Bristol was a large sidewheel steamer launched in 1866 by William H. Webb of New York for the Merchants Steamship Company. One of Narragansett Bay's so-called "floating palaces", the luxuriously outfitted Bristol and her sister ship Providence, each of which could carry up to 1,200 passengers, were installed with the largest engines then built in the United States, and were considered to be amongst the finest American-built vessels of their era.
Both ships would spend their entire careers steaming between New York and various destinations in and around Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. Bristol was eventually destroyed by a fire while in port in 1888.
Bristol and Providence owed their existence to a short-lived company known as the Merchants Steamship Company, which placed the initial order for the vessels with the Webb shipyard in about 1865. Merchants Steamship was an amalgamation of three existing Narragansett Bay shipping lines, the Commercial Line, Neptune Line and Stonington Line. The Company intended to run the two steamers between New York and Bristol, Rhode Island in competition with the Fall River Line, which ran a similar service from New York to Fall River, Massachusetts (both Lines then linking up to railway lines that continued on to Boston).
Bristol was first settled in 1681 as Buckingham (for Buckingham, England). It was originally used as a port and dock. Bristol is rich in history, boasting many historic and restored houses that line the streets of Radcliffe and Mill.
From its earliest days Bristol was a center of milling. With the building of the Delaware Canal and the Pennsylvania Railroad it became a center of transportation and an attractive location for industry.