The Story of Ira Bushey & Sons.
The tanker MARY A. Whalen, homeship of PortSide NewYork was built for Ira S. Bushey.
Ira S. Bushey started his work life driving mules on the Erie Canal in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. After trying various jobs he returned to the family mariner tradition and by 1895 Bushey was repairing wooden boats. Adept at his trade he quickly grew his business, finally establishing a Brooklyn shipyard in 1905. His yard was located at the foot of Court Street, on the Gowanus Creek. When his oldest son was only 15, he incorporated his business as Ira Bushey & Sons, and the company lasted for three generations, closing in the 1980s.
"Bushey's" is nationally significant as a leader in innovative shipbuilding techniques and old timers in New York harbor still reminisce fondly about the company and their seaworthy boats. Bushey expanded his business to include boat building, initially barges and later tugs and tankers too. Instead of just selling their tankers, Bushey entered the oil storage and delivery business. In 1977, Ira Bushey & Sons sold the company to Amerada Hess.
Today (2023), the property at the end of Court Street, that was once Bushey's and Sons, then Hess's, is owned by a real estate developer who is building a commercial warehouse space called the Red Hook Logistics Center. It promises, according to loopnet.com, a total of 171,000-square-feet of modern warehouse space and 61,000-square-feet of truck court area as well as direct waterway access.
Ira S. Bushey started his work life driving mules on the Erie Canal in the latter half of the 1800s. By 1895 he was in the boat repair business, first setting up shop in Jersey City around 1895, moving to Staten Island about 5 years later and then settling in Brooklyn in 1905. There he located his business at the foot of Court Street, on the Gowanus Creek.
Ira Bushey and his wife had 4 sons - Francis (b. 1888), Raymond (b. 1891) Ira Jr. (b. 1897) and William (b. 1899). Bushey incorporated his business as Ira Bushey and Sons, in 1903 when his oldest son turned 15
The company focused on making barges, railroad flats and scows ( a type of flat bottomed barge) and by 1919 they had built and launched 254. A year later Ira Bushey and Sons completed a 15,000 ton drydock on their Red Hook property that was able to lift a ship in just 18 minutes.
Although Ira Bushey's initial business philosophy was not to compete with one's clients, the company entered into the transportation business in 1924. In Partnership with a fellow named Bullock they formed the Brooklyn and Buffalo Navigation Company (B&B) which barged cargo down the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Brooklyn.
In 1925, Ira Bushey diversified again: the growing popularity of cars increased the demand for gasoline and founded a partnership with Spenser, Toner, and Bushey to form the Spentonbush Fuel Transport Service. The first tankers were crude, just steel tanks mounted on the decks of scows. The same year company founder Ira S. Bushey died leaving his business to his sons.
In 1931 the company formed the Patchogue Oil Terminals, to capture yet another aspect of the oil business. Adjacent to their Brooklyn home and in Patchogue Long Island oil storage oil storage tanks were erected. The company now was profiting in three aspects of the oil business:
Ira S. Bushey and Sons shipyard build and maintained a fleet of oil tankers
Spentonbush ran the fleet of tankers and the sale of oil
Patchogue Oil Terminals stored oil and distributed products on shore.
These were not the only companies that Bushey controlled but were early key ones in their success in the oil business.
During the period of WWII the shipyard made many tugs for the US Navy, Coast Guard and Army. After the war Bushey continued to paint their ships grey
Frank Bushey becomes the third and final generation to run the company in 1953. By this time the shipyard was just making tankers and tugs for their affiliated companies, such as the acquired Red Star towing company. In 1966 Ira Bushey and Sons built their last vessel: the tug BOSTON. Unlike earlier ships it had an automated engineer room, requiring only one engineer to be assigned to the vessel instead of three. Frank Bushey was often at loggerheads with the unions and, according to Charles T O'Malley in his book Low Bridges and High Water on the New York State Barge Canal, Frank blamed union rules for ending production, citing labor costs and rules forbidding members to cross trade lines.
On June 24, 1977 Ira Bushey and Sons sold the company to Amerada Hess. The oil terminal and storage tanks at the foot of Court Street was likely what Hess was interested in. Inheritance tax says O'Malley was reason Frank Bushey gave for why the company did not continue on to a fourth generation.
IRA S. BUSHEY STORIES
PORTSIDE NEWYORK'S "BUSHEY BOAT"
Clicking on any of the images here will take you to its story
O'Malley, Charles T. . Low bridges and high water on the New York State Barge Canal. Ellenton, Fla: Diamond Mohawk Pub. 1991
Shipbuildinghistory.com has a list of ships made at the Ira S. Bushey Shipyard.
Weiss, George. America's Maritime Progress. Editor J. W. Leonard, New York Marine News Company, 1920 (https://books.google.com/books?id=JRQ9AAAAYAAJ)
More information about Ira S. Bushey & Sons can be found on the Seafarers' Blog
Since the writing of this article, the South Street Seaport Museum has written about their " Ira S. Bushey & Sons Shipyard Collection" which includes photographs of the shipyard.