Steamer Mary Powell

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On two summer weekends in 1862 and again in later years, William Steinway and friends boarded the day-steamer Mary Powell for summer weekends in the Hudson Highlands. They usually departed New York City on a Saturday afternoon and traveled up the Hudson River to the picturesque section of the river known as the Highlands of the Hudson (roughly a three-hour trip). They found weekend accommodations in either West Point or Cornwall, where they would they would enjoy a short holiday by taking excursions, sightseeing, singing quartets and other songs, playing cards, partying, and generally having a good time. Early Monday morning they would catch the Mary Powell back to Manhattan, arriving late in the morning, in plenty of time to get in a good day's work.

In 1862, William traveled with unnamed Liederkranz friends for some sightseeing and partying.(Diary, 1862-07-05, 1862-08-30) Between 1874 and 1881, Steinway's weekend trips were primarily to Cornwall, a town known as a great place to go to in the summer for its coolness, river views, woodland walks and drives, nearness to places of interest, and general attractiveness. (3, p.37) William's regular companions on these weekend trips were Fred Steins, Otto Toussaint, and one or both of the Pagenstechers (brothers Albert and Rudolph); this group met to sing often throughout the year for their own pleasure. Other friends also participated in the summer weekends of singing, sightseeing and partying.(Diary, 1874-09-05, 1875-09-11, 1876-08-05, 1877-08-04, 1881-07-16)

The steamboat Mary Powell (built in 1861) was one of the most notable American passenger side-wheelers of the 19th century. Sailing the Hudson River for over 50 years, she was known for her style, speed, reliability and good service, thereby earning the title "Queen of the Hudson." (2) She served towns along the river between lower Manhattan and Kingston (about halfway to Albany) during the summer months. The Mary Powell was 267 feet long (which increased to 288 feet in 1862), 35 feet wide, and had side paddle wheels and a vertical beam engine. (4, p.47, p.183)(3, pp.31-32) She was wooden hulled with a copper bottom. (4, p.45) She was built for her captain, Absalom Anderson, using the captain's own design. Such was her reputation for speed that occasionally other ships and private yachts would run alongside her just to test their mettle. (4, p.108) With the interests of passengers in mind, her amenities included a dining room (serving a hearty breakfast and a full course dinner) (4, p.54), a few staterooms, a ladies saloon, a smoking saloon (4, p.66), a well decorated main saloon with large windows, a barroom and other necessary rooms, and lots of open deck space on which to enjoy the scenery and fresh air. (4, p.47) In 1864 a hand-carved figure of the Goddess of Liberty, six feet tall, was placed on top of the pilothouse (4, p.51); this figure is now at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, New York, provides additional information about the steamer Mary Powell. (1)

Built for carrying passengers only, the Mary Powell was patronized by both local travelers and tourists who were attracted by her comfortable homelike atmosphere and businesslike efficiency. (4, p.9) Her reliability meant that business travel was predictable. Prosperous individuals who maintained summer homes along the Hudson could have a pleasant commute into the city or go for a day's outing on the river.(4, p.53) Travelers of all sorts realized that travel by steamer was the best way to view the magnificent Hudson River scenery.(3, p.34) During the summer months President Grant chose a water route whenever possible when traveling to West Point (or further upriver) rather than go by rail, which while faster was dusty and hot.(4, pp.67,76) Walt Whitman wrote in 1878, "On the Mary Powell, enjoy'd everything beyond precedent ... constantly changing but ever beautiful panorama on both sides of the river (went up near a hundred miles)."(6)

From roughly May through early October, the Mary Powell left Rondout Creek at Kingston promptly at 5:30 in the morning, every day except Sundays. After making various strictly scheduled stops -- such as at Poughkeepsie (6:30), Newburgh (7:30), Cornwall (7:45 am), West Point (8:05 am) -- she arrived in lower Manhattan at about 10:45 am. (4, pp.53-54) For her return voyage the Mary Powell left Manhattan at 3:30 pm and made her way up-river. Because of the effect of changing tides on sailing conditions, swinging from favorable to unfavorable, north-bound arrival times at the different stops were variable. Nevertheless, she generally arrived at Cornwall about 6:30 p.m. and back at Rondout Creek (Kingston) by about 8:30 pm.(4, p.53) The Hudson River is tidal past Albany to Troy.(4, p.69)

An advertisement for the first full season of the steamer Mary Powell appeared in The New York Times on May 7, 1862: (5)
"For Newburgh, Poughkeepsie and Rondout -- Landing at Grassy Point, Cozzens', West Point, Cold Spring, Cornwall, New-Hamburgh and Milton each way. The new and elegant steamer MARY POWELL, Capt. A.L. Anderson, will leave foot of Jay-st., EVERY AFTERNOON, at 3-1/2 o clock. Returning, will leave Rondout at 5-1/2, Poughkeepsie at 6-1/2, and Newburgh at 7-1/2 A.M."



  1. The Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, New York, artifacts and a permanent exhibit for the steamer Mary Powell;
  2. New York State Library (University of the State of New York), NY State Education Department, "Steamboats on the Hudson; An American Saga. . . Steamer Mary Powell - Queen of the Hudson";
  3. Ringwald, Donald C, Hudson River Day Line. The Story of a Great American Steamboat Company, New York: Fordham University Press, 1990.
  4. Ringwald, Donald C, The Mary Powell. A history of the beautiful side-wheel steamer called Queen of the Hudson, Berkeley, CA: Howell-North Books, 1972 . 
  5. STEAMBOATS, The New York Times, May 7, 1862, p.7.
  6. Whitman, Walt, Specimen Days & Collect, Philadelphia, PA: David McKay, 1882-83, p. 114. Google Books