JOHN FITCH'S STEAMBOAT EXPERIMENT ON COLLECT
The population of New York city had nearly doubled in the ten years since 1786. Streets had been laid out, and habitations erected above the swampy fields in the region of Canal street. But although surveys had been made of the several streets about the Collect, or Fresh Water Pond, they were not graded, nor had building lots been found (for obvious reasons) marketable in that locality. The water of the pond was sixty feet deep, and the marshy ground to the northwest, as well as toward the East River, gave little signs of promise as to future value.
This beautiful pond, occupying the site of the present great gloomy pile of prison buildings known as the Tombs, was the scene, in the summer of 1796, of the trial of a boat propelled by steam. It was the invention of John Fitch. The boat was 18 feet in length and 6 feet beam, with square stern, round bows, and seats. The boiler was a ten or twelve gallon iron pot.
The little craft passed round the pond several times, and was believed capable of making six miles an hour.
The spectacle was watched with critical interest by Chancellor Livingston, Nicholas Roosevelt, John Stevens, and others, who had in common with philosophers and inventors in England and Europe been for some time engaged in the speculative study of the steam engine and: its prospective uses.
Fitch belonged to the prominent Connecticut family of that name, was born in the famous old town of Windsor, adjoining Hartford, and had been inventing and experimenting for a dozen or more years, hoping to succeed in the application of steam power to navigation. His genius, idiosyncrasies, and impecuniosity were in perpetual conflict; otherwise he might have achieved the triumph to which he
aspired. He was a man of striking figure, six feet two inches in height, erect and full, his head slightly bald but not gray, although fifty three years of age, and dignified and
distant in his general behavior.