Wednesday, May 21, 2008

SS Columbia Turns 106

SS Columbia Turns 106, Prepares For Odyssey From Detroit To Hudson River

New York, NY; Detroit, MI; May 21, 2008 – Planning is underway to transport the SS Columbia, the oldest surviving excursion steamer in the United States, from Detroit, Mich., to New York Harbor, as the volunteer organization, the SS Columbia Project, kicks off a capital campaign to complement challenge grants already secured. At completion of her journey—and subsequent restoration—the Columbia will become a catalyst for eco-tourism in both New York Harbor and the Hudson River, connecting Hudson River Valley towns to their histories and to opportunities for economic growth. Resurrected as a living ship, the Columbia will help promote jobs, simultaneously raising awareness of the scenic grandeur of the Hudson River and the crucial need to preserve it.

One of only two surviving vessels built by Frank Kirby, one of America’s greatest naval architects, the Columbia is adorned with such beauties as a grand staircase and an innovative, open-air ballroom. The artist Louis O. Keil collaborated with Kirby, decorating the interiors with mahogany paneling, art glass and gilded moldings. As swift as she was sumptuous, the Columbia’s massive 1200-horsepower steam engine—gleaming with brass and steel—ran open to public view. The steamship’s reign of transporting passengers lasted 89 years, from 1902 until 1991. Since then she has languished, tied to a Detroit pier, ghostly in her coat of shrink-wrap, her hull and engine in disrepair, her splendid interiors peeling and fading.

Headquartered in Manhattan, the SS Columbia Project is a non-profit 501c3, all-volunteer organization. “Our current goal is to raise $ 750,000 in matching funds in order to release $750,000 already granted by the State of New York,” said Richard Anderson, president and founder of the organization. “The SS Columbia is a National Historic Landmark, a treasure worth preserving. We are in urgent need of funds to match the challenge grant awarded to first stabilize, and then transport the ship—with a following phase devoted to her restoration. May 22nd honors National Maritime Day; we want the public to know we’ve been building up steam over the past two years through our volunteer corps and Board of Directors, as well as early benefactors to the project such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation.”

“Passengers riding the Columbia will connect with different eras in unforgettable ways,” Anderson continued. “This steamer provides a rich link with our historical past, while possessing the capacity to open windows into the future by promoting environmental stewardship and green technologies. For instance, she ran on coal, but now she’ll incorporate ‘green technologies.’ Her restoration signifies the creation of a unique, water-born classroom with potential to reach thousands in ways that other existing venues and educational tools cannot. Imagine her, also, as a floating salon, full of passengers enjoying cultural events, on deck and in her stunning interiors. The Columbia will serve as ambassador for ports along the river; she’ll string the towns like beads on the thread of the Hudson, bringing people and communities together.”

The Columbia’s deterioration through weather and disuse is taking its toll: she cannot wait forever. Matching the challenge grants can secure her future. The SS Columbia Project accepts donations large and small and welcomes anyone interested in volunteering. EMBARK, the newsletter about the SS Columbia Project’s progress, provides updates quarterly. To make a donation or to learn more, visit

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