Little Bits of History

Old Bay Line

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 25, 2015
District of Columbia steamship

District of Columbia steamship

May 25, 1962: The vote to liquidate comes through. The Baltimore Steam Packet Company, called the Old Bay Line, was one of the last operating steamship lines in the US. Two other lines operated past them, but Old Bay was the last overnight passenger steamship service in the country. The company began business just seven years after Robert Fulton proved the commercial opportunities available with the vehicle. Overland travel was difficult and dangerous. Using natural waterways, and eventually manmade waterways, increased both the efficiency and speed of travel. Most cities were built along rivers and the widespread country needed a better way to move from one city to another. While railroads were being built, each line was unique and it was difficult to get from one major city to another, usually having to switch lines.

The large rivers and large bodies of water made transportation easier. The Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay made travel to port cities comfortable and fast. The first steamboat to serve Baltimore was built in 1813 and linked the city to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with a stagecoach covering the overland portion of the journey. The Maryland & Virginia Steam Packet Company was formed in 1828 but they closed in 1839. Later that year, the Maryland legislature granted a charter to the Baltimore Steam Packet Company (the “packet” in the name referred to mail packets which were delivered at ports of call). The company was formed to provide overnight service on the Chesapeake Bay.

The ships plied the waters between what ended up being Union and Confederate territories and the US Civil War interfered with trade between the two sides. Passenger and cargo traffic was diminished and one line was discontinued throughout the war years. After the war, trade once again resumed and the ships were again sailing. Other ships also offered the same service and a price war ensued with fares dropping to $3 for one way. The older line positioned itself as the Old Established Bay Line and its name unofficially changed. The company’s best years were the 1890s when shipping throughout the Bay area increased.

The Baltimore, Maryland to Norfolk, Virginia line was both the first and last trip the company offered. One could also travel from either Baltimore or Norfolk to Old Point Comfort, Virginia from 1840 but those lines stopped service in 1859. In 1874, it was possible to get from Baltimore to Richmond, Virginia, a line that ran until 1897. Trips between Washington, D.C. and Norfolk were available from 1949 to 1957. Other methods of transportation took over the steamships and numbers declined. The company had 54 ships over its 122 year history, many of them smaller cargo ships. Three ships remained when they finally cut service in April 1962. On this day, the company voted to liquidate and end an era.

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable. – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people you meet on them. – Amelia Barr

A modern fleet of ships does not so much make use of the sea as exploit a highway. – Joseph Conrad

Some people could look at a mud puddle and see an ocean with ships. – Zora Neale Hurston

Also on this day: “Swede” Momsen – In 1967, submariner Swede Momsen died.
Nuking Ourselves – In 1953, the US continued testing with nuclear artillery.
Halley’s Comet – In 240 BC, Halley’s Comet was first documented.
The Fastest Man in the World – In 1935, Jesse Owens ran quickly.
Not a Weight Loss Diet – In 1521, the Edict of Worms was issued.

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