Creque Marine Railway

LongSection_InteriorIn 1840, as maritime trade expanded significantly on St. Thomas, several local businessmen established the St. Thomas Marine Railway Company on the north end of Hassel Island.  The company created a slipway to hoist large steam-powered vessels onto land for repairs and maintenance.  Marine railways, such as this, include three main components: an inclined plane with rails leading into the water, a carriage or cradle upon which the vessels sits, and a winch or windlass to power the hoisting of the large ship.  The company was successful and was regularly hoisting ships as large as 1200 tons from the water by 1868.  Along with the slipway ramp, the site of the company included a large building to house the machinery and the company’s superintendent and several structures for repairs and tools.  The 1860s also saw the company add a new venture to their business, a floating dry dock in the middle of the harbor (see image below).  This highly anticipated feat of engineering was unsuccessful and eventually sunk by the later years of the decade. By 1910, the company faced financial failure and was auctioned.  The site was purchased by Henry O. Creque for approximately $7000.  By 1912, the site was back in working order under the name Creque’s Maritime Railway Dock.  Under new ownership, the business succeeded again.  The site was fully abandoned in the 1960s.

Creque Marine Railway is the oldest steam-powered marine railway in the Western Hemisphere.  The engine powering the winch was a Bolton steam engine.

For additional drawings, photos and information visit the government site: http://www.loc.gov/item/vi0026/  You can highlight this web address, right-click on it and select go to (site address).

These three historic postcards from the early 20th Century illustrate the marine railway in action:

Slipyard_L

View of the complex: slipway, repair shop, carriage, and Head House

CradlePostcard_L

Workers maneuvering the carriage

STTHistDrydock

St. Thomas’ Dray Dock, located in the harbor near the site

MarineRepairingSlip_L

Vessel hauled out for repairs on the slipway

 

 

Explore the site’s transformation in the following collections of HAER photos from the 1960s, and NPS photos from recent and ongoing preservation and interpretation efforts:

 

  • HAER Report: Slipway, rails, and Head House

  • HAER Report: Approaching the site from the water

  • HAER Report: Slipway with carriage and careened boat

  • HAER Report: Gear take-off from the Engine Room in the Head House

  • HAER Report: Large cogs in the Engine Room of the Head House

  • HAER Report: Boiler Room in the Head House

  • HAER Report: Dock Crane and Repair Shop

  • Current view: Head House and restored cistern from the water

  • Current view: Slipway, rails, and Head House

  • Current view: Slipway with remnants of the carriage

  • Current view: East facade of the Head House

  • Current view: Portion of the West facade of the Head House

  • Current view: Interior of the Head House Engine Room with stabilization supports

  • Current view: Large cogs in the Engine Room of the Head House

  • Current view: Boiler Room in the Head House