virginia in 1904–05 to designs by Gardner & Cox, naval architects. She was launched on February 20, 1905, with Miss Charlotte Emery, daughter of John M. Emery, the newly promoted superintendent of the Hoboken Ferry Company and Ferry Department of the DL&W, serving as her sponsor. The vessel was completed a month later and left the Newport News yard on March 25 for her initial trip to Hoboken, New Jersey. Subsequently, she was placed in commission on April 3 with her Captain for the maiden crossing being Oren D. Relyea.
Her typical run was from the Hoboken Terminal to Barclay Street in NYC, a twelve-minute passage of approximately 1-3/4 miles, and she completed the trip nearly every day for more than sixty years, however, on occasion she substituted on the Hoboken to 23rd Street run.
In the coming years, alternate methods of travel across the river were implemented and so the demand for ferry transport began to diminish. The opening of the Pennsylvania Railroad line to Penn Station in Manhattan in 1907 along with the Hudson and Manhattan Rapid Transit Line, and later the construction of the Holland and Lincoln tunnels in 1927 and 1937 ushered in the decline of ferry service on the Hudson. Then, the George Washington Bridge was opened 1931 and all these contributed to the eventual demise of passenger ferry service. Then ultimately, in 1960, the DL&W RR merged with the Erie Railroad to form the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad culminating in the final ferry crossing of the Hoboken Company that had been in operation since 1821; that crossing took place on November 22, 1967. Consequently, the railroad closed its trans-Hudson operations and offered its ferries for sale and eventually the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad filed for bankruptcy before being absorbed into Conrail in 1976.
Yet, in recent years Hudson River ferry service has experienced a revival, beginning with services provided by NY Waterway in December 1986. These services are provided by small, single-ended diesel-powered pedestrian ferries that carry on the tradition of their steam-powered predecessors. However, traditional double-ended ferries continue to serve in New York Harbor that are operated by the Staten Island Ferry, but they are diesel powered, rather than steam driven.
The ferry boat Binghamton was acquired in 1969 by Edward Russo, an Edgewater, NJ contractor, for conversion into a restaurant and Russo planned large dining rooms on the upper and Main decks, plus two pubs in the former engine room. He leased a berth at Edgewater, NJ, and scheduled a grand opening for Labor Day, 1970. But a tugboat strike and delays in dredging her berth at Edgewater indefinitely postponed his plans.
Nevertheless, the Binghamton was finally moved to Edgewater in 1971, but unable to find a concessionaire to operate the restaurant, Russo relinquished control of the vessel in 1973. Then in late 1974, the boat was sold to Ferry Binghamton Inc., of Hackensack, NJ, for conversion to a restaurant and nightclub. At that time, on February 28, 1975, her new owners had the vessel moved to a new permanent berth about one-half mile downstream and the restaurant opened later that year.
After the US Department of the Interior listed the Binghamton on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 the vessel made headlines when its tycoon owner and former New Jersey Assembly Speaker Nelson Gross, was found murdered in Manhattan. The restaurant continued to operate for ten years but closed by the fall 2007 and it has remained vacant at its berth in Edgewater since then. Then, in July 2011, the owner applied for a demolition permit as the ferry had taken on water and was partially submerged, and then her hull was bashed in during Hurricane Sandy in October of 2012. Following, on May 19, 2013, the ferry had a fire that was investigated by the Edgewater Police and the Bergen County arson squad.  However, the owner, Daniel Kim, said that there was no damage to the boat and that he was would be closing on a deal to have a subtenant demolish and remove the ferry from the site, with plans to open a restaurant atop a barge at that location. Demolition of the current Binghamton is projected to be completed by Summer 2017. And, the replacement floating restaurant, named Binghamton II, is scheduled to open in Summer 2018. Preliminary plans call for a 915-square foot restaurant and catering hall that will be erected atop a 300 X 78-foot barge.

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