Class and Leisureat America's First ResortNewport, Rhode Island1870-1914

The Fall River Line and Other Steamers

By 1875, the Old Colony Railroad had developed a network of railroad lines extending from New York to Boston and southeastern Massachusetts. Steamers connected the railroad lines at various points. Bachelder's 1875 Popular Resorts and How to Reach Them noted that the Old Colony Railroad route was the most beautiful for summer day trips from points north. [1]

Old Colony
According to historian Edwin Dunbaugh, the Fall River Line became the standard route for travel to and from New York City. [2]

Established in 1847, the line was originally owned by the Bay State Steamboat Company. During the Civil War, the line suspended service to Fall River, traveling between New York and Newport for six years. Service to Fall River resumed in 1869.

After passing through several hands, the line came to rest in 1912 with the New England Steamship Company, where it remained until the line's service ended in 1937. The New England Steamship Company also operated steamers from Providence, Rhode Island; New Bedford, Massachusetts; and New Haven, Bridgeport, and New London, Connecticut. [3]

Overnight from New York
The Fall River Line steamers docked at piers on the North River in New York City. The boats left in the evenings, easing out into the East River, then heading east on Long Island Sound to Newport.

Fall River Line
The boats arrived in the early morning hours in Fall River. Passengers disembarked from the steamers there and boarded the Old Colony Railroad trains. They arrived in Boston in time for their morning appointments.

On Sunday evenings, passengers left Boston for New York from the Old Colony Railroad Depot. They boarded the steamers in Fall River and traveled to Newport, then continued on the overnight trip back to New York. [4]

As overnight vessels, the Fall River Line steamers offered staterooms, dorm berths, and salon chairs for their guests. A September 20, 1881, advertisement from the Fall River Daily Evening News listed prices for first-class tickets at $3, and for second-class tickets at $2.25. [5] Room prices for the full route ranged from $1 to $5 per person. [6]

On the Old Fall River Line
"On the Old
Fall River Line"
Free passes were available for some dorm berths on the lower deck. Competition from other lines kept prices low enough for passengers of all classes to ride the ships.

The Fall River Line steamers were popular with both businessmen and summer travelers. Fall River residents took the steamers to Newport for the enjoyment of an evening ride, returning to Fall River by train. [7]

For several summers the Fall River Line operated a separate "Newport Line," the first of the line's double service to accommodate summer travelers. [8]

Floating Palaces
Fall River Line Interior
Fall River Line
Steamship historian Roger Williams McAdam has called the Fall River Line steamers "floating palaces," because their interiors resembled those of the estates of upper-class families. [9]

The Fall River Line steamships' gilded interiors appealed not only to the wealthy clientele who rode the ships, but to middle-class passengers as well. The ships gave people of other classes the actual experience of spending a night within the architectural splendor of wealth.

Other Lines
Wickford Timetable
Wickford Timetable
Other passenger steamboat lines plied northeastern waters, carrying businessmen and summer travelers to and from resort areas.

The Wickford Railroad & Steamboat Company began steamboat service in May 1870. The New York, Providence, & Boston Railroad provided connecting railroad service to Wickford.

These companies offered an alternative to Long Island steamer travel. Passengers took a train from New York to Wickford. After a short trip to Wickford Landing, they boarded a steamer for the 75-minute ride to Newport. [10]

Travelers favored the shortcut between Wickford and Newport. Steamboats took many of New York's "Four Hundred" to Newport, as well as other travelers. The steamboat Eolus, which operated until 1892, was popular, as was the General, which operated from 1893 to 1925. [11]

In 1888, a Jamestown "Dumplings" steamer was put in service to carry the growing number of summer visitors to and from the nearby island of Jamestown. In January 1898 the Providence, Fall River, and Newport Steamboat Company announced plans to run additional steamers between Newport and Narragansett Pier. [12]

Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001