Final Departure for 111-Year-Old Hudson Ferryboat

The ferryboat Binghamton, a workhorse that served on the Hudson River for more than a century, will soon make its final departure.

The Binghamton carried passengers between Hoboken, N.J., and Lower Manhattan for just over 60 years, then thrived for more than 40 as Binghamton’s, a floating, riverboat-style restaurant that became a beloved local landmark visible from the George Washington Bridge to the north and Upper Manhattan across the river.

But the restaurant closed in 2007, and attempts to reopen it have been tied up in litigation. The last double-ended steam ferry on the Hudson has grown more dilapidated with each passing year and each major storm, including Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.

Today the Binghamton is an eyesore damaged beyond repair, and leans lamely to one side on the muddy river bottom here, across the Hudson from Grant’s Tomb near 125th Street.

Demolition and removal of the ferryboat, a three-month job costing about $500,000, will start next month, said Roger Gross, who is managing the project for his cousin Neil Ruxton Gross, who ran the Binghamton’s restaurant.

The boat’s two wooden levels will be dismantled and its steel hull, long filled with concrete for stability, will be cut up.

“Nine years ago, it could have been in full operation, with three functions going on at one time,” Roger Gross said, gazing at the ferry from a strip mall parking lot, to which it connects by a charred, rickety gangplank.

The 230-foot Binghamton, with engines on both ends, has a rich history. It plied the Hudson between Hoboken and Barclay Street in Manhattan from 1905 until its retirement in 1967. It was opened as Binghamton’s in 1976 by Roger Gross’s uncle — and Neil’s father — Nelson G. Gross, a Republican power broker and millionaire who bought the boat in the early 1970s and renovated it with Victorian riverboat décor.

Like his ferryboat, Nelson Gross led a dramatic life, having worked in the Nixon administration, held elected offices and served time in prison for illegal fund-raising activities. He died in 1997 after being abducted by a Binghamton’s busboy and two companions and then murdered.

Roger Gross said he had been trying for more than five years to replace the hulking Binghamton’s with a new floating restaurant. But he had been troubled by bureaucratic, legal and preservationist delays to remove the ferry, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

“The Binghamton is most definitely a landmark, and many residents have fond memories of dinners, proms and weddings,” Gregory Franz, the administrator for the Borough of Edgewater, said. “However, without the appropriate tender love and care, the vessel deteriorated in a very short time, especially with Hurricane Sandy when the river side of the vessel literally collapsed into the river.”

During its ferry service days, the Binghamton made so many crossings that estimates of its total travel distance ranged wildly.

When it became a restaurant, its menu described the boat as having ferried some 125 million passengers about 200,000 miles — “the population of the Eastern United States eight times around the world.”

An article in The New York Times about a longtime Binghamton engineer, George C. Schomp, described him as having logged some 750,000 miles of Hudson crossings — or 30 trips around the world — while toiling in the engine room.

Along the way, there were accidents. There was the 1906 collision in the fog with the ferryboat Passaic, causing the death of a porter, and the 1912 collision with a boat full of immigrants from Ellis Island. There was the Civil War pensioner who stuffed his pockets full of nails and jumped to his death from the ferry in 1909. The Binghamton also transported troops during World War II.

It was Nelson Gross’s legal troubles that helped start the ferryboat on its second career, as a restaurant.

One of New Jersey’s most prominent and powerful Republicans, Mr. Gross served as a federal prosecutor and a state assemblyman, and ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate in 1970. He was chairman of the state’s Republican Party and helped steer the 1968 presidential nomination to Richard M. Nixon.

In 1974, Mr. Gross was convicted on federal charges related to a campaign donation scandal. Seeking a healthy distraction while waiting to serve six months in prison, Neil Gross recalled, Nelson Gross acquired and began renovating the Binghamton, which had languished on a mud flat near the George Washington Bridge for several years.

Mr. Gross continued running Binghamton’s until 1997, when three Manhattan teenagers — one of them a Binghamton’s busboy — used an empty revolver to abduct him from the restaurant. They made him withdraw $20,000 and drive them across the bridge in his silver BMW sedan to Washington Heights in Manhattan, where they beat and repeatedly stabbed him and left his body in a wooded area near the Hudson.

After a weeklong manhunt by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the police, the teenagers were caught. They confessed and pleaded guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy charges.

After Mr. Gross’s death, his son, Neil, ran Binghamton’s until it closed. One of the most important duties, he recalled, was simply maintaining the vessel and patching the constant leaks.

“I had a welder, a painter and a guy plugging holes, all on the payroll,” he said. “I was all over that boat, from the roof to the crawl spaces.”

Mr. Gross said a handful of elements from the vessel — including some benches, doors, signs and perhaps one of the two pilot houses — would be preserved for possible display at the Edgewater site, or at any museum that wants it.

Although it was unclear how much of the restaurant’s interior was original to the 1905 ferry, the vessel as a whole served as “an important visual connection to the past,” said H. Michael Gelfand, of the Bergen County Historical Society, who added that most of its worthy elements had been lost to storms, vandalism and theft.

Inside the boat last week, the floor was partly covered with river mud and cascades of old plates. Much of its side facing the river was destroyed, and the once grand panes of stained glass were ripped out or shattered. Even a plaque declaring the ferryboat a historic site had been stolen.

“From a preservation point,” Mr. Gelfand said, “the damage is done.”

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