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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Smokeboat: 1918

Smokeboat: 1918

September 1918. "Norfolk & Washington Steamboat Co. fire at Washington docks." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

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I'm Sorry

I’m afraid that this may void your warranty.


Now let me get this straight: the damage to the ship we see in the photo, plus that described in the contemporary article in the office building, warehouse, and dock, including customer cargoes awaiting shipment, is all going to be set right by only $125,000?

Is there any way I can get some of those 1918 dollars? Sigh. No, I guess not.

Mysterious Steamer Blaze

Washington Post, Sep 3, 1918.

Dock and Steamer Blaze Mysterious

Officials of Norfolk & Washington Co. Puzzled by Fire.

Officials of the Norfolk and Washington Steamboat Company are endeavoring to ascertain the origin of the mysterious fire which early yesterday badly damaged the steamer Newport News and destroyed the company's general offices, warehouse and dock and which for a time threatened the entire water front.

"All we know about the fire is that it started in the linen room of the offices, and resulted in the loss of about $125,000," said William H. Callahan, traffic manager of the company, last night. "We consider it mysterious," he said, "because the fire originated in a part of the office where it could least be expected. The Newport News is our emergency ship, and is only used when either the Southland or Northland is out of commission. It could have been possible for some one to have intentionally set the office on fire, but I doubt if that was the case.

The Newport News had been docked for some time, and there practically was no freight no board. The vital parts of the vessel are intact, and just as soon as we can secure the necessary labor, reconstruction work will begin. There will be no interruption of the passenger business."

The fire was discovered by C.O. Abbott, night watchman, and clerk of the company. He said he was sitting in his office about 3:30 o'clock, when he smelled smoke, and walking to the back part of the building, discovered the flames pouring out of the linen room. He immediately turned in an alarm, but before the engines arrived, the whole building and the Newport News were on fire. A general alarm was sounded, and the firemen had great difficulty in extinguishing the blaze.

Among the destroyed and damaged freight on the dock were several chasses, two automobiles, two airplane engines, bed springs and mattresses, thousands of bottles of soft drinks, 100 sacks of peanuts, fourteen barrels of tar, two marine engines and several tanks of carbonated water.

All records of the company were locked in metal cases and were saved. Fifty barrels of oil, 75 barrels of tar and other government stores on the dock, awaiting shipment to the naval operating base at Hampton Roads, Va., were not damaged. The company's loss is entirely covered by insurance.

The American Marine Engineer, September, 1918.

Atlantic Coast Notes

The work of raising and restoring the steamer Newport News, of the Norfolk and Washington Steamboat Company, which burned at her dock in Washington a short time ago, has been undertaken by the Merrit and Chapman Wrecking Company. It is stated that the hull and machinery are practically undamaged, but the entire super structure will have to be rebuilt. The steamer had been used as a reserve boat, and therefore, the loss to the traveling public is not great.

Bad luck

This was the N&W steamboat NEWPORT NEWS, built in 1895.

"Burned at Washington September [2,] 1918. Rebuilt at Baltimore and renamed Norfolk & Washington Steamboat Co. 'Midland' on November 11, 1919".

Steamboat MIDLAND. "Rebuilt from old Norfolk & Washington Steamboat Company 'Newport News' in 1919 after burning of September 1918. Burned and lost at Washington in March 1924".

[Google Books: Richard E. Prince, Seaboard Air Line Railway. Steam boats, locomotives, and history.]

You all have it wrong

It's supposed to look like that. It's the Smoking Lounge. LITERALLY.


Was this a case of smoking in bed?


Judging by the number of bedframes, this ship must have offered overnight accommodations - rather than just simple ferry service across the Chesapeake Bay. Since ships are usually near a ready supply of water, a sprinkler system would have been worthwhile.

A little dusting

A bit of sweeping and it will look as good as new.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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