Around the turn of the century, the travelling public of North America was patronizing the continent's passenger steamers like never before and like it never would again. Business was booming for the owners and operators of almost anything that would float and had an engine in it and as such many passenger vessels served owner after owner in a variety of different trades. In fact, a number of lake steamers found their way as far afield as the U.S. east coast, while a few coastal vessels strayed into freshwater. KING EDWARD was one of the latter and to trace her early years we must delve a bit into the history of coastal passenger operations.
In 1891 the Montauk Steamship Company, which by then had several vessels in its fleet, placed an order with the Harlan and Hollingsworth Corp. of Wilmington, Delaware, for a new steamer. Built of iron, she was 175.0 feet in length, 31.0 feet in the beam (50 feet over the guards), and 9.0 feet in depth. Her tonnage was 571 Gross and 449 Net. Registered at Sag Harbor, New York, and enrolled as U.S.92294, she was christened MONTAUK, the first of two vessels so named to serve the fleet. The new vessel was a sidewheeler and was powered by a single-cylinder vertical beam engine. This rather unusual piece of machinery was made in 1891 by her builder and had a cylinder of 38" and a stroke of 108", developing 115 N.H.P. Steam at 60 p.s.i. was supplied by two coal-fired single-ended Scotch boilers measuring 10'2" x 10' and constructed in 1891 by Harlan and Hollingsworth.
MONTAUK was commissioned as the flagship of Gibbs' fleet and was placed on the company's main service, the run from New York down the full length of Long Island Sound to Orient, Greenport, Shelter Island, Southold and Sag Harbor. Capt. Gibbs himself was from the Island's east end and he was already giving the Long Island Railroad a run for its money in the steamer trade. His supremacy was for the time being guaranteed by the advent of MONTAUK and he placed her under the command of his brother, Capt. John Gibbs.
MONTAUK appears to have had an uneventful early career. There is a reference to the ship having been sold in 1893 to Starin's Line which operated along the north shore of the Sound, but other sources make no mention of this and although Starin may have chartered her for a while ownership seems to have remained with the Montauk Steamship Company. MONTAUK did manage to make the news on March 14, 1896 when, while making her approach to Greenport wharf, she was in collision with the smack LADY ELGIN. The bowsprit of the sailing vessel punched a hole in the bow of the steamer but the damage was above the waterline and MONTAUK, not seriously wounded, was able to continue on her way with little delay.
During July 1896 MONTAUK was knocked from her position as fleet flagship by the commissioning of the 226-foot sidewheeler SHINNECOCK, the largest and grandest vessel the company would ever operate. MONTAUK did, however, remain on her original run. In May 1897 she was severely battered by a very heavy storm on the Sound but she emerged safely after seeking shelter on the north shore. During September of the same year she happened to be on the scene when, early one morning, the Orient Point wharf caught fire. Capt. Burns brought MONTAUK alongside the burning pier and used the steamer's own fire apparatus to fight the blaze successfully.
However, the Long Island Railroad was getting a bit tired of all this competition right in its own "backyard" and on May 13, 1899 it bought out a controlling interest in the Montauk Steamship Company. Thus MONTAUK became a railroad boat. During November 1899 MONTAUK was chartered to the New Haven line and she ran the New York to New Haven, Conn., service. She soon returned to her owner's main routes, these being the Sag Harbor Route (New York to Sag Harbor and way ports), the North Shore Route (from New York down the north side of the Sound) and the New London Route (from Sag Harbor to New London and way ports).
1901 was MONTAUK's last year in L.I.R.R. and Montauk S.S.Co. colours and she went out in a flurry of publicity, albeit not of a pleasant sort. In late November the steamer was the scene of a bloody riot while she was moored at the company's New York pier. The crews of the Mate's and Engineer's Departments clashed over the chore of coaling the ship and the opposing gangs armed themselves with freight hooks and wrenches. Several nasty injuries had been inflicted before the battle could be quelled.
Our scene now shifts to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, where in 1899 the Algoma Central and Hudson Bay Railway Company had been formed by Francis Hector Clergue as a subsidiary of his Ontario Lake Superior Company. In 1901 this latter firm was merged into Clergue's Consolidated Lake Superior Company, a conglomerate which was based in the Canadian Soo and which had its tentacles into almost every aspect of life in that northern city. The A.C.R. (as the railway has come to be known familiarly over the years) then operated two lake passenger routes, one of which involved a service from Toledo to the Soo and way ports. Today this might seem to be a very strange routing but it appears to have been lucrative for the A.C.R. and connected with its other line, the short run from the Soo to Michipicoten.
The railway in 1902 was operating MINNIE M. on the Michipicoten service and OSSIFRAGE on the Toledo route but this latter service was in need of another vessel. Some of the backing for the A.C.R. at that time came from the Pennsylvania Railroad in the U.S. and it is possible that through this connection the A.C.R. became interested in MONTAUK which by then had become expendable (although not excess) tonnage to the Montauk Steamship Company. An arrangement was made whereby MONTAUK would come to the lakes although a condition of the deal was that the ship would never be used on Long Island Sound to compete with the New Haven Railroad's services. Needless to say, such an eventuality was hardly on her buyer's mind.
MONTAUK cleared Sag Harbor on March 8, 1902 and sailed for St. John's, Newfoundland, where the actual transfer to Algoma Central ownership took place on May 28th. She was entered into British registry (113897) and was renamed (b) KING EDWARD in honour of King Edward VII who had ascended to the British throne the previous year on the death of his mother, Queen Victoria. Strangely enough, the steamer was to remain in the A.C.R. fleet only during the lifetime of the monarch for whom she was named. She was sold the year he died.
KING EDWARD was brought into the lakes in time for the 1902 season and to allow her to pass up the canals her starboard wheel and guard were removed at Montreal. She was put back together at Buffalo and then entered the Toledo-Soo service on which she ran opposite OSSIFRAGE. At first she had but 44 staterooms but in 1905 twenty more were added. KING EDWARD was painted white (both hull and superstructure) while her tall funnel was buff with a black smokeband and a diamond on which appeared in white the letters A.C. S.S.L. representing Algoma Central Steamship Line, the A.C.R. subsidiary which operated the vessels. The colour of the diamond is quite a point of contention as there appears to be no one still around who remembers it. Our guess is that it may have been red, but it might also have been blue.
The years during which KING EDWARD was a unit of the A.C.R. fleet were difficult ones for the company. Clergue had pushed his Consolidated Lake Superior Company so hard that the conglomerate had over-extended itself and on December 12, 1902 the financial structure of the complex came crashing down on him. Clergue's position as manager became untenable and he bowed out in 1903, leaving the organization to cut back on its operations and salvage whatever it could from the collapse. Some of the subsidiaries eventually passed to independent owners and one of these was the A.C.R., control of which was acquired by a group of English investors. During the period 1903-09 the Algoma Central cut back drastically on its rail expansion program and the slack had to be taken up by its marine operations.
KING EDWARD passed her Algoma years quietly although she proved to be a popular vessel. She was, of course, the largest passenger steamer ever operated by the line. Her only major accident occurred on September 8, 1908 when she stranded on Chantry Shoal, a rocky shelf surrounding Chantry Island which is located in Lake Huron about three quarters of a mile off Southampton, Ontario. She was refloated on September 13 and was towed to Collingwood where repairs were put in hand. The job had been completed by November and she was steamed back to the Soo where she laid up.
OSSIFRAGE was sold during January 1909 and KING EDWARD carried on alone through that year. She was the last passenger vessel ever to operate in the Algoma fleet, MINNIE M. having been sold to other operators on completion of the rail line to Michipicoten about 1903. KING EDWARD herself was sold in May 1910 to the Ontario and Ohio Navigation Company, a London (Ontario) firm which took her to Lake Erie for the cross-lake service from Cleveland to north shore ports (presumably principally to Port Stanley). She was renamed (c) FOREST CITY in honour of the city of London. In 1912 she was sold again, this time to R. C. Eckert and E. H. North who put her on the long-haul passenger service between Cleveland and Fort William.
She lasted on this route for only one season and in October 1912 she was acquired by the Silver Islet Navigation Company Ltd., Fort William. She operated through 1915 between Fort William and Silver Islet, a small island out in Lake Superior on which there was once located a productive silver mine. This mine was in operation when FOREST CITY ran there but not long thereafter it was closed down due to the difficulty of keeping the lake water out of the underground mineshafts.
FOREST CITY was sold in 1918 to Michael McCulloch but it is not known to what use he put her. McCulloch sold the ship in 1922 to Katherine Murphy of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and she brought her back into U.S. registry at Milwaukee, giving her back her original name of MONTAUK. But the ship was sold again in 1923, passing in June of that year to the North Shore Steamship Company of Chicago. We gather that they ran out of money before they managed to pay for her because in September 1923 her ownership reverted to Katherine Murphy.
Shortly after her repossession the steamer was sold to the Clow and Nicholson Steamship Company of Duluth, Minnesota. In 1924 MONTAUK was rebuilt as a dayboat of 418 Gross, 241 Net, the work being done by the Marine Iron and Shipbuilding Company. For the next seventeen years she was operated by Clow and Nicholson on the excursion service from Duluth to Fond-du-Lac. But MONTAUK was getting on in years and her machinery was anything but modern. Clow and Nicholson took her out of service at the close of the 1940 season and in 1942 she was purchased by the West End Iron and Metal Company of Duluth. She was reduced to a deck barge by chopping off her cabins and guards. She was left with little more than her iron hull together with a small portion of her after cabin which now perched somewhat precariously atop her fantail, looking very strange without the guard underneath.
MONTAUK was sold in 1943 to Bowe and Powers of Duluth and the following year was purchased by the Lyons Construction Company, Whitehall, Michigan, who used her in connection with various construction contracts around the lakes. She served Lyons for about a decade and a half but was dropped from active service about 1958. By 1959 she was out of documentation. It is interesting to note that she was listed to the end as a sidewheel passenger vessel and not as the barge to which she had been stripped.
(Ed. Note: For much of the history of MONTAUK on the east coast, credit is due Steel Rails to the Sunrise (The Long Island Rail Road) by R. Ziel and G. Foster, 1965, Duell, Sloan & Pearce, New York.)
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.