Descriptions And Rare Drawings of Shipyards in 1892 on City Island in the Town of Pelham
On August 22, 1892, The Evening World of New York City published a lovely account of unidentified shipyards located on City Island in the Town of Pelham. The reporter interviewed shipyard owners on City Island without identifying them. One purported reason for the secrecy was the construction of a top secret racing yacht at one of the shipyards with the code name "Still Alarm." Today's posting to the Historic Pelham blog attempts to identify this mystery steam yacht.
Henry Piepgras is a Shipyard Owner Quoted in the Article
The article contains a host of clues confirming that one of the shipyard owners interviewed for the article was Heinrich Carl Christian "Henry" Piepgras. For example, the article notes that the Bedouin was built at the unidentified shipyard. We know that the Bedouin was built at the Piepgras shipyard in 1882. The article also notes that the unidentified owner of the yard considered the steam yacht Wanda to be among his greatest works. The steam yacht Wanda was built by Piepgras at his Pottery Beach shipyard in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in 1880 before he moved the shipyard to City Island.
Henry Piepgras was a talented and masterful shipbuilder and ship architect. He brought the art of iron and steel ship construction to City Island after having become an expert in crafting lead keels (and building hollow masts for such ships) while working as a shipbuilder in Germany and, later, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I have written extensively about Piepgras and his shipyard. See Tue., Dec. 08, 2015: Heinrich Carl Christian "Henry" Piepgras and His Shipyard in the Town of Pelham on City Island.
The Mystery of the Steam Yacht Code-Named "Still Alarm"
The mystery of the unidentified yacht described by The Evening World has been solved. The super-fast steam yacht code-named "Still Alarm" later was christened the "Fieseen," and became the fastest steam yacht in the world for a time.
The article published in The Evening World described the unidentified vessel as follows:
"'She is 80 feet long,' he continued, 'with an extreme width of 9 feet, and is 6 feet 6 inches in depth. The bottom forward is round, but aft, from the centre, becomes gradually flat. She will have 700-horse-power quadruple expansion engine, and is intended to attain a speed of thirty miles an hour. 'She was designed by William Gardner and C. D. Mosher, of New York, and is owned by William P. Coggeswell [sic], of Syracuse.' . . . Carved on both sides of the prow is the head of Neptune."
Although the measurements differ very slightly, the information and timing of construction clearly align with the steam yacht Fieseen built on City Island from the fall of 1891 until the spring of 1893. The steamer became the fastest in the world, clocked at 31.6 miles per hour on one occasion. See ATHLETIC SPORTS, New Zealand Herald, Nov. 25, 1893, Vol. XXX, No. 9367, p. 6 ("Advices from America state the famous little steam yacht Fieseen, which is only 78 feet long, has beaten the world's record by a run of 7-1/4 miles against a flood tide in New York Bay at the rate of 31.6 statute miles per hour. The record is supposed to have been held previously by the Russian torpedo boat Adler, 145 feet long, which made a mile in slack water at the rate of 31.1 per hour.").
According to one account, "[t]he builder would allow no one except his workmen to gaze upon the boat while she was in course of construction." Although, again, there is some confusion in various news reports of the time, the builder of the ship seems to have been A. B. Wood & Son on City Island. See OVERHAULING THE YACHTS -- WORK IN THE CITY ISLAND YARDS ON THE STEAMERS AND CUTTERS, N.Y. Times, Apr. 2, 1893 (detailing ships being worked on in City Island shipyards and noting, while discussing ships at A. B. Wood & Sons, "The Coggswell steamer, still unnamed, will be finished in time to take part in the coming naval parade. Her high-speed engine, said to represent one of the finest pieces of workmanship ever made for any steam yacht, has been put in place by her designer, Lysander Wright of Newark, N.J."). See also article quoted below.
The Fieseen (occasionally misspelled as "Frieseen") became a very famous steam yacht and became the subject of notable judicial decisions based on maritime insurance law. Its history after its launch is fascinating in its own right. William B. Coggswell of Syracuse, manager of Solvay Process Company, was owner of the steam yacht. He had it built specifically for speed in the hope of racing and beating two other notable steam yachts: the Norwood and the Vamoose.
Not long after the launch of the Fieseen in 1893, it set its record and became the world's fastest steam yacht. Then, on September 9, 1893, while steaming off the coast of Brooklyn, the Fieseen sprang a leak. It soon became apparent that the yacht would not make it to port and a distress signal was sent. To add to the Fieseen's embarrassment and humiliation, its rival, the Vamoose, responded to the distress signal and attempted to tow the Fieseen toward shore. While towing the leaking yacht with a single hawser, the Fieseen began to swerve from side to side to such an extent that the yacht collided with the Old Dominion steamer Gulandotte. The big steamer struck in her bulkheads and making a hole into which the water rushed rapidly. The Fieseen sank in forty feet of water.
The circumstances of the sinking led to a litigation with a number of judicial decisions, including: Coggswell v. Chubb, et al., 1 App. Div. 93 (1st Dep't, Jan. 24, 1896) (holding that the insurance policy covered the steam yacht Fieseen when operated only on "inland waters of the United States and Canada" and that the site of the sinking was noth within such inland waters).
The Fieseen was salvaged and sold. In late 1893, the Fieseen was incorporated as a rebuilt ironclad torpedo ship to be used by the Brazilian Navy. According to a news account at the time:
"The steam yacht Feiseen, which has the fastest record in the world, was bought yesterday by Flint & Co. from W. B. Coggswell. She will be placed on the deck of El Cid for use as a torpedo boat. The work is being done by Gardner & Mosher, builders of the yacht. It will probably be finished in two weeks. The cabin of the yacht is being removed, and the best steel plates are being put in. In place of the ordinary pilot house, a coning [sic] tower will be built, and in the bow of the yacht will be a torpedo tube placed forward on a pivot, on which it will be capable of traversing an arc of 180 degrees. Aft a one-pound rapid-fire gun will be carried." (See below.)
The Evening World Article About City Island Shipyards
The Evening World story that referenced the mystery steam yacht code-named the "Still Alarm" is fascinating in its own right. Among other things, the article included several drawings of shipyard scenes on City Island including a drawing of a marine railway as it is being operated by several men to remove a ship from the waters of Long Island Sound.
The article also includes a drawing showing the famed racing yacht "Titania" laid up for the season. Additional images show yachts lined up offshore at City Island awaiting repairs as well as an owner inspecting his new launch.
* * * * *
Immediately below is the text of a number of articles regarding the topic of today's posting. Each is followed by a citation and link to its source. The first article transcribed below is the article from The Evening World that described work at various unidentified City Island shipyards.
"OCEAN'S NEW BRIDE.
Building a Yacht Which Is to Make Thirty Knots.
Scenes at City Island, Where Sea-flyers Nest.
Talk with Superstitious Tars, Who Are Shy of a Boat That Carries Only Lemonade.
'What d'ye think o' that, sire! She's a smart one, I tell ye. Why, shiver my timbers if there's a craft this side o' Davy Jones's locker 'll hold a candle to her when she's started.'"
These and many other enthusiastic bursts of nautical eloquence escaped the lips of an old City Island tar -- lips rendered elastic and mobile by the long use of tobacco.
He was referring to a boat lying on her stocks, almost ready to be launched in one of the ship-yards on City Island.
And, truly, the boat was a remarkable one -- constructed expressly to outspeed the celebrated racing yachts Norwood and Vamoose. She not only combined every qualification necessary to accommodate this, but was built, also, with a view to beauty and gracefulness, which fully justified the old tar's voluble admiration.
The fame of this vessel had long ago gone abroad and hundreds of persons interested, in one way or another, in the contemplated contest of speed between her and the old favorites had gone to City Island from far and near to view her, but were turned away disappointed.
The builder would allow no one except his workmen to gaze upon the boat while she was in course of construction. And it was only as she neared completion that an EVENING WORLD reporter with an artist was allowed the privilege of being the first outsiders to look upon this beautiful and admirable craft.
'Her name? Well, I don't know what [continued beneath image below]
they'll call her when she's launched,' said the builder. 'But the secrecy observed in her construction procured her the provisional name of 'Still Alarm.''
'She is 80 feet long,' he continued, 'with an extreme width of 9 feet, and is 6 feet 6 inches in depth. The bottom forward is round, but aft, from the centre, becomes gradually flat. She will have 700-horse-power quadruple expansion engine, and is intended to attain a speed of thirty miles an hour.
'She was designed by William Gardner and C. D. Mosher, of New York, and is owned by William P. Coggeswell, of Syracuse.'
The builder then feasted his eyes for awhile upon the noble vessel, and concluded by saying:
'I am willing to rest my reputation as a ship builder on her. Just see, she is built of mahogany throughout, but with the 30,000 wooden rivets in her frame I think she is any day as strong for seafaring purposes as if she were made entirely of steel. Ah, you should see her when she is finished. She will be polished like a piano and will be not only the swiftest, but the most beautiful and symmetrical craft afloat.'
Carved on both sides of the prow is the head of Neptune with a dauntless expression of countenance, depicting that sea god as he must have appeared lashing the waves into calmness when they threatened to submerge the Trojan fleet.
'They ought to call her Neptune,' suggested the tar.
City Island is celebrated for the number of fast yachts it has launched. Indeed the construction of yachts is almost the sole industry of the place. It has at least a half dozen firms, engaged in this work, and City Island may truly be said to be one great shipyard.
It was here that Titania was built, the 70-foot steel sloop which was recently sold by Oliver O. Iselin, of New Rochelle, to Mr. Inman, of the Inman Steamship Company.
This boat's record has never been beaten by any vessel of her size. Her beam is 22 feet and her draught of water 10 feet 6 inches.
The Titania, which is a centre-board boat, is no lying on stocks in the shipyard of her building in City Island.
Archibald Rogers's seventy-foot cutter Bedouin was also built at this place. She is the Titania's most formidable rival. She is a wooden boat with a coppered bottom.
The Bedouin is also laid up for the season.
One of the most remarkable boats ever built on City Island is the Lasca. She is a steel schooner yacht, built for John E. Brooks of New York. The Lasca is a ninety-foot boat. She beat every schooner of her size during the recent cruise of the New York Yacht Club.
'But the Wanda,' exclaimed one of City Island's most considerable builders with exultation. 'Ah, she is after all the greatest piece of work I have done!
'She is steel, 140 feet over all, 127 feet on the water line, 18 feet in beam and 10 feet deep. Her owner, James Stillman, of New York, may be proud of her.'
The largest steel schooner-yacht in America is the Constellation, built in the same shipyard for E. D. Morgan, of New York. She is 106 feet on the water line, 138 feet over all, 24 feet beam and 13 feet deep. Not long ago the Constellation made a trip fro Cottage City to Marblehead, Mass., in a little over nine hours, beating all previous records.
The 'tars' who lounge along various docks of City Island are all suspicious fellows.
'That yacht there,' said one of them, point to a pretty forty-footer lying anchored within an easy stone's throw, 'is a smart little craft. She's a good sailor; but I'm hanged if I'd like to ship in her. Never a drop stronger than lemonade gets between decks there.'
'They say her crew gets water-logged every cruise they make,' observed another.
'Well,' ventured a third, 'they're treated all right, anyhow. The owner doesn't let his men want for anything, even if you never do hear the bang of champagne cork in his cabin.'
The vessel indicated was the Banshee, owned by Mr. Scribner, of New York. She is being scraped and fitted up for an early cruise to Halifax."
Source: OCEAN'S NEW BRIDE -- Building a Yacht Which Is to Make Thirty Knots -- Scenes at City Island, Where Sea-flyers Nest -- Talk with Superstitious Tars, Who Are Shy of a Boat That Carries Only Lemonade, The Evening World [NY, NY], Aug. 22, 1892, p. 2, cols. 6-7 (NOTE: Paid subscription required to access via this link.).
"FASTEST YACHT AFLOAT
W.B. Coggswell is Building a Great Boat --
To Be Completed This Spring
A steam yacht with a speed of thirty miles an hour is being completed for W. B. Coggswell, manger of the Solvay Process Company, at Wood's City Island yard near New York. Her captain will be Peter Cronley, the well-known navigator of Oswego. The boat is perfect in beauty of line and will be furnished in an elaborate manner throughout. The machinery is of the best make, the engine having taken six months to build. The boat is seventy-eight feet long with a nine foot beam. An idea of her wonderful machinery can be obtained from the fact that the steel forging for the crank shaft weighed 2,012 pounds and the finished shaft weighs 414 pounds. The amount of pressure to propel the boat at full speed will be 250 pounds. From the design it is understood Mr. Coggswell's yacht will be able to beat either the Norwood or the Vamoose, the fastest steam yachts afloat. She will be used on Lake Ontario and also on Onondaga. Mr. Coggswell has not announced the name and will not do so until the boat is completed. The machinery was constructed in Newark, N.J. and will be placed in the hull as soon as the warm weather permits. The yacht will probably be brought to Onondaga lake early this summer."
Source: FASTEST YACHT AFLOAT -- W.B. Coggswell is Building a Great Boat -- To Be Completed This Spring, Daily Times [Oswego, NY], Feb. 22, 1893, p. 6, cols. 3-4.
"NEW AND FAST STEAM YACHTS.
The Still Alarm to be Launched To-Day -- Dimensions of the Little Anemone.
The steam yacht that has been styled the Still Alarm, on account of the mystery that has enshrouded her building, is actually approaching completion. She is at Wood's yard at City Island. This boat was designed by Gardner & Mosher for MMr. C. W. Coggeswell [sic]. She is intended to beat the Vamoose and Norwood. Work was commenced on her in the Fall of 1891. The hull was soon made, but there were long delays in getting the engine set up. The boat has been covered up on the beach in front of Wood's shop for several months. She will be launched to-day, and then her boilers will be put in. After that she will be hauled out again and have her engine put in.
The boat is 78 feet in length, 9 feet 6 inches beam, and draws about 3 feet. The hull is built of mahogany, polished bright. She is modeled very much like the Norwood, her stem being straight and sharp, and her stern being flat, to prevent her squatting. She has much more accommodation than the Norwood, and will be useful for cruising as well as for speeding. Aft of the engine room is a saloon 12 feet in length and extending the full width of the boat. It is to be furnished with a handsome sideboard, settees, and lockers. Aft of the saloon on the port side is a lavatory, and on the starboard side is a large clothes press. In the forecastle there are ample accommodations for five men. There is a good-sized pilot house and a roomy cockpit.
The engines are the most interesting part of this boat. It is expected that they will drive the boat through the water at about thirty miles an hour. They were built by Lysander Wright of Newark and are of the quadruple compound type. The cylinders are set in a straight line and are supported over an elliptical base of wrought iron by means of slender steel vertical pillars, each pair of which are braced with straining rods in the form of an X split down through the point of crossing and provided with a screw by which the braces can be strained until all racking is obviated. The cylinders are 9 1/2, 13 1/2, 18, and 24 inches in diameter and the stroke 10 inches. They are jacketed with sheet brass.
In constructing the engine, lightness has been the chief consideration, combined with strength. It is said to weigh less than 3,600 pounds. All the working parts have been reduced to the smallest practicable dimensions, or else relieved of superfluous metal by centre boring. The rock shafts have one-inch holes through them. The piston and connecting rods are hollow, and the big crank shaft has been bored out. This shaft now weighs 414 pounds, and it was turned out of a sold steel forging that originally weighed 2,012 pounds. It took six months to make this shaft. The engine occupies fourteen square feet of floor space. It is of 600 horse power, and will make between 500 and 600 revolutions a minute. The boiler is of the Mosher type. It is a tabular one, and will stand a pressure 250 pounds to the square inch. It is expected that this boat will be ready for her trial trip by June 15. . . ."
Source: NEW AND FAST STEAM YACHTS -- The Still Alarm to be Launched To-Day -- Dimensions of the Little Anemone, N.Y. Times, May 4, 1893.
"TO DAVY JONES LOCKER
The Steam Yacht Feiseen [sic] Sunk in a Collision.
She Sprang a Leak and Was Being Towed Up the Bay When She Was Struck by the Gulandotte and Went Down Off Norton's Point -- All Hands Saved.
The steam yacht Feiseen, the property of William Coggsell of Syracuse and said to be the fastest boat of its kind in the world, lies in forty feet of water off Norton's point, as a result of a collision down the bay late yesterday afternoon with the Old Dominion line steamer Gulandotte. While steaming leisurely up the bay it was discovered that the Feiseen had sprung a leak, and it was feared that the vessel could not make port without assistance. Distress signals were accordingly sent and the steam whistle loudly blown. The fast steam yacht Vamoose happened to be in the vicinity and responded, taking the Feiseen in tow.
While being towed by a single hawser, the yacht swerved from side to side to such an extent that she collided with the Old Dominion steamer Gulandotte. The big steamer struck in her bulkheads and making a hole into which the water rushed rapidly.
The tug Carrie Ramsey then came to the rescue and took the Feiseen in tow, trying hard to get the vessel to shore before she should go down. But the effort was in vain. Off Norton's point she went down in forty feet of water. All on board were transferred safely to the Carrie Ramsey, no one being injured except Charles Smith, the engineer, who, when the collision occurred, was badly scalded and received a scalp wound. In his pain and excitement he jumped overboard, but was rescued by N. Nerion of 387 South Seventeenth street, this city. Smith was landed at Pier A, North river, and transferred to Chambers street hospital.
The dimensions of the Feiseen are length, 68 feet 9 inches; beam 9 feet 8 inches, draft 3 feet 1 inch. Her horse power is 600 and her displacement 13 tons. The engines are of the Mosher build, quadruple expansion type. The hull and deck are planked with mahogany, as well as the interior fittings. The main saloon is 12 feet long and the full width of the boat. She has a roomy pilot house, large cockpit aft, crew's quarters forward for six men, and a large ice chest, etc. During a recent race with the fast steamboat Monmouth of the Sandy Hook line the Feiseen traveled at the rate of 31.6 miles an hour. The yacht will be raised and taken to the yard of her builder, W. M. Tebo, at South Brooklyn, for repairs."
Source: TO DAVY JONES LOCKER -- The Steam Yacht Feiseen [sic] Sunk in a Collision -- She Sprang a Leak and Was Being Towed Up the Bay When She Was Struck by the Gulandotte and Went Down Off Norton's Point -- All Hands Saved, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sep. 10, 1893, Vol. 53, No. 250, p. 1, col. 2 (NOTE: Paid subscription required to access via this link.).
"HARD AT WORK ON EL CID
FAST FREIGHTER WILL SOON BE A BRAZILIAN CRUISER
Admiral Maurity and the Brazilian Minister, Dr. Salvador de Mendonca, on Board Yesterday Much Interested in What Was Being Done -- Will Have a Powerful Armament -- Yacht Feiseen Bought for a Torpedo Boat -- The New-York to Sail for Rio de Janerio.
There is no longer the slightest doubt of the uses to which El Cid, the steamship which was purchased through Flint & Co. from C. P. Huntington, will be put.
The steam yacht Feiseen, which has the fastest record in the world, was bought yesterday by Flint & Co. from W. B. Coggswell. She will be placed on the deck of El Cid for use as a torpedo boat.
The work is being done by Gardner & Mosher, builders of the yacht. It will probably be finished in two weeks. The cabin of the yacht is being removed, and the best steel plates are being put in.
In place of the ordinary pilot house, a coning [sic] tower will be built, and in the bow of the yacht will be a torpedo tube placed forward on a pivot, on which it will be capable of traversing an arc of 180 degrees. Aft a one-pound rapid-fire gun will be carried.
The Feiseen has made seven miles at the rate of 31 5/8 miles an hour. She cost $30,000. Mr. Gardner refused to tell what was paid for her by Flint & Co.
Admiral Maurity who is at the head of the Brazilian Commission to the World's Fair, was aboard El Cid yesterday, looking at her and sizing up her capabilities as a war vessel, and later in the day a reporter for The New-York Times found Dr. Salvador de Mendonca, the Brazilian Minister to this country, on board. He was making a suggestion as to what should be done to the steamship.
Dr. Mendonca was very courteous, but when questioned about the destination of the vessel, he refused to say a word, nor would he tell anything about the armament that would be put on the steamship. It was learned, however, that El Cid would be fitted up as a fast cruiser as one of a fleet of four powerful wr vessels to be commanded by Admiral Maurity.
This fleet will be a most formidable one and will be able to give Admiral Mello and his command a hard fight should they come to close quarters. The Government of Brazil, in addition to El Cid, will have three new vessels, two of which will be ironclads of the latest and most effective class.
One of these ironclads is being turned out by the Armstrongs in England and the Richeuala is another. The Richeuala is now at Toulon, where she is being fitted out. There also is the cruiser Benjamin Constant, which has been bought for Brazil.
Admiral Maurity, who will command these war ships, was formerly a monarchist and friend of Mello. Now, however, he is Republican and will give the heartiest support to Peixoto and the Government. He is one of the best naval officers in the service of Brazil. In addition he is the youngest Admiral in the service and is a graduate of the Brazilian Naval College. During the Paraguayan war he was placed in command of a vessel of the monitor type and did good service against the Paraguayans. He was badly wounded in an engagement.
El Cid yesterday morning was towed from Pier 38, North River, down to the Erie Basin, where a large force of workmen was put at work getting her ready to be cleaned and painted. Her bottom will be painted with anti-fouling paint. The ships' carpenters were at work measuring and making calculations as to where and how her guns would be placed.
When El Cid is armed she will be able to do effective service. In her bow on the main deck will be the dynamite gun, and near by will be two thirty-three pound guns. On the forward deckhouse will be placed twelve rapid-fire guns.
The dynamite gun is constructed by the Pneumatic Torpedo and Construction Company, and is much the type of a gun that was used on the Vesuvius at the trials at Port Royal, S.C., last Spring. This gun throws a projectile that is more of an aerial torpedo than anything else. Its progress cannot be stopped by a netting. The velocity reaches from 500 to 900 feet per second.
The charges explode when a solid object or the water is struck.
This gun was tested at Fort Lafayette in September, 1886, and the Coast Survey schooner Silliman was blown up after three shots had been fired. The projectiles were charged with nitro gelatine. The gun will throw four sizes of projectiles. The first shell weighs 500 pounds and is charged with 500 pounds of explosive. The next one weighs 500 pounds, the shell weighing 300 pounds and the explosive with which it is charged 200 pounds.
The other two projectiles weigh 300 and 200 pounds, respectively. The shells can be projected 2,800, 4,200, 5,000, and 6,000 yards, respectively. The larger shells can be fired at the rate of twenty rounds an hour and the others at thirty rounds. One of these guns was sent to England two years ago and exhaustive tests were made of its accuracy of fire. The accuracy developed was remarkable.
Five shots were fired, and the shells all dropped in a rectangle 7 rods by 5. Two of them dropped in the same hole.
Admiral Maurity was very much pleased when the workings of the gun were shown him, and he watched with great interest the preparations that were being made to have it placed on board. Part of the upper deck will have to be cut out, and as the gun and carriage weigh forty-three tons, it will be a difficult job to get it in position.
Admiral Maurity left for Chicago at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon. He is so much occupied with the Brazilian exhibit at the exposition that he has only been able to give four days to the details necessary for the purchase and fitting out of El Cid. For this reason the Brazilian Minister, Dr. Mendonca, has been compelled to call upon gentlemen who are experts in naval architecture to superintend the fitting out of El Cid and to take charge of the metamorphosis that is now turning her from a peaceful freighter into a cruiser.
In addition to the armament already described, El Cid will be fitted out with Howell torpedoes which have been adopted by the United States Government. A telegram from Providence last night stated that the Hotchkiss Ordnance Company was getting several torpedoes ready, presumably for the use of El Cid. The officers of the company, however, refused to say anything about what the destination of the torpedoes was.
It is not known how long it will take to fit out El Cid. No attempt will be made to armor any part of her. The Brazilian Government has need of the fleet at once, and it is expected that the three men-of-war on the other side will sail very shortly. Whether they will come to this port to sail for Brazil in company with El Cid is a question which not even the Admiral who will command the Government fleet can answer.
Capt. H. Baker, formerly of the Brazil line of steamers, has been made Captain of El Cid. The vessel was intrusted to his care yesterday."
Source: HARD AT WORK ON EL CID -- FAST FREIGHTER WILL SOON BE A BRAZILIAN CRUISER -- Admiral Maurity and the Brazilian Minister, Dr. Salvador de Mendonca, on Board Yesterday Much Interested in What Was Being Done -- Will Have a Powerful Armament -- Yacht Feiseen Bought for a Torpedo Boat -- The New-York to Sail for Rio de Janerio, N.Y. Times, Oct. 29, 1893, p. 5, cols. 3-4 (NOTE: Paid subscription required to access via this link.).