Sometimes, a story lies before your eyes, in plain sight; you just have to see it. The scene in the photograph above comes from a photo postcard mailed by Eliza Robbins in 1912 to Miss Eliza Jones, in Brooklyn, NY. The photographer is unknown – it is not Dr. William Douglas, as the lettering on the left was made by a different hand. For those who haven’t realized it, the lettering was inscribed in the emulsion on the negative, be it film or glass plate, in mirror reversal, so that it would appear properly in the print. Dr. Douglas’s titles show he had some difficult with the reversal of the lettering, whereas the photographer here seemed to have found it easier.
The first item of note is the launch tied up in the right foreground. After considerable enlargement, a sign with the launch’s name – Avarilla – can be made out slightly to the left of the man sitting on the roof of the cabin. That identification tells us quite a bit, based on David A. Conner’s columns from 1900 to 1910.
The boat was a motor launch that used a naphtha engine, as it was a pleasure boat made for fine-weather near-shore cruising, rather than a commercial craft. Various state laws in the 19th and early 20th centuries were passed in an attempt to reduce the number of boiler explosions on steam-powered launches, especially pleasure craft; these laws mandated the presence of a certified engineer on board all steam powered vessels, regardless of size. This was an onerous requirement for a pleasure boat; obtaining an engineer’s license required a two year apprenticeship, and very few amateurs ever went through that process. The naphtha engine, which used a different fuel and was thought to be safer, enabled private launch owners to get around the regulations.
The Avarilla was built for Rev. Charles H. Behringer (1879 – 1937), an Episcopalian priest. As a young deacon, he was placed in charge of St. John Baptist Church on Federal Street in June of 1905. In February of 1906 he was officially ordained to the priesthood at St. John Baptist Church, and immediately appointed rector of that congregation. After his wedding to Avarilla King that year, the couple left Milton. As should be clear by now, he named the launch for his wife. It is quite likely that Rev. Behringer was the man sitting on the cabin roof in the photograph.
It is worth taking a look at the column describing the wedding of Rev. Behringer and Avarilla King, as its opulence contrasts sharply with that of most weddings in Milton. Both the Behringer and the King families were well-off and had no qualms about showing it on an occasion like a wedding. While the couple made their home in Tuckahoe, NY, they often returned to Milton for a visit with Avarilla’s family, a trip made even easier when Rev. Behringer was assigned to Swedesboro, NJ in 1908.
The launch was built in 1910 by Henry Atkins, and launched in May with a large crowd gathered to watch. and the naphtha engine was installed in mid-July of that year. This helps us to date the photograph, which does not show a smokestack on the launch. Her first trial trip was made in late July of that year, with a party of sixteen cruising up the river to Broadkill Beach for the day. Rev. Behringer also raced “Billy” Robinson’s launch Emma Chandler, heretofore the fastest boat on the river, and beat it.
There is no information available on the two other small boats at left, the Ellie M. and the Elsie. The twin smokestacks and roof of the Goodwin Brothers Cannery are visible in the background.
In 1911, the Rev. Behringer returned to Milton as rector of St. John Baptist, and bought the Milton Times newspaper as well. He would continue to publish the Milton Times until he was reassigned to Swedesboro in 1916.
Naphtha Launch, article in Wikipedia
Wilmington Morning News, February 26, 1906
Wilmington Morning News,June 8, 1905
Milford Chronicle, April 20, 1906
Milford Chronicle, May 13, 1910
Milford Chronicle, July 22, 1910