2012-02-22 / Front Page

Remembering a Sloop Captain and the Freight He Carried

By Douglas Cunningham


Gordon Lyons stands in front of the replica Parrott gun near the Bandstand along the Hudson River. His great-grandfather David Lyons captained the Victorine, a freighter sloop for the West Point Foundry. 
Douglas Cunningham Gordon Lyons stands in front of the replica Parrott gun near the Bandstand along the Hudson River. His great-grandfather David Lyons captained the Victorine, a freighter sloop for the West Point Foundry. Douglas Cunningham Gordon Lyons stood next to the replica of a Parrott gun one day last fall and gazed out over the Hudson River.

Down by the Bandstand and dock, with a brisk wind, it was as if he could see his greatgrandfather, David Lyons, who captained a sloop for the West Point Foundry.

And that sloop, the one in Gordon's eye as he looked over the Hudson last fall, was the Victorine, built in 1848 in Piermont. It had a 70-foot hull, a broad beam of 25 feet, and a depth of just 6 feet, plus a built-in centerboard that could be dropped another 6 feet. The mast, set well forward, rose to more than 90 feet.

“Can you imagine? asks Gordon Lyons today. “One hundred twenty five tons of freight he carried! You have to visualize it,” he said, reciting the sloop’s vital statistics.

The Foundry used this freighter sloop to haul both raw materials to Cold Spring and finished product to other points, especially the Parrott guns and other armament during the Civil War. Often, they were destined for the base of 30th Streeet in New York City and unloading at piers there, for shipment elsewhere. The Parrott, in essence a muzzleloading, rifled cannon, was critical to the North’s victory.

Gordon, now 84, has deep Springer ties. He is a 50-year member of the Cold Spring Fire Company and the VFW, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. He spent 10 years helping to build the nuclear plants at Indian Point, and later became a business agent for the carpenters. He is a charmer, and if his great-grandfather was as good a captain as they say, Gordon gets it honestly.

The Victorine could carry its 125 tons of freight and still ply the Hudson at record speed, with just six on board to manage the sails. One account, by Charles T. Keppel and Nathan A. Lyons, says:

“During of his trips from Cold Spring to New York, Capt. Lyons sailed the sloop south in three hours and forty minutes, a passage that gave the Victorine her reputation as one of the fasted sloops on the Hudson. She could even hold her own with some of the fast private sailing yachts whose wealthy proprietors chose to give her a race.”

Today, Gordon lives in Montrose with his wife, Susan. He never met his great grandfather, who died in 1909 at 86.

“He piloted that sloop for a long time,” Gordon says now. “It was his home, really. His life was on that sloop.”

This is one of a series of stories on Putnam County’s early history as part of our coverage of the Bicentennial. If you have a story suggestion, please alert editor Douglas Cunningham at doug@pcnr.com, or 845-265-2468.

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