Launched in 1891, LAUREL was the Grand Dame of the oystering fleet.
In 1891, a wooden oyster boat named LAUREL was built by A.C. Brown in Tottenville, Staten Island, NY. She was built to harvest oysters in New York Harbor. Later she worked out east, in Greenport, Long Island. She also ran seed oysters from VA & MD to NY & CT beds. She was the most celebrated oyster boat of her time and operated for about 123 years.
LAUREL was dismantled after damage sustained in Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But all was not lost. We salvaged her century-old decking planks. We are now up-cycling that wood to craft 1500 top quality oyster knives in partnership with one premier knife makers, R. Murphy.
THE LAUREL 1891 OYSTER KNIFE is THE MOST CELEBRATED & MEANINGFUL OYSTER KNIFE EVER CREATED!
During the late 19th-century, steam power was just becoming an option in oystering waters. A local oysterman named Alden Solmans hedged his bets by selling his sail-powered oyster sharpie and commissioned the Staten Island, New York shipyard of A.C. Brown with the construction of a power oyster steamer named Laurel.
It was a risk that paid off. When she was launched, the 57-foot Laurel split time working the waters of New York City, (including Prince's Bay, Kips Bay and the Rockaways) and the Norwalk Islands area of Connecticut. As urbanization in the early 1900s took a toll on the water quality around Manhattan, Laurel was tasked with a new role.
In 1904, Laurel was sent back to the A.C. Brown Shipyard and both lengthened to 72-feet and "hipped" to nearly 20-feet amidships. This work more than tripled the capacity of oysters on her decks, to 1200 bushels. At this time, Alden Solmans also formed the Standard Oyster Company in South Norwalk which became the forerunner of today's traditional Connecticut oyster houses.
Upon her return and subsequent fitting out of new dredges and mechanicals, Laurel was assigned to Greenport, Long Island and worked in what was known as the coasting trade. Each week, Laurel planted loads of seed oysters throughout the Great Peconic and Little Peconic Bays. She then returned to South Norwalk and New York City with wooden barrels full of mature, market ready oysters grown in the Great Peconic Bay. Giant shell piles kept on the shores of New Suffolk, NY were also loaded on her deck each July and spread near the mouths of the North Fork creeks and Robbins Island in an effort to catch a oyster set.
After the widely successful Andrew Radel Oyster Company bought the assets of Standard Oyster (including Laurel) around 1918, her workload was mostly unchanged but now covered an expanded territory. Laurel continued to plant and harvest oysters in Connecticut and Greenport, but now also the Great South Bay, along the North Shore of Long Island including Oyster Bay, and even made frequent trips to Providence, Rhode Island to buy and sell oyster seed.
In the 1950s, the Radel Oyster company (including Laurel) was bought by two brothers who through determination and a bit of luck brought back traditional oystering from near collapse. These twin brothers, Norman and Hillard Bloom, have arguably done more for Connecticut oystering than anyone since, including creating the iconic Connecticut Bluepoint oyster.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Laurel was often outfitted with starfish "mops" to help catch these hungry oyster predators. Later, around 1983, Laurel was sent to the Dorchester Shipyard in Bivalve, NJ for a major rebuild. At this time, a new main engine and a smaller one to power a large clam dredge were installed so she could harvest the bivalves as far south as Delaware Bay and as far east as Stonington, CT.
In the months immediately after Sept. 11, Laurel was put in "ready reserve," and sent from Connecticut back to Bivalve where she sat for many years neglected. Exposed to the endless cycle of tides and the elements, snow and fresh water penetrated her decks and covering boards, causing severe damage to her structural framing.
Our friend Jean Paul Velloti first encountered Laurel during 2009 at the Copps Island Oyster Company docks in East Norwalk. At the time, he was photographing a local oysterman for a Whole Foods advertisement. Through a turn of events, he was given Laurel on the condition that he would restore her. The plan was to turn her into a floating educational classroom (and to also serve oysters and cocktails on deck in the evenings). With hard-work and self-funding, JP was able to get the engines running again and give her a cosmetic makeover.
However, even though Laurel survived a century of hurricanes, Superstorm Sandy damaged her framework so badly that it became impractical to restore her. Laurel also became uninsurable and the few boatyards which could haul her for repairs wouldn't take the risk. So with great reservation, a decision to break-up Laurel was made.
On a winter day along the banks of the Quinnipiac River in New Haven, Laurel was "broken up" in the most respectful and environmentally sound manner possible. Every bit of oil and fluid was properly collected, an incredible amount of steel and other metals were brought to a recycling facility and the remaining wood (mostly white oak) was ground into non-harmful compost and used as fill. Only a small amount of deck planking remained. Having begun to up-cycle that wood into LAUREL 1891 OYSTER KNIVES, she lives on, in a way. We hope you'll purchase one for your own use and maybe a few more as gifts.