Steamboats on Lake Winnipesaukee in Weirs Beach, NH

The S.S. Lady of the Lake at Weirs Beach, around 1865. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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The S.S. Mount Washington approaching the same pier around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The M.S. Mount Washington at the same location in 2019:

Lake Winnipesaukee is the third largest lake in New England, and the second largest entirely within the region (Lake Champlain, located on the border of Vermont and New York, is larger than the next 9 largest combined).  Like Lake Champlain, Winnipesaukee has seen a number of steamboats over the years, with one of the first being the Lady of the Lake, which was completed in 1849 and is seen in the first photo.  In the days before automobiles, the easiest way to access most of the towns on the lake was by boat, and much of this traffic in the mid 19th century was carried by the Lady of the Lake.  Here in Weirs Beach, visitors arrived by train to the depot just behind the photographer, and then boarded the steamer to travel to their destination.  The glory days of the Lady of the Lake lasted until 1872, when the larger, faster S.S. Mount Washington entered service.  The older ship continued to operate in a losing battle to compete with the Mount Washington, until she was taken out of service in 1893.  Two years later, she was filled with rocks and sunk, and today the wreck is a popular dive site.

Meanwhile, the Mount Washington continued to be the preferred method of transportation around the lake until the 1920s, when larger numbers of tourists began traveling by automobile.  As a result, the ship’s owners, the Boston & Maine Railroad, sold her to a new owner, who marketed the ship as a tourist attraction instead of simply a method of transportation.  It was a success, and the ship operated until 1939, when a fire at Weirs Beach destroyed the ship, along with the dock, the railroad depot, and the boardwalk.

In 1940, the ship’s owner purchased the S.S. Chateaugay to replace the Mount Washington.  Built in 1888, the Chateaugay was a sidewheel steamboat on Lake Champlain, so transporting it to Winnipesaukee required cutting the hull into 20 pieces and shipping them by rail, where they were reassembled in Lakeport.  Only the hull itself was used; everything else, including the superstructure and even the propulsion system, was replaced.  Renamed the Mount Washington, the rebuilt ship made her first voyage on the lake in August 1940, and has been used for sightseeing cruises ever since.  Aside from the 1940 reconstruction, the ship has been altered several other times, including in 1942, when the steam engines were removed for the war effort.  After the war, the ship was fitted with diesel engines, which in turn were replaced in 2010.  The other major change happened in 1982, when the ship was cut in half and a new 20-foot section of hull was added in the middle.  Because of all of this, the 127-year-old ship bears essentially no resemblance to what she looked like when used as the Chateaugay; the photo below, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection, shows the Chateaugay plying the waters of Lake Champlain around 1910-1920:

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USS Constitution, Charlestown Navy Yard

The USS Constitution at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, sometime between 1897 and 1906. Image courtesy of Boston Public Library.


A similar view in 2014:


The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy, having been launched in 1797 as one of the original six frigates authorized by Congress.  She is also the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, the adjective “afloat” being necessary because of HMS Victory, which was commissioned in the Royal Navy in 1778 and remains so today, although she has been in drydock since the 1920s.

The Constitution played an important role in the early years of the US Navy, particularly in 1812, when she earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” after cannonballs bounced off the strong live oak timbers, giving the impression that she had an iron hull.  She served both in a combat role and also later on as a training ship, although by 1881 was no longer fit for active duty.

It was at this point that the large structure seen in the first photo was built across the top of the ship, and the Constitution was used as a receiving ship to house new naval recruits.  However, the ship was deteriorating, and in 1897 she was brought to Boston, where the future of the then-100 year old ship was in serious doubt.  Some proposed turning the ship into a museum ship, while the Secretary of the Navy suggested sinking her as a target ship.  Eventually, in 1906, the ship was restored and the large structure on top was removed.

Today, the Constitution is still in Boston, and although the navy yard is now a national park, the ship still has an active US Navy crew, who give tours to visitors.  Many of the surroundings are the same; the Bunker Hill Monument is still a prominent landmark, surrounded by Charlestown’s low-rise development, and many of the buildings in the navy yard are still there, including the one that is barely visible behind and to the right of the ship in the first photo; this building is the one that is directly behind the Constitution in the 2014 photo.

Charlestown Navy Yard

The Boston Navy Yard, seen from across the harbor, between 1910 and 1920.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The view in 2014:


The two views don’t line up perfectly; the 2014 photo was taken from the waterfront in the North End, while the original appears to have been taken from a boat slightly further into the harbor.  When the original photo was taken, the Charlestown Navy Yard (as it was then known as) was a major naval base; the photo shows a collection of ships, including at least two cruisers (a Denver-class protected cruiser, possibly the USS Des Moines (CL-17), on the far left, and a Chester-class light cruiser, with the four smokestacks in the right-center of the photo).

In the ensuing years, the navy yard built a number of ships, especially during World War II, when the yard constructed destroyers and destroyer escorts, among other naval vessels.  However, the yard closed in 1974, and became part of the Boston National Historical Park.  Today, there has been some new development, particularly the large condominium building on the right-hand side of the photo, but many of the historic structures in the yard are still there, including the building on the far left of the 2014 photo (visible just to the left of the smokestacks on the white-hulled ship), and the small round building near the left-hand side of the condominium building (visible just below and to the right of the tall smokestack near the center of the first photo).

One of the ships from the original photo still exists today, and although it’s not visible in the 2014 photo, it isn’t far away.  The USS Constitution can be seen on the left-hand side of the first photo, just beyond the white-hulled cruiser.  At the time, it was the oldest ship in the US Navy, and it remains so today; it is moored at a pier slightly to the left of the 2014 photo, and still has an active naval crew.

Agawam Ferry, Springfield Mass

The Agawam Ferry, sometime in the 1870s or earlier. Photo from Springfield: Present and Prospective, published in 1905.


The view in 2014:


The cities of Springfield and Hartford have historically had a strong connection, being located along the same river only about 25 miles apart.  However, they are located on opposite sides of the river, so travelers have had to cross it one way or another.  Before the construction of the bridges in Springfield, the Agawam ferry, located near the present-day South End Bridge, was the primary way to cross the river when coming from the south.  The ferry was used up until 1879, when the original South End Bridge opened.  This bridge, in turn, was replaced by the present South End Bridge, which is partially visible on the far right of the 2014 photo.  Both photos are taken from the Agawam side of the river, near Bondi’s Island, facing the South End of Springfield.

South Street Docks, New York City

The view looking north along the South Street docks along the East River around 1900, with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The scene in 2014:


There isn’t much left to remind visitors of the bustling seaport that lower Manhattan once was, and South Street itself, which was teeming with activity in 1900, is now a quiet street underneath the elevated FDR Drive (named after a person who, when the first photo was taken, was just starting his studies at Harvard).

The first photo shows the docks of the New York and Cuba Mail Steamship Company, also known as the Ward Line. They went out of business in 1954, and their docks are now home to the South Street Seaport, which owns a number of historic ships, including the Peking, the 1911 sailing ship visible in the second photo. The only actual structure from the 1900 photo that still exists today is the Brooklyn Bridge, seen in the background of both photos.

Wall Street Docks, New York City

The view of the docks at the foot of Wall Street along South Street in New York City, between 1900 and 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The same view in 2014:


Located on the East River waterfront, across South Street from the foot of Wall Street, the ferry terminal at the left provided passage from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Although the importance of East River ferries decreased once the Brooklyn Bridge and subsequent bridges were completed, ferries still play a role in New York’s transportation, as seen in the 2014 photo, where the site is still being used as a ferry terminal.  The actual boats visible in the first photo are not the ferries; they belonged to the US Army Quartermaster Corps, which no longer has a base in this area.