Flashback Friday Archive 2021-22: Flashback Friday: Week of February 26

2021-02-26 TWIR Image-Mothball Fleet

February 25, 1871 – 150 YEARS AGO
Rockland County Journal

       The Reformed Church, at Piermont, contributes fifty dollars towards building the Mission Church for Rev. J. H. Ballagh at Yokahama, Japan.
       The Ramapo river has overflowed the turnpike along its banks, and in some places the road is piled up with ice to the height of 15 or 20 feet.
       The horse of C. Meyer, a cartman at Haverstraw, backed off the dock on Tuesday morning, but was recovered safely from the water again.
       We notice among the prominent gentlemen present at the recent meeting of the New York State Agricultural Society at Albany, Hon. A. B. Conger.

February 25, 1921 – 100 YEARS AGO
Rockland News

       Progressive citizens of Tappan have organized the Tappan Community Club, and the organization has decided upon a campaign to boost the town and secure a co-operative people’s bank, a free public library, a band, and public amusement park.
       The officers are George A. Knapp, president; Mrs. Anna S. Coneys, vice-president; Frank E. Outwater, Jr.; Mrs. J. Harrington; treasurer. The advisory board consists of Macy F. Deming, Mrs. Martens, Harry Ryerson, Mrs. Gibson, Edward O’Dowd, Miss M. Gondeck, Mrs. C. E. Smith, Arthur Berger, Mrs. E. Ross, Thomas L. Buckingham.

       D. LaChapelle of 158 Cedar Hill Avenue, who several years ago built a flying boat for a foreign government at his shop on Piermont Avenue, is to start next Monday building flying boats and gliding boats, air propelled. Mr. LaChapelle is to conduct an extensive business, and there will be many positions open for workmen.

February 22, 1971 – 50 YEARS AGO
The Journal News

[Image: Reserve Fleet at Jones Point, ca. 1960. John Scott Collection of the Nyack Library via NYHeritage]
       The wheels of government grind exceedingly slow. But when they do, they grind in small pieces . . . mighty small pieces.
       Such is the fate of the Hudson River Reserve Fleet at Tomkins Cove when, within two months, all but two of the world-famous fleet of World War II veterans will be sold for scrap metal. The ships that once stood in the sheltered harbor off Jones Point numbered 189. Now the number is 22, and by May they’ll all be gone.
       After the government decided to phase out the obsolete fleet two years ago, 30 to 40 ships were sold to United States scrap steel dealers for $10,000 each. When sales began dwindling, the remainder were put on the world market and were instantly snapped up for some $100,000 apiece.
       Even though the sales contracts specified that the vessels could never be used again for world commerce, firms in Spain, West Germany, Italy, Taiwan, and Pakistan began tugging them home for scrap metal. This began during the past year.
       The ships—mostly the famous Liberty and Victory ships—cost roughly $1 million each. New replacements probably would cost 10 times that amount today.
       The reserve fleet was established in 1946 to maintain a stockpile of the merchant, troop-transport and cargo ships which had served such an important role during the war.
       The reserves were intended to keep the government from getting caught short in the event of another major war as had happened in the Spanish-American War, World War I and again in World War 2.
       Some of the ships actually were reactivated for military support duty. During the Korean War, 139 ships were recalled, and 39 more were reactivated during the Suez crisis.
       The Hudson River fleet reached its peak size in July 1965. During that month, 41 ships were put back into service to ferry supplies from the U.S. to Southeast Asia.
       When those 41 ships departed, the fleet was stretching over two miles of river. The silent and ghostly “Mothball Fleet” served as a beacon for the hundreds of thousands who drove along Route 9W when that highway was king and for those who worked and played on the Hudson.
       For those who escaped the steaming city on one of the Hudson River Dayliners, the fleet meant that the sylvan escape of Bear Mountain was just around the corner and, by the same token, it signaled the end of a happy day when the people headed back down the river to New York.
       With the vanishing fleet go the jobs. Fleet Superintendent Charles Gindroz says, “We had 200 men working here a few years ago. Now there are 10 men whose jobs are to clear up last minute closing details.”
       “I'll have 30 years in when the last ship leaves,” he said, “so I guess I'll retire.”
       If the superintendent's job lasts until May, which now appears doubtful, he would have served in Jones Point for 19 years.
       Disappearing with the jobs of men who have cared for the ships over the years keeping them ready for national emergencies, are the memories.
       For youngsters it will be the end of illicit row-boat rides to board one of the gray monsters. Monsters still bearing the inscriptions of “Killroy was here” and “Johnny the Sailor Loves Rose,” scribbled in galleyways by men who sailed them to war a quarter of a century ago.
       “I guess there's just something about an old, deserted warship that fascinates a kid,” Gindroz reflected. He said that as far as he knew none of the youthful sailors managed to board the ships, but many had to be chased away or rescued.
       Then there was the time a huge white paint job across the sides of several ships proclaimed, “Beat Navy!” It turned out the prank was pulled off by several West Point cadets on their way to the Army-Navy football classic.
       “I still can't figure out how they got there and managed to cover the sides of the ship with paint. Those ships are big!” But, he said, the following year the State Police caught a similar group just as they were leaving shore in skin diving outfits.
       Two of the ships will escape the salvager's torch. One is now docked in Charlestown, S.C., awaiting a Navy tug which will tow it to its final berthing in the Virgin Islands. Re-christened “Miss Opportunity,” the former Navy barracks ship, which served as fleet headquarters, will be converted into a floating schoolhouse for underprivileged island children. It will contain 11 classrooms, 11 offices, an auditorium, and a library.
       The other ship is the “Exochorda” which was sold to Steven's Institute of Technology in Hoboken. It will be converted into a dormitory ship.
       Though the government claims the ships have outlived their usefulness, who knows? Certainly, some students will get a floating addition to their education. And the scrap metal may find its way to steel beams from Spain to Pakistan where not even Superman will be able to leap off the buildings of the future in a single bound.
       Yes, the government has ground things exceedingly small.
       Or has it?

This Week in Rockland (#FBF Flashback Friday) is prepared by Clare Sheridan on behalf of the Historical Society of Rockland County. To learn about the HSRC’s mission, upcoming events or programs, visit or call (845) 634-9629.


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