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Continental Iron Works

Shipbuilding was the third industry to arrive in Greenpoint, Long Island, and, by all accounts, the most important. In a relatively brief 20 years in the neighborhood, a dozen major firms prospered. Among the most notable were Webb & Bell and Continental Iron Works, the firm that built the Civil War ironclad Monitor. The Continental Shipyard changed its name in 1888 to the Continental Iron Works. Continental Iron Works launched its last vessel in 1889, after 30 years in the industry. After the Continental Shipyard stopped building major vessels it continued forging iron for even less seaworthy projects such as large boiler furnaces. It also made a specialty of manufacturing and installing municipal gas works, which it did for Brooklyn and other major cities in the eastern part of the United States. Thomas Rowland's company, under the direction of his son and others, was building boats and other items for the First and Second World Wars! The company went into receivership first in 1928 and then again in 1949 when it closed its doors for the last time.

The New York Sectional Dock Company had built a sectional dock from plans of Phineas Burgess and Daniel Dodge in 1839. It consists of a number of floating pontoons placed side by side. At the end of each pontoon there is a framework of timber which supports machinery for pumping, being sufficiently high to remain out of water when the dock is submergea. This framework projects beyond the end of the pontoon, and its lower part contains what is called a balance-tank - an air-tight chamber, which may be raised and lowered by means of a rack and pinion connected with the pumping machinery. This company was incorporated as the New York Floating Dry Dock Company on April 18, 1843, having a capital of $100,000. This dock was located in the vicinity of the other floating docks on the East River. Phineas Burgess served as the Superintendent of the Sectional Floating Dry Dock.

Phineas Burgess, a New York shipbuilder, was induced by the Navy Department to establish a shipyard at Sausalito [Sausolito], California, in 1876 where he contracted to perform work ostensibly in repair of a U.S. warship, the Monadnock, but really to build a new one of that name. Monadnock was laid down by Phineas Burgess at the Continental Iron Works, Sausalito [or maybe Vallejo, as usually reported] California, in 1874.

Apart from the floating drydock, there is no evidence of the involvement of Phineas Burgess in shipbuilding. There is no evidence that this Continental Iron Works had any relationship to the Continental Iron Works of Greenpoint, Long Island, nor is there any indication that the Continental Iron Works of Sausalito [or maybe Vallejo] engaged in any shipbuilding activity other than the single contract for the Monadnock.

Statutes of the United States of America passed at the Second session of the 45th Congress, in the Bureau of Construction and Repair, allocated to Phineas Burgess, one hundred and ninety-eight thousand two hundred and thirty-two dollars and thirty cents. New engines for the Monadnock were contracted for with Phineas Burgess March 3, 1877, and subsequently suspended by Congressional order. The work progressed slowly until 1878, and was thereafter suspended for lack of funding until 1883 with the new Monadnock still on the stocks in Burgess' shipyard, blocking his acceptance of other work.

The "Monadnock," United States double-turretted monitor constructed at Vallejo, was an item of considerable historic interest to the county, more especially in regard to its shipping interest. The Navy Department at Washington having, for some reason best known to themselves, granted the building of this craft to private individuals, under the plea that it could be so done at a less cost than if built in any of their own yards, gave the contract to Mr. Phineas Burgess, of Brooklyn, New York, to construct a vessel to take the place of the old ship of the same name, bringing into use whatsoever portion of her gear as might be found suitable; the work carried on to be under the supervision of the Government Naval Inspector; Mr. Burgess having as his representative Mr. Wm. W. Vanderbilt, for many years connected with the service of the Pacific Mail Company, on the Pacific coast as well as elsewhere.

There were three separate contracts entered into : First, the frames, deck-beams, etc., were to be erected by Mr. Burgess; second, the plating-contract, as it may be called, was to put on the inner and outer skin, complete all bulkheads and the iron deck-plating; and third, to place the armorand its backing, to remove the turrets from the old "Monadnock" and erect them on the present ship ; to lay wooden berth and main decks, and otherwise to complete the monitor for sea to the approval of the Government Inspector.

Unfortunately work progresses but slowly on this magnificent specimen of naval architecture for want of the necessary Government appropriations ; were such to be made she could be completed in a year, but under the circumstances it was hard to say when she will he launched and ready for sea. Were the work proceeded with, it could not be otherwise than a great boon to Vallejo, for a decided impetus would be naturally imparted to labor, and bring money, that source of all good, into circulation.

The established doctrine in government contract law goes back to the case Myerle v. United States, 33 Ct.Cl. 1 (1897), a compendium of about all the breaches of a shipbuilding contract it is possible for the Navy Department to commit: defective plans, defective government-furnished material, long delays in payment, etc., with the further complication that Congress took the view the contracts were illegal, a position the court rejected. The court had to, and did, override other vigorous resistance to awarding anything, but the actual award of $129,811.43 (without interest for 20 years' delay in payment), was grossly insufficient to place the contractor in as good a position as he would have enjoyed if the government had performed, because of a rule made perfectly clear.

In Myerle v. United States, 33 Ct. Cl. 1 (1897), the Court of Claims held that a "plaintiff can only recover those items of damage which are the proximate result of the acts of the Government. . . . For a damage to be direct there must appear to be no intervening incident (not caused by the defaulting party) to complicate or confuse the certainty of the result between the cause and the damage; the cause must produce the effect inevitably and naturally, not possibly or even probably. . . . There must not be two steps between the cause and damage."

Phineas Burgess had a contract with the United States government to do work upon a man-of-war, for which, when finished he was to receive a large amount of money. On July 8, 1878, he borrowed $10,000 from the plaintiff Continental Nattional Bank upon his promissory note, and as collateral security for the loan he pledged this claim against the national government. Before the amount due from the government was liquidated it became necessary to bring an action in the court of claims, which was done, but judgment was not finally rendered in that action until the month of January, 1897, at which time it was adjudged that the persons entitled under Burgess should recover from the government the sum of $129,000. In 1883 the firm of which Burgess was a member, who had succeeded to his rights in the matter, having become indebted to the Tradesmen's National Bank, made an assignment to that bank of the claim against the government to secure the amount of the debt to the Tradesmen's Bank. Afterwards, and in the month of September, 1885, the persons then entitled to this claim made a further assignment to the plaintiff by way of additional security for whatever might then be owing to it. After the award had been made by the court of claims the plaintiff brought this action against all persons claiming any interest in the fund, to determine the amounts due to each person who claimed any interest, and to have the fund divided as among those who were entitled to it, in the proportion to which each one might justly be found to be entitled.

In 1897 Tradesmen's National Bank was ordered to deposit in the office of the country clerk, or with a referee, to be named, the original notes upon which this claim is based, with all renewals thereof which shall have been made from time to time, and to give to the plaintiff sworn copies of the entries in its books with regard to the transactions between Phineas Burgess and the firm of Burgess & Secor and Charles A. Secor and the administrators of the estates of Phineas Burgess and Charles A. Secor, respectively, showing the amounts advanced by it to Burgess or the firm of Burgess & Secor, upon which claims are made under the assignment gf November 9, 1883, and whatever payments have been made by Burgess, or Burgess & Secor, or Secor, or the administrators of either, respectively, upon these claims, down to the time of the commencement of the action.



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