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Richard F. Palmer’s Collection


Richard F. Palmer is a retired newspaper editor and reporter and well known for his weekly historical columns for the “Oswego Palladium-Times” called "On the Waterfront."  His latest book is the biography of Captain Augustus Hinckley, famed Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River mariner, as well as a review of the maritime history of Clayton, NY.  He is also a regular contributor to the Maritime History of the Great Lakes website and is frequently consulted by people searching for shipwrecks on Lake Ontario.

This summer Richard offered to share a number of his post card collection with “TI Life.” Over the coming months we look forward to passing on his research – and we suggest, you may want to hunt for copies of these cards when you next visit your favourite flea market, garage sale or antique store!

Richard Palmer Collection

It wasn’t unusual for a steamboat to have multiple names during its lifetime.  This steamboat was built as the “Empress of India” in 1876 at Mill Point, Bay of Quinte,  by shipbuilder William Jamieson.” She had a 44-year career on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, being owned and operated by A.W. Hepburn of Picton.

She was rebuilt there in 1899 and renamed Argyle. She was in the Argyle Steamship Co. fleet of Toronto. About 1900 she was transferred to the Lake Ontario Navigation Company and renamed  “Frontier.”  In 1914, she was transferred to the Detroit River service. In 1920 she was sold for scrap. The engines were remove and the hull was shoved into a bog near Windmill Point, St. Clair River.  Here it is shown docked at Thousand Islands Park about 1907.

[Reference: Detroit Publishing Co. collection, Library of Congress.]
Empress of India

Advertisement for steamboats from Oswego Palladium, April 8, 1835

The propeller “ Ocean” was built in Port Dalhousie in 1872, for Sylvester Nelson of St. Catharines, Ont., by Andrews & Son.  She was 137 feet long with a beam of 23 feet, three inches and a depth of 11 feet, seven inches. 

She was put into service immediately on the run between Montreal and Chicago, transporting passengers and freight. Her ports of call were Ogdensburg, Alexandria Bay, Clayton and other ports. She was transferred to the run between Toronto and Montreal. By 1890 she was owned by W.A. Geddes and was later sold to the Wentworth Navigation Co. of Toronto. The “Ocean” was destroyed by fire in 1904.
[Reference from “Landmarks of Toronto” by John Ross Robertson, 1896.]
Propellor Ocean
Bird’s-eye view of the busy waterfront at Alexandria Bay in 1883. At right is the Thousand Islands House that was 276 feet long and 66 feet wide. The veranda was 13 fee wide and 376 feet long. 
[Reference: “Routes and Rates for Summer Tours - Utica and Black River Railroad” 1883.
Birds eye view of alex Bay
In the old days, getting there was part of the fun. Vacationers from distant places were pampered in luxury, aboard Wagner Palace cars and sleepers to Clayton or Ogdensburg.  Then passengers traveled by steamer to Alexandria Bay to spend the summer at a fashionable hotel or on their island estate.
Reference:  “Routes and Rates for Summer Tours - Utica and Black River Railroad” 1883.
Wagner Palace Car
The steamboat landing at Clayton was a busy place when this sketch was made in 1890, for the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg Railroad’s summer tour guide. Here, direct and immediate connections were made between trains and steamboats daily, except Sunday, during the summer months.  It was the heyday of public transportation.
TRain and steamboats
The majestic three-decked steamer “Toronto”, shown here passing under the International Bridge, near Alexandria Bay, was launched in Toronto on June 21, 1898. Originally owned by the Richelieu & Ontario Navigation Co. Ltd., this side-wheeler was 269 feet, four inches long, was 36 feet wide and depth of 13.8 feet. In 1913, she was sold to the Canadian Steamship Lines Ltd. 15 years later, in 1938, her wooden deck was replaced with steel.  In 1947 she ceased plying the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario and was sold for scrap to the Steel Co. of Canada Ltd..

Advertisement for steamboats from the “Oswego Palladium”, April 8, 1835

Scan 2122

Can you help solve this one?  I made an interesting discovery while doing some research.

It's always been supposed, that the first two "action news" photos (Daguerreotypes) made by the famous photographer, George N. Barnard were of  grain elevator fires of 1854 in Oswego, NY.  These two photographs gained Bernard national recognition when the images were found at the George Eastman House in Rochester in the early 1960s.

Looking at the photographs I realized that in the spring of 1852 the local newspapers make reference to Bernard having taken Daguerreotypes of the massive river excavation project on the east side of Oswego harbor, where an 800 foot long coffer dam, was erected. Below is the woodcut taken from the photo. (I still need to hunt down the original image, which would be a major find.)

The most remarkable aspect of this is the woodcut was printed in mirror image (backwards)  in “Gleason's Pictorial Drawing Room Companion” of June 19, 1852, and it was touted in the local newspapers. But no-one at the time seemed to have the presence of mind to notice it was wrong. The project was on the east side of river, not the west. It had all the grain elevators on the west side instead of the east, and the lighthouse in the wrong position. So they weren't even perfect 163 years ago!

Coffer dam
Backward print
Second coffer dam
Correct view

By Richard F. Palmer, Syracuse, NY.

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Comment by: Mike
Left at: 3:21 PM Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Nice article, thank you for writing it. Those old steamboats are so neat looking. There's a similar-looking one that still runs today in New Hampshire, though not steam powered (not sure if she ever was). I have a video of her on YouTube at
Peter Glazier
Comment by: Peter Glazier
Left at: 11:33 PM Monday, September 21, 2015
If you like small steamships, google "RMS Segwun". Still running with steam on Lake Muskoka north of Toronto.