MORE THAN IT SEEMS
At first glance, Caddell Dry Dock: 100 Years Harborside seems to be the book its title suggests: an account of the history of a century-old Staten Island company whose business is dry docking and ship repair.
But for early 21st-century Staten Islanders, the stylish coffee table hardcover written by Erin Urban, founding executive director of the Noble Maritime Collection at Snug Harbor Cultural Center--with contemporary photos by former Staten Island Advance photographer Michael Falco and an overall design by Ciro Galeno, Jr.--is more than simply the life story of a local industrial enterprise.
With an introduction by John B. Caddell II, the company's chairman and CEO, and a foreword by Peter Stanford, president emeritus of the National Maritime Historical Society, Caddell Dry Dock is also, in part and in effect, a social and industrial history of Staten Island's north shore in the 20th century.
FOR THREE GENERATIONS, A FAMILY FIRM
Urban's account of Caddell Dry Dock's origins portray company founder John B. (J.B.) Caddell as the sort of capable, energetic and ambitious figure we associate with the beginnings of America's key industries.
The founding Caddell left home in Nova Scotia in 1888 and worked at various shipyards in New England and New York before opening a yard with two partners in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in 1903, and his own yard, the John B. Caddell Dry Dock Company, in 1916 at the foot of Broadway (at Richmond Terrace) in West Brighton.
Son Leroy succeeded him as president when J.B. took early retirement; grandson John B. Caddell II continued family tradition, becoming president and then chairman and CEO, a position he holds today.
AN INDUSTRY CENTRAL
TO STATEN ISLAND'S DEVELOPMENT
Urban's text recalls the north shore's vibrant shipbuilding and repair industry, principally along the Kill van Kull--and other types of businesses dependent then as now on waterway access--that provided jobs, attracted settlement and development, and no doubt fueled the growth of small retail and other types of commerce.
Caddell Dry Dock also connects us to the local people of those times, men and women whose lives were tied up with sailing and shipbuilding and dry docking and kindred trades--as reflected in our own day by the ongoing life of institutions such as the Society for Seamen's Children, or Sailors' Snug Harbor, now Snug Harbor Cultural Center, home to the Noble Maritime Collection. On the north shore, the impress of the industry runs deep.
DRY DOCKING: HOW IT'S DONE
Author Erin Urban tells the Caddell Dry Dock story from several perspectives.
First, there is the history underlying the founding of what is still, more than a century later, a family firm--almost unimaginable in a world dominated by multinational corporations. Interwoven with that more personal history is a profile of the development of the company and the yard, which grew in size and in its capabilities over time.
The remaining portions of the text were for me the most compelling. One is a recounting of the ancient origins of dry docking itself, a complex and perilous process. Erin Urban describes it thus:
"Dry docking," she writes, "the process of getting a ship out of the water to clean and make repairs below the waterline, began in ancient times when mariners brought their vessels ashore at high tide, heeled them over, made repairs, and 'breamed' the hull" [burning off the accumulated growth] "before the tide refloated them.
"The obvious advantage of the permanent dry dock," Urban continues, "is that it allows workers to access hulls from all sides at once and complete repairs and cleaning in a much more efficient manner."
The concluding section is a portfolio of contemporary photographs of the dry dock and the people who work there (plus a brief introductory essay) by Michael Falco, former Staten Island Advance photographer. These images supplement the book's many historical photographs.
"I had never been in a shipyard," Falco writes in his essay's opening paragraph. "I'd looked at Caddell's from a distance with photographer lust––I think every photographer feels the same way––and always wanted to get inside."
When Falco did finally gain entry as photographer for the book, he felt privileged to be able to record the workings of a world few outsiders are permitted to see.
"I wanted to get each shot right," Falco tells us in the concluding lines of his essay. "Let's face it, they're it. In New York Harbor, the Caddell guys are the cream of the crop. Who else is there? Who else can do what they do?"
Falco's photographs give us the closest glimpse of what they do that we outsiders are ever likely to get.
CADDELL DRY DOCK: 100 Years Harborside by Erin Urban, with contemporary photographs by Michael Falco. 113pp. Illustrated. Index. Published by The Noble Maritime Collection, Staten Island, NY. $40. Available at The Noble Maritime Collection or from Amazon.com. All proceeds from the sale of the book benefit The Noble Maritime Collection.
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Who wants to be indoors reading WALKING IS TRANSPORTATION (WIT), when you could be chatting with neighbors at the Greenmarket, hiking in the Greenbelt or soaking up some rays at what is now a cleaner, safer and more inviting shore?
According to my SiteMeter readings, about half as many of you show up at this site on weekends as on weekdays once the weather warms.
effective tomorrow, I'm suspending Saturday and Sunday publication, which
will resume in mid- September. But please, don't stray too far. I have
another stellar issue of WALKING IS TRANSPORTATION set to run this
coming Monday, the first day of June, and thereafter on weekdays
throughout the summer.
It matters to me that you take the time to read what I write and look at the images I select for this blog. Thank you.--Dan Icolari
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