Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Few Horns, A Head of Steam & We're Good!

   Only the "Horn Breeze" (12 yoke of oxen) made possible the first steam navigation of Lake Erie at Buffalo in 1818. All of the early sail and steamboats, before the construction of Buffalo Harbor, had to be towed through the Niagara River rapids into Lake Erie by oxen, to the chagrin of the steamboat captains. 
  Steam navigation in Lake Erie first started at Buffalo in 1818, before the Buffalo Harbor was built. Black Rock was then the center of shipping, and so bitter was the rivalry that Black Rock captains refused to land at Buffalo. But Buffalo had it's revenge when the steamboat came. Black rock residents built the first steamboat by special arrangements with Robert Fulton, and it was a gala day when the steamboat was launched.
   In the previous November (1817) two or three capitalists had come from New York to Black Rock, and caused to be laid the keel of the first steamboat which anyone had ever attempted to build above the Great Cataract. In the spring the work was pressed forward, and on the 28th of May 1818, the new vessel was launched amid the acclamations of a host of spectators. It received the appropriate and striking name of "Walk-In-The-Water" partly because it did walk in the water, but mainly in honor of a great Wyandot chieftain who once bore that peculiar cognomen.
  The new steamer was ready for use about the middle of August, and then occurred a reproduction of La Salle's experience one hundred and thirty nine years earlier with his sailing vessel. Again and again the Walk-In-The-Water essayed to steam up the rapids into the lake and again and again it was compelled to fall back, it's engines not being strong enough for the purpose. The triumph of Black Rock was short lived. At length after several days of unavailing trials, the owners to their intense mortification were compelled to apply to Capt. Sheldon Thompson for the loan of his celebrated "Horn Breeze", that is to say a dozen yoke of Buffalo owned oxen used to drag sail-vessels up the rapids, and which the sailors had dubbed that peculiar title.
  On the 23rd of August another trial was made. The Horn-Breeze was duly attached by cable to the vessel, and steam was generated to the utmost capacity of the boilers. The stokers flung wood into the fire places, the drivers flung their whips, and with steam-power and ox-power combined the vessel moved slowly up the rapids.  Ere long the difficulty was passed, smooth water was reached, the "Horn-Breeze" was detached, and thus the Walk-In-The-Water inaugurated the second great era of lake navigation.
   Even though the first steamer could not navigate the Niagara River current, it steamed from Buffalo to Detroit in 44 hours on it's maiden voyage in 1818. Many other steamboats followed, and soon regular schedules were maintained, but none of these early boats could ascend the Niagara River on their own power. The vexed captains had to pace the deck in wrath while Buffalo's "Horn-Breeze" of 24 oxen pulled the vessels into the lake. 
   When Buffalo harbor was completed in 1821, many of the steamboat captains remained loyal to Black Rock--but they had to be towed up the river by Buffalo's oxen every time they headed for the lake! It was many years before any steamers could come up the river without the "Horn-Breeze".
  The "Walk-In-The-Water" was a cross between a steamer and a sailing craft. She carried two high masts and was fitted with a square-rigged foresail. Her new-fangled smoke stack stood between the masts amidship. Two large paddle boxes, which housed her paddle wheels, were placed exactly amidship and protruded clumsily from her deck. She was about one hundred fifty feet in overall length, with a thirty-foot beam, and had an eight-foot depth. Her gross tonnage was three hundred thirty-eight tons, could travel a steady eight or ten miles an hour, and accommodate one hundred cabin passengers, and a large number in the steerage. Her bow was as high as her stern, which was similar to the sailing ships of that time. She proudly displayed on her bow a carved figurehead of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry.
    Her passenger quarters were all below deck. The women's cabins were partitioned in the forward part of the boat. The men's quarters followed. Next was the small dining room, and last the tiny smoking room, which was connected to the baggage room.
Wreck of The "Walk-In-The-Water"
   Since the steam whistle had not yet been invented, the Walk-In-The-Water proudly displayed a small cannon mounted on her forward deck. This was used to signal the ships intentions. It was always fired just before she docked to inform the people of the port of her arrival. A farewell shot was customarily fired upon her departure.
  The walk-In-The-Water after 3 successful years, was wrecked in a storm on a beach about a mile from the Old Lighthouse. After sailing a few miles out into the lake bound for Cleveland, it encountered stormy weather and strong winds which stymied it's progress. The Captain decided to return to Buffalo. It was unable to dock because of the weather and there were no lights visible to guide them in. They anchored off shore but sprung a leak and the pumps couldn't keep up. The Captain decided to up anchor and let the ship beach itself instead of sinking. All passengers and crew were rescued the next morning.
   Her furniture, equipment and machinery were salvaged, and her engine placed in the Superior, which replaced the Walk-in-the-Water, and later at least one more ship, and an engine works. It remained in working order till 1902.  Wood from the Walk-In-The-Water was used in the construction of the Lancaster Presbyterian Church in 1832.

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