The DAVID of Athens

Contributed photoThe DAVID in front of the Athens Shipbuilding Corporation.

This week I’m featuring a fascinating image by Paul Morrison showing the new plant of the Athens Shipbuilding Corporation (building with the sawtooth roofline) and the freight lighter DAVID docked with a shipment of Athens-built life rafts stacked high on its deck circa 1919. The image is one of a selection of negatives which were forgotten in the attic of Paul Morrison’s Catskill home and purchased a number of years ago at a yard sale by Professor and celebrated filmmaker Peggy Ahwesh. Professor Ahwesh recognized immediately not only the technical quality and skill evident in Morrison’s work but also the remarkable documentary value of these nearly century-old scenes. The images she purchased turned out to be a selection of photographs Morrison took showing the Athens Shipbuilding Corporation, the L. B. Harrison Shipyard, and the Alsen Portland Cement Company of America. Whether Morrison took these images as an agent involved in the sale of these facilities or as a photographer retained by each company is not known, but the scenes he captured now represent some of the most detailed and in-depth visual studies of these three significant local manufacturers. If some of this sounds familiar to a few of you readers, that is because the selection Professor Ahwesh saved were once part Morrison’s large personal archive; the other half of which was donated to the permanent collections of the Vedder Research Library several decades ago.

The DAVID is an interesting vessel outside of the context of this photograph. This little steamboat was used in the early 20th century for freight shipping - moving goods to various points ranging between Albany and New York City under the ownership of David Whiting and Eddie Van Loan of Athens. According to a 1940 article by Samuel Van Aken, a local Hudson River history buff, the DAVID was actually named the CHARLES LYNCH prior to 1902 and was in fact originally constructed in 1835 at Mount Pleasant in Ulster County as a traditional Hudson River Sloop. The LYNCH served many years as a bluestone boat, carrying this celebrated regional product from ports by the Catskill Mountains to a ready market in New York City. In 1892 the boat was sold to a Kingston businessman who had the boat hauled for conversion to a steamboat. The process was completed for the 1893 season when the LYNCH was relaunched and re-registered as a steam vessel with one of its masts converted to support a gantry crane.

The CHARLES LYNCH was renamed DAVID upon its sale to Van Loon and Whiting, and remained so named through subsequent sales to the Athens Shipbuilding Company, Seth Hallstead, and lastly to Benjamin Plusch. In 1930 Mr. Plusch, after operating the tired out old vessel for a short while, beached the DAVID along Catskill Point and finally put the 95-year-old ship out to pasture. Subsequent fill buried the CHARLES LYNCH/DAVID beneath Catskill Point sometime before 1940, forever encasing the boat in the ground along lower Main Street probably in the vicinity of the Main Care fuel terminal and Riverview Marine. In this photo of the DAVID, composed while in service with Athens Shipbuilding, the antiquated lines of the hull and repurposed mast can be clearly observed. This image is one of a large trove of digital scans donated by Peggy Ahwesh to the Historical Society to complement the existing collection we have of Morrison’s work.

Questions and comments can be directed to Jon via archivist@gchistory.org.

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