Horse Power Boats

In mid-nineteenth century America, horses walked on water, or, more precisely, on treadmills and around capstans which turned the paddle wheels of ferries. The only surviving example of one of these “team boats” was discovered in Lake Champlain in New York in 1983. Read about it in a Chronicle of the Horse article by Sid Perkins here. Map of the wreck here for scuba divers.

“In New York City, horseboats successfully competed with steamboats in the thriving business of ferrying passengers from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn and to New Jersey. At least eight different horseboat ferry routes operated from docks in southern Manhattan in the years between 1814 and 1819.

Newspaper accounts from the time tell of one ferry, powered by eight horses, that could carry more than 200 passengers across the East River in 8 to 18 minutes, about the same time it took a steamboat to travel the same route.

The financial advantages of a horseboat were obvious: While a steamboat could cost about $30,000 to build, a horseboat — complete with extra horses and a stable on shore — could cost as little as $12,000.”

The last horse ferry made its final crossing of the Cumberland River in Tennessee in 1920.

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