The Boatyard

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 The C&R Poillon Shipyards

(Précised from the forthcoming book by Nannette Poillon McCoy (poillon1@optonline.net)

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Bridge Street Yard 1879

Copyright Nannette Poillon McCoy

The first of two C & R Poillon shipyards was probably established around 1858, in Brooklyn, NY. and according to several newspaper sources employed over 300 workers at their peak. The shipyards offered services for design, building, altering and repairing many types of vessels including yachts, ferries, steamers and battleships. One of the first ships credited to the Poillon Brothers was the Isla de Cuba, launched in 1849. It wasn’t until the launch of the gunboat U.S.S. Winona, in 1861, that Poillon’s are listed as shipbuilders as opposed to shipwrights. By 1870, they were co-owners of 24 commercial vessels. The yacht Seneca, launched in 1901, is thought to be the last yacht built at the Poillon shipyards. .

The business comprised three locations, the Bridge Street Yard (established 1858) and Gowanus Yard (established 1882), both based in Brooklyn New York, and offices and a  lumber yard in Manhattan. In addition to building boats the Bridge Street Yard was also a wholesale dealer of spars, planks, knees decking and treenails, indeed both the Bridge Street and Gowanus yards had their own sawmills. It was in 1881, that the Norseman was built. Designed by William Townsend the boat was built for Ogden Goelet. This was the last yacht overseen by Cornelius Poillon who passed away later that year.

By early May of 1883, Mr. Townsend, foreman of the yard, said on Saturday that about 130 vessels had been launched from the ways in question and that they had been in use 22 years. The Poillons had used them for about 111 vessels of their own construction and loaned them to other builders nearly a score of times”.  By this time the boatyards were well established at producing racing yachts. A columnist writing about the upcoming racing season, of 1883, makes the following comments in his article; “Among the untried craft the three new yachts now substantially completed at the yard of Messrs. C. & R. Poillon have excited very general interest, and standing, as they do, all three in a row, afford yachtsmen a sight which has never before been had of so many new yachts representing the most advanced ideas of the most successful designer applied to different sizes of boats.” Poillon Brothers were on the cutting edge of design changes with some of the most beautiful yachts of their era coming to life in their yards.

After Cornelius Poillon passed away in 1881, his heirs segregated the firm’s properties, though it is likely that the Bridge Street Shipyard continued to operate under a lease agreement until at least 1904. The ConEd generating facility is now situated on the shipyard site. In 1917, the Gowanus yard was sold to Todd Shipyards for $210,000 however, the gates had been closed since 1901 and no vessel build was credited to C & R Poillon after this date. The firm was the last of the wooden hulled boat builders in New York Harbor. Three of the yachts built there survived more than 100 years, one of which is currently under restoration in Newport, RI.

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Gowanus Yard

Copyright Nannette Poillon McCoy

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