Talking Tugs

Follow this link to hear a Capitol Pressroom interview with Jay DiLorenzo, President of the Preservation League of New York State.  He shares his thoughts on the reefing of canal vessels and dry docking Tug Urger.  The interview lasts about 13 minutes and is worth a listen.

Let’s stand behind our historic fleet to #KeepCanalBoatsAfloat and #SaveTheUrger.

Tug DeWitt Clinton is home in Albion. Photo courtesy of Will Van Dorp.



What do Johannes Gutenberg and DeWitt Clinton have in common?

Declaration of Sentiments mural in Seneca Falls. 

Social change is a demanding process that is critically dependent on several key factors. In their studies historians and sociologist alike have attempted to devise a model for change, one that may be universally applicable and repeated in order to insure the promise of social progress.

The two cornerstones of this historical progression are first – The Great Thinkers; those individuals with the ideas, beliefs and initiative that have shaped the past and continue to impact the present. And secondly, there must be a means to communicate their message to the masses in a way that is comprehensible, applicable and relevant.  While other factors are critical, social progress starts with ideas of The Great Thinkers and an efficient and effective way to Spread Their Word.

So who was Johannes Gutenberg . . .

You might recall that Johannes Gutenberg (1394-1468) was a German engraver and inventor who is recognized as the creator of mechanical movable type printing. This was at a time when all manuscripts were handwritten, extremely rare and expensive, and never intended to be a means of mass communication. Books were the sole property of elite royals and more often that not, the clergy. In fact illiteracy was seen as a means used by the ruling class and the Church to control and restrict the flow of knowledge and to stifle freethinking. This all changed with Gutenberg’s 1439 invention that ushered in the first modern period of human history. By making the written word more accessible and more easily translatable what followed was change so drastic and revolutionary that we are still impacted by it today. Historic periods of social and cultural advancement such as the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, and the Reformation all evolved because Gutenberg’s printing press made learning and the exchange of ideas on a broader scale possible.

And now Dewitt Clinton . . .

Was it by accident that the 19thcentury Age of Reform was born in New York State and followed the path of the Erie Canal? The Second Great Awakening, the abolitionist movement, women’s suffrage, temperance – all social movements in response to the ills of industrialization and abuses of unfettered capitalism in a new America.  Each driven by the Great Thinkers that we all celebrate and honor today; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. It was no accident that these Great Thinkers shared in common this path of progress that is required of social reform. And what was their primary pathway and means of “mass communication” to Spread Their Word – our Erie Canal. It was not that everyone along the canal corridor embraced these social reforms, but the opportunity for discourse energized the Age of Reform and thus the spread of democratic ideals and a more inclusive and dynamic citizenry.

The answer is now obvious . . .

Their gifts were not just a rudimentary piece of 14thcentury technology and a 363 mile canal, but lasting, dramatic, and revolutionary social progress all the result of a German engraver and a 19thcentury New York politician. Both Great Thinkers, and connected by the enduring impact their creations have had on humankind.

Seneca Falls statue of Amelia Bloomer introducing Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Trinity Church is in the background.

Canal Heritage Spotlighted in Spencerport

Museum Director Simon Devenish (center) with Tug DeWitt Clinton’s Captain David Starkweather and Engineer Steve Smith.

Tug DeWitt Clinton was invited to attend the September 18th heritage festival in the Village of Spencerport.  The festival was well-organized by Museum Director Simon Devenish and members of the Spencerport Depot & Canal Museum.

Attendees immediately felt like they stepped back in time with live music, demonstrations, activities, and promotions provided by local organizations.  All of the events took place directly on the Erie Canal, a picture perfect background for this type of heritage event.

Showing tools from the past.
Railroad nostalgia was shared with attendees.

The quaint historic Museum provides a view of  early Americana Spencerport; including canal history, the railroad and early communication systems.  It is also an historical research and reference center. In addition, the Museum serves as a welcome center for boaters and bikers.

Some of the canal memorabilia.


The Museum received the Heritage Award in 2009.

Two representatives from the NYS Canal Corporation were manning an information booth.  They gladly answered questions and gave away a wide selection of materials that highlight, promote and celebrate the Erie Canalway.  There really is something for everyone on the canal!

Tug DeWitt Clinton is in the background greeting festival attendees.

Tug DeWitt Clinton was a highlight of the festival.  Many people gathered around the Tug to learn more about its history and what a typical day is like for the crew.

The brass and wood captain’s wheel.

They loved seeing the rich wood-finished wheelhouse and its centerpiece – a massive wood and brass wheel.  You can almost see and hear the past generations of proud captains that had the privilege of steering this Tug along the Erie Canal for the past 92 years.

Many visitors were keenly interested in seeing the engine room which is always in pristine condition.

Spotless engine room.
The 850a Cummins engine is on display.
A group gathers around the DeWitt Clinton to learn more about this hardworking Tug.
Two Lockmaster Canalboats enter Spencerport and pass Tug DeWitt Clinton as they make their way west along the canal.
Tug DeWitt Clinton – man’s best friend.

Our Tug is Built to Withstand the Test of Time

On November 1, 1925 our tug boat is commissioned.

In just over a year it will become the mighty Tug DeWitt Clinton.

Theodore D. Wells, a naval architect in NYC completed the design. The Race Brothers Corp in East Boothbay, ME built the tug boat.  An inscription can be viewed on the back of the photo below: “Photo of New York State Tug Boat made March 10, 1927.” It is believed that the photo was taken at the East Boothbay shipyard just before delivery.

Tug DeWitt Clinton 1927
First known photo of Tug DeWitt Clinton.  Courtesy of NYS Archives. 

According to the vessel inventory cards, Tug DeWitt Clinton was purchased by New York State on April 14, 1927 for $37,950.  The Hull # 22611 tug was 45′ long with a 14′- 4″ beam and 30 ton displacement, 11 ton net.  It had living quarters for four crew members and was originally fitted with a 4 cylinder, 125 horse powered, Kahlenberg semi-diesel engine.

Tug DeWitt Clinton.

We do not know when the above photo was taken.  Note the crew member’s head on the starboard side just behind the quarter bitts!

In 1958-59 Tug DeWitt Clinton was re-engined at the Syracuse canal shops. The superstructure was changed from its original mid-house arrangement to its current configuration.  We do not have an exact date but that change may have occurred in the late 50’s.

A 350hp Cummins engine was installed in 1996.

Current photo of Tug DeWitt Clinton.

Ninety-two years later, Tug DeWitt Clinton is the oldest tug working on canal maintenance and still a viable mainstay on the western end of the Erie Canal.  The Tug still houses living quarters for the crew. An 850a Cummins engine currently powers Tug DeWitt as it works its way along the canal.  Every day!

Many thanks to the NYS Archives for the original 1927 photo and accompanying information about Tug DeWitt Clinton’s history.  


Just off NYS Thruway exit 28 (Fonda/ Fultonville) sits Tug Urger inside the Canal Corp fenced in area.  As you can note from these untouched photos, it has been sitting here for awhile.

Rear view of Tug Urger.


Front view of TugUrger.  Notice the name has been removed from the front, just under the windows.

If you haven’t yet signed the petition to save Tug Urger, there is still time.  Please don’t wait.  You can follow this link to the Preservation League of New York  to sign and learn more about the Urger and their campaign to keep our historic canal boats afloat.

Tug Gotham

This evening Tug Gotham passed by Spencerport on its way to Buffalo.  The Tug is from Connecticut.


Tug Gotham begins to pass Tug DeWitt Clinton, who is docked for the night waiting for Saturday’s Spencerport Heritage Festival.


Tug Gotham approaches the lift bridge as it travels on to Buffalo.

For more information on Tug Gotham and others, you can go to the “Travels of Tug44” website by clicking on this link.