This essay was written for the Kingston Daily Freeman in the 1930s, transcribed by Hudson River Maritime Museum volunteer Adam Kaplan and reproduced here in a slightly edited form.
The tale of the steamboat Poughkeepsie is the story of a vessel that is still in service [in the 1930s] – although today the name Westchester has replaced Poughkeepsie and she is no longer a familiar figure on the Hudson River.
The steel hull of the Poughkeepsie was built by the Tampa Foundry and Machine Company at Tampa, Florida, in 1916. Her hull was 206 feet 8 inches long, with an overall length of 215 feet; breadth of beam 47 feet; depth of hold 14 feet 2 inches; gross tonnage 1,366; net tonnage 948. She carried a triple expansion engine with cylinder diameters of 18 1/2, 28, and 46 inches, with a stroke of 30 inches.
The Poughkeepsie was built for the Central Hudson Steamboat Company of Newburgh, and was the largest steel steamboat built south of Virginia yards up to that time. She was launched on September 25, 1916, and was delivered to the Central Hudson Company at New York in April 1917.
The hull of the Poughkeepsie was of extra heavy steel construction with reinforced frame below the water line for the purpose of battling river ice during the winter months. The first deck was used exclusively for freight, the second deck containing staterooms which would accommodate 32 passengers, aft of the pilot house. The new steamboat represented an investment of a quarter of a million dollars at the time she joined the fleet consisting of the Benjamin B. Odell, Homer Ramsdell, and Newburgh.
The first route of the Poughkeepsie was between Rondout [Ulster County] and New York, running in line with the Benjamin B. Odell. She was under the command of Captain Amos Cooper, with William Ross, pilot, and Howard Caniff, chief engineer. During the period in her career she became very popular with the traveling public, especially as an excursion vessel during the summer months.
In the 1920s, at 3:25 pm, the Poughkeepsie would blow three long blasts on her whistle, announcing her impending departure at 3:30 pm from Rondout for New York.
In May 1929 the Hudson River Night Line and the Hudson River Day Line jointly purchased the Central Hudson Company’s steamboats, and the Poughkeepsie and Benjamin B. Odell were placed on the night line between New York and Albany. These two steamboats made their last trip on the night line late in November 1936, and were then withdrawn from service.
Measurements were taken of the Poughkeepsie for the purpose of conversion into an excursion vessel, and on January 13, 1937 she was transferred to the Meseck Steamboat Company [of Jersey City, NJ] who immediately solicited bids for her conversion. On February 4, John A. Meseck, president of the new owners of the Poughkeepsie, announced that the Tietjan and Lang yards [in Hoboken] had been awarded the contract for the re-construction at a cost of $169,780.
The name Westchester replaced Poughkeepsie, and the re-vamped vessel made a trial trip on May 15, 1937 with a thousand guests aboard. On Memorial Day, 1937, the Westchester entered regular service between Jersey City, New York, and Rye Beach [on Long Island Sound in Westchester County, NY].
Today [in the 1930s] the Westchester is considered to be the finest equipped excursion vessel in New York Harbor, with a licensed carrying-capacity of 2,000. She still carries the deep, booming whistle which echoed from the Highlands of the Hudson when she sailed on the river under the name Poughkeepsie, but she rarely plows the waters of the Hudson.
George W. Murdock, (1853-1940), was a veteran marine engineer who served on the steamboats Utica, Sunnyside, City of Troy, and Mary Powell. Murdock also helped dismantle engines in scrapped steamboats in the winter months and later in his career worked as an engineer at the brickyards in Port Ewen, Ulster County, NY. In 1883 he moved to Brooklyn, NY and operated several private yachts. He ended his career working in power houses in the outer boroughs of New York City. His mother Catherine Murdock was the keeper of the Rondout Lighthouse for 50 years.