Track 3: For Power or For Passage: Re-envisioning Historic Industrial and Transportation Infrastructure
2 - SS Columbia: Reconnecting Historic Infrastructure
Monday, September 24
2:45 PM - 4:15 PM
For many New Yorkers, the best place to be is at the water’s edge.
But, what if there were a place to gather that wasn’t just on the shore. What if there were a place that could float and move? What if you could see new vistas? What if there were a space that brought the country to the city? And the city to the county?
These spaces existed before. For nearly 150 years day-excursion boats plied American’s waterways. The last of these great boats went out of service in the 1970s.
But now the National Historic Landmark steamer SS Columbia – the iconic and virtually last-surviving emblem of public access to our nation’s waterways on a grand scale – is undergoing restoration to begin a new life of service on the Hudson River. Columbia and her sister ships (including Buffalo’s Americana and Canadiana) represented mobility to a largely stationary population in the period before development of the car. As large cities grew near navigable waters, and working-class neighborhoods became denser, the day steamers offered the average citizen a way to escape the heat, clatter and pollution. From the moment passengers stepped aboard these boats, they were transported out of their every-day lives and surrounded by fine decorative woodwork, etched glass and painted panel ceilings. These boats took school children, church and civic groups and hundreds of thousands of tourists to public parks, historic sites, riverfront cities and towns, and amusement parks with dance halls and carousels.
Built in 1902, Columbia combines a spectacular array of design, engineering, and aesthetic innovations. At 216’ in length and 60’ in breadth, the boat was designed to carry 3,200 passengers comfortably on her decks. She was adorned with mahogany paneling, etched and leaded glass, gilded moldings, a grand staircase, and an innovative open-air ballroom. Columbia is powered by a massive, viewable 1200 horsepower triple expansion steam engine that is rare, intact and waiting to be reactivated.
Columbia’s restoration is one piece of a larger initiative to restore connections to and along the Hudson River. Each city along the river once had a direct connection to its waterfront, the cities were all connected to one another, and the region was connected to New York City. What might happen if these connections were restored? What impact might it have on the economies and cultural life in these places? And what might it take to make these connections possible?
This presentation will focus on the restoration of Columbia, as well as efforts to adapt and reuse historic dock infrastructure to revive the waterways. Columbia is currently undergoing renovation at Silo City in Buffalo and can be open for tours during the APT conference.
- ... will understand the basics of maritime preservation and define the Secretary of the Interior's standards for restoring historic vessels, using the National Historic Landmark vessel Columbia as an example
- ... will be able to describe technical challenges for repairing and reusing historic dock infrastructure, including regulatory and funding challenges.
- ... will be able to describe the potential social and economic impacts that reactivating historic docks can have for waterfront cities and towns.
- ... will understand the role of infrastructural networks.