Steam Tug Seth Low

by Hans | January 14th, 2014

The Seth Low, of the New York Harbor Co. fleet, a side-paddle steam tug, alongside a coal dock sometime in the 1860s-1870s. This tugboat was built in 1861 in Keyport, New York, for general towing duties in New York Harbor.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War she was chartered by the War Department and thus available for a historic assignment in 1862-towing the USS Monitor, the Union’s first ironclad, from New York Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn to the Chespeake Bay. The day after their arrival in Hampton Roads, the Monitor did battle with the Confederate’s ironclad Merrimack. The Seth Low stayed on in the Chespeake area during the War, seeing service along the Bay and in the rivers and estuaries of the region. After the Civil War, the Seth Low returned to New York and resumed her private duties. Besides towing, she served as an excursion boat and a “head boat,” carrying fishing parties from the New York Harbor. A Newspaper advertisement of July 1878

The fast steamer Seth Low with saloon, leaving Harrison St., N.R. 7 A.M. – East River Pier at 7:30 A.M. – 8th St. East River at 7:40 A.M. – Pier 27, East River at 7:45 A.M. – Battery Wall next to Staten Island Ferry at 8 A.M. – North River Pier at 8:10 A.M. Gentlemens tickets, 75 cents, ladies, 50 cents.

In a later advertisement, the owners of the Seth Low had raised her rate to $1.00 per person but included a free bowl of chowder in the price.

The 1880’s found the Seth Low in Florida, towing in and out of the St. Johns River near Jacksonville. She caught fire on November 2, 1888, while alongside her dock and was a total loss.

This photograph provides a clear view of the tipical tugboat of the Civil War era. The Seth Low‘s long narrow hull has the appearance of being wider than it really is, because the broad main deck overhangs the hull itself to enclose the side paddles and gain additional room fro freight amidships.

She was 126 feet long and had a fairly shallow draft of 8 feet. She had paddlewheels port and starboard, and a single rudder aft. The Seth Low‘s boiler for her single cylinder, vertical-beam engine operated with a natural draft, so she had an exstremely tall stack, guyed with wires for support. Aft of the stack was the characteristic walking beam, which transfers power from the engine to the paddlewheels.

The firewood shown stacked below her wheelhouse in this photo suggests she was a wood-burner, but those are coal bins she’s lying alongside. The cranes at the other side of the dock are for loading buckets of coal.

(Source: On the Hawser by Steven Lang & Peter H. Spectre)

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