It appears as if the Buffalo Maritime Center is ever-present these days. Whether building a replica of the Trippe
in Black Rock or sailing a skiff
on Gala Waters, the boat building programs appear endless and our waterfront is reaping the benefits from all of the activity. Just take a look at what's going on down at Canalside right now. It's a Harbor Ferry currently under construction that is being built in preparation for the canals that are being extended further inland at the Inner Harbor. You can see the action in person every Tuesday evening from 5:00-8:00 PM... in fact, you can actually help the maritime team to construct three of these replicas during the month of September.
Here is some of the historical research (a dramatic account) on the ferries, as provided by the Buffalo Maritime Center. It shows the high volume of traffic on the waters back in the day, and the dangers that went along with navigating the harbor...
Harris et al. v. Uebelhoer
Harris et al. v. Uebelhoer, Reports of Cases Decided in the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, from and including decisions handed down November 12, 1878 to and including decisions of January 21, 1879, Albany: A. Bleeker Banks, vol. 30, p. 169.
"The presence in a public place of a blind man is not conclusive proof of negligence on his part, still less on the part of a female who accompanies him and who relies upon him for the exercise of his other faculties, she using her own faculty of sight to intelligently direct his strength and skill."
"On the evening of July 8, 1874, between nine and ten o'clock, the deceased [Elizabeth C. Shelton] and her husband Joshua Shelton, with a boy, nine years old, started to cross the Buffalo river in a small boat called a scow, which was sculled by Shelton, with one oar. The distance across the river was about 250 feet, and the witnesses say the night was a "clear, dark night, star-light, not cloudy." Light enough so that objects the size of the scow could be seen 100 feet distant. Shelton was blind, and had been for several years. When he walked the streets his wife or son led him, and when he sculled the boat, which he often did in crossing the river with his wife, she was accustomed to call out "right" or "left" to him to enable him to avoid obstructions. Shelton was able bodied and was familiar with the management of such boats. He and his wife carried on a business in the city of Buffalo; they lived across the river, and were in the habit of crossing the river several times each day, and returned to their home about this hour of the night; other people were in the habit of using similar craft upon the river. While crossing the river on the night referred to, a steam-tug, owned by defendant, running down the river at the rate of about four miles an hour, came in collision with the scow, broke and upset it, and all three of its occupants were drowned. There was a lighted lantern in the scow; as the tug approached, Shelton called out to those in charge, "where are you going with that tug?" The scow had nearly passed across the course of the tug, so that if it had kept right on no collision would have occurred."
This decision entered case law and has been used as a precedent and the following cited frequently in similar cases since:
"A public highway is liable to use and may be of right used in the darkest night, a night so dark as that the keenest and clearest vision would not be able to detect obstacles and defects. In such case every man traveling upon it is practically a blind man."
Photo: Harbor ferry currently under construction down at the Naval Park courtesy of John Montague.