The Park City was launched on March 15, 1898 at 5:10 PM before a crowd of one thousand spectators. The launch was a major occurrence for the villagewhich had not launched a vessel of the Park City’s size in many years. When the Park City was launched Miss Margaret Woodhull of Bridgeport, CT released two white doves into the air and all the bells and whistles of the steamships in the harbor, and the local manufactories sounded. A cannon at the end of the steamboat wharf fired a salute to add to the festivities. Park City was named Bridgeport, CT. The vessel’s name being Bridgeport’s nickname.
The Park City was substantially larger than her predecessor the Nonowantuc, which dated from 1883. The ship is reported to have cost roughly $50,000 to build, $29,000 of which came from the revenues the Nonowantuc amassed since 1883. The Park City was not built under the terms of a conventional shipbuilding contract, which usually specified a final price and payment increments. Instead she was built on a per day basis; a rather unique and somewhat risky method of constructing a ship (BDE-3/16/1895). Captain Charles E. Tooker was the largest stockholder of this vessel and wouldcommand her.
“…The Park City, while longer than the Nonowantuc, looks similar, but without masts, and is expected to be a much faster and better boat in every way with an upper deck cabin and several state rooms. Her dimensions are: keel, 143 feet; over all, 150 feet; depth and beam, 10 and 28 feet, with a net and gross tonnage of 208 and 898 tons. Her fore and aft compound engine with 20 and 42 inch cylinders is expected to get her from dock to dock in sixty-odd minutes.” PJ Echo-3/19/1898
“The freight room is located on the main deck, aft of which is the main saloon, 33 feet by 20 feet. It is richly trimmed in cherry and upholstered in leather. Above this is the women’s cabin, which is finished in quartered oak and will be upholstered in olive plush. Just forward are eight state rooms and next is a smoking room, finished in bird’s eye maple. Forward of this and aft of the pilot house are the captain’s quarters, which are finished in mahogany and will be upholstered in crimson plush. George M. Tooker, who is to act as purser on the Park City, has finely appointed quarters adjoining the main saloon….The frame is of oak and chestnut covered with selected oak planking 3 inches in thickness. The walls are also of oak. She will be painted white (BDE-3/16/1895)
After her launch the Park City was towed to Bridgeport by the Nonowantuc in order to receive her machinery, this took about two weeks. The Park City’s 800 horsepower compound engine, built by the Pacific Engine Works of Bridgeport, gave her a top speed of 15 knots. Her propeller was 8 feet, 6 inches in diameter. She carried six metallic lifeboats and two life rafts when built. The Park City’s crew consisted of nine men and she could carry 500-600 passengers when fully loaded. After her machinery was installed the Park City returned to Port Jefferson to have the final joinery work installed in the areas of her superstructure left open for her machinery to be installed. Unlike the Nonowantuc, the Park City was not equipped with masts or staysails.
Although painted white with a black funnel for her first season, like the Nonowantuc, she wore a different paint scheme thereafter. For almost all of her years of service on the Line the Park City was painted black between the rail atop her bulwark and the waterline. Above that the vessel was painted white. Her steel funnel and engine room vents were painted black. This was the standard paint scheme all of the Line’s vessels wore until the Martha’s Vineyard was acquired in 1968, with the sole
exception of the short serving paddle wheel steamer Victor.
The Park City was also was adorned by some gold decorative scroll work at her stem and a large, carved eagle spreading its wings atop the front of the pilot house. This golden colored bird made quite an impression on those who saw it. It remained with the vessel long after such decorative features fell from favor, as if it were watching over the vessel.
In the Park City’s era getting a tan was not desirable. The fact that prolonged exposure to the sun makes one look older and increases the likelihood of skin cancer was unknown at the time. Tans were for people who worked in the fields. Young woman desired a fair complexion, which is why parasols were so popular during the 19th Century. To ensure that their respectable clientele did not arrive in port with red faces the Park City’s owners outfitted the vessel with an attractive canvas awning that ran along the sides of the vessel’s upper deck, which was already sheltered by the overhang of the deckhouse roof.
Since people in that era usually traveled in good clothes, rather than the tee shirts and shorts often seen today, the Line saw to it that their clothes were not soiled. This was especially important during the peak summer season when women and little girls frequently wore white dresses. A 1909 newspaper article drew attention to this when it stated:
“The fact that soft coal is not used on the steamer Park City is very much appreciated by the traveling public. Ladies and children can therefore go dressed in snowy white with the assurance of a presentable appearance when they return home.” (Unidentified article cited in Steamboat Bill, Spring 1983, p.5)
Hard coal, known more properly as anthracite, was the coal of choice. Not only did less ash fall on the passengers, less fell on the steamship making it easier to keep the vessel in immaculate condition. Bituminous, or soft coal, was only resorted to when anthracite was in short supply, such as occurred during coal mine strikes.
The Park City proved popular and reliable in service, but the company is reported to have found it harder to turn a profit in the years following her completion. Like the Nonowantuc, the Park City moonlighted as a tow boat in local waters when she was not carrying passengers. Her sturdy build seems to have allowed her to function well in both roles, although towing was definitely a secondary roll.
A role the Park City was better suited for was that of excursion boat, and this was an area in which she excelled at when not running her usual route. Over the years excursions became a major source of income for the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company. Special excursions were run from a somewhat isolated Port Jefferson to the Savin Rock and Steeplechase Island (later Pleasure Beach) amusement parks, or to the Beardsley Park zoo near Bridgeport’s north side. Ground transport in Connecticut was included in the passenger’s fare and provided in conjunction with the local trolley lines (Steamboat Bill, Spring 1983).
The flow went both ways and on Labor Day in 1900 it was reported that 600 people visited Port Jefferson for the day. There they rode a merry-go-round set up on Water street and watched yacht races. On the journey over, as well as on the trip home, they were entertained aboard the Park City by a small orchestra playing the popular tunes of the era (Steamboat Bill, Spring 1983).
In 1901 the Park City was chartered by E. D. Morgan, the former commodore of the Atlantic Yacht Club. She was outfitted to carry him and his party to a yacht race that would determine what boat would represent the United States at the next America’s Cup Race. For this occasion she was fitted with additional bath rooms, state rooms, and ice boxes.
In 1898 when the Park City was built few, if any, could have foreseen the immense popularity the automobile would enjoy a scant twenty years later. While the automobile, and especially the buses and trucks that followed, destroyed many a steamship line, the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company was fairly quick to put itself in a position to profit from the situation. The line formed a subsidiary company after the First World War called the Long Island Shipyard, Inc., which purchased and ran John T. Mather’s old marine railway after the dissolution of Port Jefferson’s steel shipyard. This allowed the firm to control the cost of maintaining its vessels.
In 1921 the Park City was hauled out and extensively repaired and modified to carry automobiles. While the ship had carried automobiles and wagons for nearly its entire career, the new modifications better suited the Park City to carry more of them. The deckhouse was entirely gutted at the main deck level and a turntable was placed inside the house at the stern. This allowed automobiles to be turned around during the loading and unloading process. The autos were still loaded via the gap in the main deck bulwark located before the deckhouse as had been done with wagons. The front of the deckhouse had been opened up to allow automobiles to drive inside. Room was made for automobiles at the expense of the vessel’s Victorian main deck saloon and eight state rooms. The saloon was displaced by the vehicles, and the state rooms were removed to make up for the passenger space lost when saloon was removed. A final change involved the wheel house and its trademark eagle. The wheel house had stood on the saloon deck, or second level of the vessel’s superstructure, but during the modifications it was raised up to sit atop the saloon deck’s roof. Photos of the Park City taken after 1921 are easily recognized by the eagle’s loftier perch.
After her modifications the Park City was authorized to carry an amazing 880 passengers per trip during the summer months. In January 1932 the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson had $170,000 in property and a savings of $150,000 on hand. The Line was planning to replace the thirty four year old Park City when the “bottom dropped out of the business” during the Great Depression (1983 commemorative, p.17). This was bad for the company, but good for the old steamship. It meant they could not afford to replace her.
One of the events that made the Park City legendary along the Sound occurred during 1938, for that was the year that the “Great Hurricane of 1938” descended on the Northeast wrecking many vessels and killing many at sea and on the land. On September 21st the Park City left the old Mather/Jones dock (now referred to as the “Ferry dock”) precisely at 2 PM and headed across the Sound as she always did. While in mid voyage 90 mile an hour winds suddenly swept down upon the Park City. Huge seas broke over the vessel flooding the engine room. The Park City, like many coastal vessels of the era, was not at that time equipped with wireless and therefore could not call for help. Even if she had, most ships, even much larger ones, had all they could do in looking after their own survival. The Park City’s running mate, the larger Pricilla Alden, had left Bridgeport at the same time the Park City had departed Port Jefferson. Her captain realized early on that the storm quickly approaching was going to be of
extraordinary force and ordered the vessel to come about. He wisely beat a hasty retreat back to Bridgeport’s sheltered harbor.
When the Park City failed to appear at Bridgeport or Port Jefferson there was much concern. Certainly it crossed many people’s mind that she may have gone down with all hands like the steamship Portland had in the great gale of 1898. As it was, many vessels and shoreline structures were lost in the storm, and there had been numerous fatalities.
In order to locate the missing vessel numerous points along the coast were contacted by telephone, where the lines were not damaged that is. Captain Vail Tooker, who was the son of the Line’s founder, was at the time of the storm serving as the Line’s General Manager. On that day he had shipped aboard the Park City to fill in for the purser. When the vessel failed to make it into port his devoted wife spent the night awaiting the vessel’s arrival on Port Jefferson’s ferry dock. She passed the time staring out to sea in a vain attempt to sight the missing vessel.
The Priscilla Alden had survived the storm at her pier in Bridgeport and by 5:30 AM the next morning she cleared the debris at the mouth of Bridgeport’s harbor and set out in search her running mate. Fortunately the Park City had not gone to her grave. As the Eastern Steamship Line’s steamer Sandwich made her way down the Long Island Sound that morning she stumbled on the battered Park City bobbing at anchor 7 ½ miles East of Stratford Shoals Light. Hard work and the outstanding seamanship of Captain Raymond Dickinson and Captain Vail Tooker kept the forty year old vessel afloat. Her crew and two male passengers had manned the Park City’s hand pumps for about 18 hours before help came. Also aboard were three women and a baby girl.
The tough little steamer was then towed into Port Jefferson by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Galatea, many other vessels were not so lucky. Following the storm the Park City and Pricilla Alden were put into dockyard hands for additional safety modifications. In the case of the Park City this meant the installation of additional watertight bulkheads. By April 1939 she was once more ready for service. The Park City also received new boilers sometime between 1932 and 1939 at the cost of $20,000. It is probable that they were replaced while she was having these new safety features added.
The Park City enjoyed a long and active career. The length of which becomes clear when measured with that of her longtime chief engineer Vinal Edwards.
He started working aboard the Park City as chief engineer in 1899, and remained in that position until 1940 when he retired. During this time he also served as President of the company in 1937, yet apparently he still performed his role in the Park City’s boiler room (Bridgeport Sunday Post May 8, 1955). After he retired, the Park City continued on plying the Long Island Sound, just as she had done before he had arrived for his first day of work.
In 1949 the Park City’s remarkable career came to a close and she was retired from service. After so many years of service on the Sound she was still affectionately known by many as “The Lady of Long Island Sound”, although some newcomers took a dimmer view of the antiquated ship. The steamship line had acquired a larger steel hulled vessel in 1946 and this allowed the old Park City to be relegated to excursions. In her final season the Park City was used on excursion trips down the Sound to the Playland amusement park at Rye Beach in Westchester County.
After her retirement from the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company the elderly Park City remained idle for a period of time, tied to the ferry dock within a few hundred feet of where she was launched back in 1898. In 1951 she was sold to Harry Hanby of New Smyrna, Florida. He chose to use her aged, but stout, hull in the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery. The vessel’s superstructure was cut down and she departed from New York towing a barge. However, the Park City never made it to her new home. She foundered not far from New York on her way South on August 8, 1951. While under Handby’s personal command bound for Houston, Texas, with barge still in tow, the Park City sank quickly. Of the nine aboard, two were lost. One man’s body was found after he drowned and the other was never seen again. The exact reason for her loss has never really been determined. Although some have since reported that she was lost due to a boiler explosion, that was ruled out. It was claimed by those aboard that she sank after striking an unknown submerged object off Manasquan, NJ. In the end the U.S. Coast Guard accepted this as the cause of her sinking, although no submerged object was located in the area. Today her wreck lies 1.1 miles East of Bay Head in 65 ft. of water. Much of the wreck was dragged to prevent her from becoming a menace to navigation. Little that resembles a ship can be found.
In Port Jefferson it was said that perhaps the Park City died of a broken heart, having been forced away from the waters she called home for so many years. In her time the Park City became very much an institution in Port Jefferson and the vessel was mourned even before she was lost. Two months before she went down an article appeared in the Port Jefferson Times that sounded very much like an obituary. Albert G. Hallock, the grandson of the shipbuilder Henry H. Hallock, summed up the fierce loyalty that many in the village felt for what others dismissed as a floating anachronism:
“She was a “personality!” who would ever have thought of referring to her as “it!” ….Because of her peculiar identification with the history of this village, she was much more in our hearts than any other boat in her place can ever be, however efficient. …Not only has Park City, shuttling between this place and Bridgeport, been a solid, substantial and indeed, fundamental institution here throughout her 53 years of service, but she has been, in the hearts and minds of all that knew her, both a symbol and a tradition. (Albert G. Hallock in Port Jefferson Times, 6/5/1951)