History of Victor Lynn Lines

A Chesapeake Bay Steamship Saga Page

Alwyn Wootten

As the Victor Lynn Company played a large role in the history of my hometown, Salisbury, Maryland, in the history of the Chesapeake Bay, and in family history for nearly forty years, I want to tell some of the story of my grandfather's company. The Salisbury Times of 29 Oct. 1952 stated under the headline `Portrait of Victor Lynn Lines Founder is Unveiled Here', that Al Wootten (my namesake) started the Victor Lynn line Feb 1, 1921 with one boat, the first ``Victor Lynn''. The first trip made by the Victor Lynn carried a load of sweet potatoes to the Baltimore market, and brought back 50 drums of oil for the American Oil Co. On the same trip small shipments of groceries were received consigned to each of the three wholesale houses in the city. The first boat was a small oil burning freighter, named the `Victor Lynn' after Mr. Wootten's eldest son. On March 11, 1922, that boat burned at White Haven, on the Wicomico River. Captain Mason Webster recalled 'We had just pulled into White Haven when there was an explosion in the engine room, and the hot fire soon gutted her, and she sank in two hours.'

It was replaced by a larger and more commodious steamer. This second boat, also the ``Victor Lynn'', soon plied the waters between the Eastern Shore and Baltimore. Mr. Wootten bought the stripped-down hull of the old side wheeler lighthouse tender 'Jessamine', which was refitted by John Smith at the Salisbury shipyard. A year to the day after the first Victor Lynn burned, its successor sailed, with Captain Webster in command. Soon there were two trips a week to Baltimore, hauling anything that would pay the way. Sweet potatoes, for instance, brought ten cents a bushel, and the hundred and fifty foot Victor Lynn could carry 2,000 bushels. Take a look at a few pages of the Ship's Log of the Victor Lynn in 1928! In 1938 she was placed in a coffin--her iron plates were sheathed with wood planking. As World War II stripped the Caribbean and east coast trade of its vessels, freight rates soared and the Victor Lynn was sent south to ply the waters between Florida and the West Indies under the Miami Lines' operation. In 1943, she was running bananas from Haiti to Florida for a dollar a bunch, with 15,000 bunches in the hold. By 1944, however, she had returned to Salisbury and her Cheapeake routes. Remaining in service until sold in 1954 to a Louisiana freight company, the 'Victor Lynn' was the mainstay of the fleet. The second Victor Lynn is seen here as it left the Victor Lynn Lines terminal in 1954.

a view of the second Victor Lynn.

The Victor Lynn was joined before long by a sister ship, the Henrietta Frances..

a view of the Henrietta Frances.

In May, 1929, the Henrietta Frances, propelled by two Deisel engines, had been bought from E. S. Adkins Co. and placed into freight service between Salisbury and Baltimore. At that time, the Steamer Victor Lynn made three trips per week, leaving Salisbury at 3 p. m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for Pier No. 4, Pratt Street in Baltimore. She arrived there in the wee hours of the morning, and she left at 4 p. m. for the return. With the Henrietta Frances, daily service began between Salisbury and Baltimore. Henrietta Frances was built in 1923 at Pocomoke and sold after 1948. She measured 90.3 feet overall, with 22 feet in the beam and drew 7.9 feet unloaded, or 9'10" fully loaded. Her gross weight was 102.87 tons and she was powered by a 220 HP Std. Diesel, single screw fed by a 6000 gallon fuel tank. Her master was Charles B. Wilson and she carried a crew of eight. From an old newspaper clipping, we hear of the part the Victor Lynn and the Henrietta Frances played in an exciting Bay rescue. On 1 August 1929, 28 boys traveling from Annapolis to Camp Milbur on the Magothy River aboard a converted steel lifeboat named the Maid of the Mist ran into trouble about a half mile south of Gibson Island. A serious leak had developed, killing the motor, an old Chevy engine, just as the wind began to rise. Bailing was a losing proposition as the wind developed to storm at nightfall. The boys tried to put on some of the few life jackets aboard but the waves were too high. They returned to the boat to flash out an SOS on their flashlight. The water was nearly at the gunwales when a freighter outbound for China spotted them and relayed their distress signal. The first ship arriving at the scene was the Victor Lynn under the command of Capt. Mason Webster, of Mount Vernon. He and several crewmembers put off in boats and took the boys from their sinking vessel. Ten minutes later she went to the bottom. Capt. Webster, bound for Salisbury, took the boys with him and transferred them to the Henrietta Frances, another ship of the Victor Lynn Lines, bound for Baltimore, where the boys were delivered to Pier 4 Pratt St early on the morning of 2 August. Alphonso Wootten owned and managed Victor Lynn Lines until 1930, at which time he sold his holdings to Day and Zimmerman, a Philadelphia engineering-development company which also owned and operated Red Star Motor Coaches, Inc., based in Salisbury. At one point, Mr. Wootten's son N. R. Wootten was a director of Red Star Motor Coach company. It was under the ownership of Day and Zimmerman that Clio and Red Star (see below) were added to the fleet of the Victor Lynn Transportation Company. The Company extended coordinated boat and truck operations with terminals in Baltimore, Wilmington, Milford, Philadelphia and New York City. Financial difficulties, common to most American companies in the 30s, struck Day and Zimmerman in 1935 and by 1938 the company was in receivership.

a view of the Clio.

The third ship, the Clio, had been built in 1909 at Philadelphia. she was sold after 1945. With a length overall of 109 feet and a beam of 23 feet, she drew 6.6 feet with a gross displacement of 163 tons. She was powered by a 246 HP single screw 6 cylinder diesel running from a 3000 gallon fuel tank. Her master was William J. Horsman (1951) and she could accommodate a crew of six.

A 1942 document documents for us the cost of running the Clio, then $1650 per month (that of the Victor Lynn is given as $2000). Just over half of this was the $927 in wages paid the nine man crew. Fuel oil and provisions cost $212 and $200, respecitvely, with maintenance ($130) and insurance ($120), followed by lubrication oil ($35) and depreciation ($27). The Clio burned ten gallons per hour and took twelve hours per trip, on 25 one way trips per month.

The Clio had her share of adventures, too. One of these was her collision, on 20 April 1944, in the upper part of Baltimore Harbor, with the ferry 'Dixie' under her Master at that time, Samuel I. Austin. Nearly 500 passengers and crew were aboard the 'Dixie' when she cut across the channel, ignoring the Clio's fog horn, at an excessive rate of speed (4-5 miles per hour). Fifty passengers on the 'Dixie' reported injuries. The Cliosuffered only minor damage, and was repaired during 4 May - 15 June, 1945 at Loveland and Co., Philadelphia, for $7512.50, according to a bill of 23 July, 1945.

a view of the Red Star.

One ship, the Red Star, was built to Victor Lynn specifications. The Red Star was built in 1931 at Pittsburgh by Midland Barge Co of Wilmington, Delaware. She was sold 18 September, 1941 to the Norfolk, Baltimore and Carolina Line for $45,000. Her overall length was 156 feet and she had a beam of 31' 11", drawing 12' 5". Her gross weight of 684 tons was propelled through the Bay by 280 HP twin screw 6 cylinder diesels drawing on her 7200 gallon fuel tanks. The Red Star had as her master Mason Webster, carrying a crew of from seven to ten.

Meanwhile, the Joppa was bought by Mr. Wootten in 1930 for $1,500. In 1934 she was rebuilt as a deisel by the Salisbury Yacht Building Corporation, and in 1935 she was rechristened the `City of Salisbury' and regained her old Salisbury to Baltimore route. Mr. Wootten died suddenly in 1937. Although he did not live to see it, events would soon bring the fleet back together in the Wootten family story. Before recounting how that happened, however, let us review the history of the grand old lady of the Victor Lynn story.

a view of the City of Salisbury.

Though the Victor Lynn was the mainstay of the Victor Lynn fleet, Mr. Wootten's new pride was the `City of Salisbury'. She had been built the 'Joppa' in 1885 by Harlan and Hollingsworth for the Maryland Steamboat Company. She was 198 feet six inches overall, with a beam of 54 feet 6 inches outside her wheelboxes. The feathering paddlewheels were 22 feet in diameter. For thirty-six years she had plowed the Bay between Baltimore and the Choptank, serving eighteen landings on the way to Cambridge and Denton. In the latter years of the nineteenth century the Kent and Enoch Pratt had provided steamship service to Salisbury. The faster Joppa replaced them on that run in 1893 in time for the fruit season. The Tivoli was built to replace her, but she collided in 1894. The Salisbury route was served by the Virginia. In 1921 the `Joppa' switched to a Nanticoke River route, by 1924 serving the Wicomico River. She was laid up in 1929 and bought by Mr. Wootten just afterwards.

Salisbury was served by both The City of Salisbury, and by the Victor Lynn fleet under Day and Zimmerman when Mr. Wootten died.

In 1939 the court approved the receivership sale of the Victor Lynn Transportation Company by Day and Zimmerman to a group of Salisbury businessmen. Pratt D. Phillips was President, William T. Holland, Vice President, H. Lay Phillips, Treasurer, S. Norman Holland, Assistant Treasurer and Avery W. Hall, Secretary, with N. R. Wootten serving as general manager. The company had regained a Wootten connection. For a brief time, all five ships were 'in the family.'

On December 26, 1941, Alfonso's wife, Gertrude M. Wootten, gave to her four children a two-thirds interest in the `City of Salisbury', the interest she had obtained in 1938 at the close of Al Wootten's estate. The vessel was appraised at $120,000 and Mrs. Wootten paid a gift tax on the transaction. On December 31, 1941, the five owners sold the vessel to the U. S. Navigation Company, a New York Corporation, for $120,000. In 1945 she was sold to the United States government, who renamed her the U. S. S. Colonel Henry R. Casey in 1947. She was employed in mine planting. In 1950 or 1955 (sources vary), she was sold to Mexican interests.

In 1943 the Phillipses resigned and sold their interests in Victor Lynn. Then W. T. Holland became President, with S. N. Holland as Treasurer, Francis C. Baker became Assistant Treasurer and Avery Hall continued as Secretary. Victor Lynn Wootten became Assistant Secretary while N. R. Wootten continued as Vice President and general manager.

In 1944 Charles R. Hogarth acquired an interest in the company and was elected Executive Vice President and general manager. N. R. Wootten resigned the latter position but remained as Vice President. W. T. Holland became Chairman of the Board, with A. W. Hall, President, S. N. Holland, Treasurer, F. C. Baker, Secretary, and Victor Lynn Wootten Assistant Secretary.

By October 1952, of the four ships of the Victor Lynn fleet, only the ``Victor Lynn'' was left, but by that time there were 200 trucks operating in seven states with terminals in New York City, Jersey City, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Milford and Salisbury and operations in Virginia and the District of Columbia also, employing 350 people. Water operations ceased in 1954; the opening of the Chesapeak Bay Bridge in 1952 had eased land transportation to Baltimore from the shore. The last freight service occurred 19 December, 1954, skippered by Captain Charles B. Wilson. The Victor Lynn was sold to a Tampa shipper and engaged in freight service on the Gulf of Mexico until she sank 20 miles offshore on 18 October 1959. Sale of the Victor Lynn Transportation Company was reported in the Salisbury Times of 26 February, 1959, to Eastern Freight Ways.

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