Sunday, July 8, 2012
One of the regular sites I pass when I paddle north is the ferryboat Binghamton. It's a retired ferry, former restaurant, national historic place, and now a wreck, just south of Edgewater Marina.
For years, the river folklore was this: It was an old ferry that was retired, used as a restaurant briefly, and then gutted by a fire, laying mortally wounded in the water ever since. That's the basic truth, but the full story is much more interesting.
I culled most of the details from Wikipedia; librarians be forewarned.
The Binghamton was a steam-powered ferry, one of the first roll-on/roll-off style ships to plough New York Waters. Built in 1905, she was one of six such vessels that carried traffic across the water in New York City. She was built for the Hoboken Ferry Company, and spent most of her time ferrying passengers from Hoboken to Barclay Street in lower Manhattan.
As alternate methods of crossing the mighty Hudson were developed - the Holland Tunnel, the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel, and train service under the river - ferry service diminished, and the company ceased ferry operations in 1967. The ferries were put up for sale, and a local developer bought the Binghamton to set up as a restaurant near Edgewater, NJ.
Those plans did not come to fruition, due to delays and difficulties dredging the berth and getting the boat in position. Therefore, the Binghamton was sold to another developer seeking to turn her into a restaurant, and after some renovations, she operated as such for more than twenty years. In 1982, she was added to the National Resister of Historic Places.
Here is where another interesting story intersects: Nelson G. Gross: state assemblyman, US Attorney, Nixon crony, convicted felon and, eventually, manager of the Binghamton.
By his late twenties, Gross had obtained a divorce from his first wife, maried a Guggenheim heiress, joined the local Republican Party, and been elected to NJ General Assembly. He supported Nixon in the Republican primary, and following his victory, Gross worked in various government and Party positions until, after losing a run for the Senate and working as an appointee in the State Department, he returned to private practice.
Shortly after Nixon resigned, however, Gross' role in the election of NJ Governor Cahill was investigated, and he was sentenced to two years of prison for, basically, campaign finance fraud, and after serving six months, he was released in 1977, whereupon he managed a real estate business and the Binghamton restaurant.
In 1997, Gross was kidnapped, taken to the bank to forcibly withdraw money, and then murdered and dumped. Three young men from Washington Heights were convicted of the crime, one of whom had been a busboy at the Binghamton. Two were sentenced to thirty years, while the third got 17 as part of a plea agreement.
Despite his retirement from politics, Gross' wife continued to be active in the Party, and she served as a member of the US delegation to the United Nations. His daughter published a memoir about his murder in 2007.
So - yeah. A lot more history than some crappy little ferry falling apart on the river. The Binghamton is over a hundred years old. She was an innovative vessel for the time. She served well as a restaurant, and was touched by a locally notorious political player and, sadly, crime victim. Her colors - the red white and blue - betray a more festive spirit than what is belied by her current condition. If anyone can pony up the money to save her and fix her up, I hope they do. Till she succumbs to the elements, she'll always be a pleasant sight on the water.
Update: according to recent news stories, the Binghamton's current owner is proceeding with plans to remove and demolish her.