European researchers solve the mystery of Nyack’s concrete barge

Over the past 68 years, millions of people may well have noticed a concrete barge wreck in the Hudson, 110 yards off Nyack Memorial Park. She has been there since January 1955, and was originally placed there as part of a scheme to extend the Nyack Memorial Park by 4 acres by way of infill of concrete rubble from the demolition of Route 9-W. She was donated by the New York Trap Corporation, along with a number of wooden barges provided by Construction Aggregates, towards the end of Tappen Zee Bridge construction project that opened on 15 th December 1955. Nine barges were placed to form a ‘perimeter’ breakwater for the infilling, but the scheme faltered almost immediately, and the grand plan of a restaurant, marina and leisure facilities never came to pass.
In the 68 years that have followed, the eight wooden barges have largely disintegrated, but the concrete barge survives, sitting alone, her purpose and context long since forgotten. The barge was previously thought to be a New York State Barge Canal concrete barge of which 21 were built between August 1918 and June 1919. Eleven such barges do in fact still exist and are visible today, most notably for example at Lock E9 on the Mohawk River section of the New York State Canal. Two European based concrete ship researchers, Richard Lewis from Ireland and Erlend Bonderud from Norway however are certain that the concrete barge at Nyack has been previously misidentified, and have written an article all about the barge and her history at’s-concrete- barge
The evidence is overwhelming that she is not one of the New York State Barge Canal barges. These barges were 150 feet long and had seven hold compartments. The Nyack concrete barge is 132 feet long and has two holds. Moreover, the Nyack concrete barge has a cabin structure aft and a pump room structure midships, which the New York State Barge Canal barges simple never had.
After a great deal of research, the Nyack concrete barge was identified by Lewis and Bonderud as an oil barge, built in late 1918/early 1919 for the Standard Oil Company of New York by the Fougner Concrete Shipbuilding Company of Flushing Bay, Queens. Fougner Concrete Shipbuilding was founded by two Norwegian engineers, Nicolay Fougner, and his brother, Hermann. Nicolay Fougner was a concrete ship pioneer that built the World’s first ocean-going concrete ship, ‘Namsenfjord’, launched in Norway in August 1917. In October 1917, Fougner was invited to consult with the Concrete Ship Section of the United States Shipping Board’s Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC). On 7th December 1917, Fougner met with the US Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, and arising shortly afterwards was a substantial EFC concrete ship building programme for 42 concrete ships – 4 cargo vessels and 38 oil tankers.
On 22 nd May 1919, Fougner Concrete Shipbuilding Co. launched a 3,500 ton EFC cargo ship at their shipyard at Flushing Bay and named her SS Polias. Armistice brought an early end to the EFC concrete ship programme, but 12 ships were actually completed and launched. Six of these ships survive as wrecks today, but sadly not S.S. Polias, which grounded at Old Cilley Ledge, Maine, on 6th February 1920, and sank from sight in 1924. The Fougners also built six oil barges for Standard Oil Company – the Socony barges – and the one at Nyack is
one of just two identical 550 ton oil barges ever built – ‘Socony 201’ or ‘Socony 50’. When thousands of surplus vessels were laid up in the 1920s,these two concrete oil barges became next to worthless. One of them found their way into New York Trap Rock Company fleet and was converted to be used for transporting trap rock. For this reason, the concrete deck is missing, but other features mean that the identification is certain. The Nyack Concrete Barge is indeed unique, and represents a lasting reminder of concrete ship building in New York during the World War I era. She is, in the opinion of Lewis &Bonderud, a shipwreck worthy of an Historical Marker.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login