Chautauqua County Historical Society - Member Activities - Chautauqua County - New York - USA
Chautauqua County, New York, USA
(Much of the following is copied directly from Norton's notes)
In the Fall of 1879 the Burroughs Brothers, owners of the steamer "Griffith", began construction of a new steamer at Phillips Mills in Arnold's Bay just below Bemus Point NY. The new boat was constructed under the supervision of Capt. J.W. Pierce of Evansville Indiana. Capt. Pierce was an experienced boatbuilder who had constructed some of the finest boats on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The Atlantic and Great Western Railroad (Erie) was to furnish the money.
On December 15, 1879 the new steamboat company just organized, The Chautauqua Lake Navigation Company, purchased from the Burroughs Brothers their new boat. The new steamer the "J.A. Burch", named in honor of Mr. J.A. Burch Gen. Eastern Passenger Agent of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad, was launched May 1, 1880.
The "J.A. Burch" was 154 foot long, 26 foot beam with a displacement of 250 tons. She cost $35,000 and had a capacity of 900 persons. The builders spared no expense in making the "Burch" the finest boat on the lake. The cabins were fitted with costly wood, upholstered furniture, elegant carpets, plate glass mirrors and colored skylights. In July 1880 the "Burch" began her regular runs under the coommand of Capt. Clarence Burroughs.
In March of 1883 she came under the ownership of the Buffalo, New York & Pittsburgh Railway. They renamed her the "Hiawatha". Under this name, the pickets and brackets under the edge of the decks were removed. In July of 1887 the Chautauqua Lake Railroad purchased her and resumed using the original name "J.A. Burch". Then finally in early 1892 she was renamed the "City of Chicago".
In many respects she was the finest Chautauqua Lake Steamer in her day. She was one of the fastest and most dependable and after the 4 deck Jamestown burned in the Fall of 1892, she was the largest. From then until 1903, she became the picnic and excursion boat, making almost daily trips throughout the season for Sunday School, Lodge and Factory picnics usually to Long Point.
Where many fires on early steamboats were of questionable origin due to excessive costs and the lure of an insurance pay-off, the fire of November 11, 1903 that took the "City of Chicago" may have truely been an accident. She was hauled up on the ways at Clifton for a general overhaul. Half the hull had been replanked and within three weeks she would have been as good as new. It was speculated that a spark from a nearby passing train engine may have caused the fire.
In 1890 Supt. Grandin of the Red Stack Line was asked which boat he like best. He answered "Why for all around excellence the "Burch" is the head of the list. She is roomy, fast, steady and never gives any trouble. All our steamers are in good shape, but I am a little partial to the "Burtch".