Working Harbor: Watercraft


Though Europeans first arrived by sail, settlers rowed along the East River much as Native Americans paddled dugout canoes before them. Ferrymen were summoned by horn or bell. Robert Fultonís steamboats provided the first service that passengers could to adhere to a set schedule. New York State rewarded Fultonís company with a monopoly on steamboat service in New York. But the Supreme Court decided in its 1824 Gibbons v. Ogden decision that this sweetheart deal impinged on interstate trade with New Jersey, which shares the harbor. With the door thrown open to competition, the harbor soon buzzed with constant traffic.

After the Civil War, New York City life began to move much faster. Much as raw materials and industrial goods were handed off between watercraft and rail cars and trolleys, so were people. Terminals for the revived ferry industry of the 1990s and early 21st century was also pegged to subway stations and the Long Island Rail Road. But horses still pulled carriages away from ferry landings right into the 20th century.

Get involved:
There are so many ways to get involved with what's happening in and around the East River.

See our links page to find an East River organization that needs your help.

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