CRUISE SHIP HISTORY:  OLD BAY LINE – PRESIDENT WARFIELD BECAME THE FAMOUS SS EXODUS.  The President Warfield was named after the Old Bay Line’s president.  Warfield’s niece Bessie Wallis Warfield (Mrs. Wallis) shook the British empire to its foundations when she married Edward VIII.

PRESIDENT WARFIELD – “Old Baltimore At Twilight” by Paul McGehee. The beautiful inner harbor of Baltimore holds memories for many people … memories of the days when you could go down to the “Long Dock” to buy watermelons brought in by the Chesapeake Bay skipjacks and bugeyes … memories of the downtown smells of roasting coffee and spices coming from McCormick’s. In 1934, the Baltimore Trust building towered over the port, witness to the daily comings and goings of the passenger steamers that would dock along Light Street, close to the end of the steamboat era.

The OLD BAY LINE Dock in Baltimore.

The Baltimore Steam Packet Company, also known as the Old Bay Line, was an American steamship line from 1840 to 1962, providing overnight steamboat service on the Chesapeake Bay, primarily between Baltimore, Maryland, and Norfolk, Virginia.

Called a “packet” for the mail packets carried on government mail contracts, the term in the 19th century came to mean a steamer line operating on a regular, fixed daily schedule between two or more cities.

By the time the venerable packet line ceased operation in 1962 after 122 years of existence, it was the last surviving overnight steamship passenger service in the United States.

CITY OF NORFOLK – Chesapeake Bay night boat. She was built at Sparrows Point, MD in 1911 for passenger and freight service between Baltimore and Norfolk. She operated in this service, first for the Chesapeake S.S. Co. and then the Old Bay Line, until 1962 when the company ceased operations. This view shows her backing from her Baltimore wharf at 7:30 AM on Oct. 31, 1949 on her way to dry dock.

Dancing on the OLD BAY LINE.

In addition to regularly calling on Baltimore and Norfolk, the Baltimore Steam Packet Company also provided freight, passenger and vehicle transport to Washington, D.C., Old Point Comfort, and Richmond, Virginia, at various times during its history.

The Old Bay Line, as it came to be known by the 1860s, was acclaimed for its genteel service and fine dining, serving Chesapeake Bay specialties. Walter Lord, famed author of A Night to Remember and whose grandfather had been the packet line’s president from 1893 to 1899, mused that its reputation for excellent service was attributable to “… some magical blending of the best in the North and the South, made possible by the Company’s unique role in ‘bridging’ the two sections … the North contributed its tradition of mechanical proficiency, making the ships so reliable; while the South contributed its gracious ease.”

Old Bay Line steamer arriving in the early 1960s.

One of the Old Bay Line’s steamers, the former President Warfield, later became famous as the Exodus ship of book and movie fame, when Jewish refugees from war-torn Europe sailed aboard her in 1947 in an unsuccessful attempt to emigrate to Palestine.

THE PRESIDENT WARFIELD as the Exodus in 1947.

The night-boat President Warfield, built in 1928, carried people to Norfolk and back for 14 years under theflag of the Old Bay Line.

She was just one of the many steamboats that sailed the Chesapeake carrying passengers and freight, but she was later to distinguish herself in the pages of history. As one of the “Honeymoon Fleet” of steamboats that the U.S. Navy took overseas during World War II, she was used by the British in the English Channel in preparation for D-Day.

When the war ended, she was acquired by Haganah, the Jewish Underground Organization, and as the “Exodus 1947,” was used in an attempt to ferry 4,554 Jewish refugees from war-torn Europe to British-held Palestine. Even though the vessel was met by the British Navy and all of the refugees were returned to Europe, the story of the “Exodus,” and her journey, echoed around the world. She had become a symbol of the determination of a proud people in the effort to reach their “promised land”, the new state of Israel.

The former Baltimore steamer ended her days in 1952, burning at Haifa, Israel. The port of Baltimore does indeed hold many memories… and has many tales to tell.

DUKE AND DUCHESS OF WINDSOR – The Duchess of Windsore was the niece of President Warfield – the onetime head of the Old Bay Line.



About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…