River To Rail: Age of Steam

Riverboat Boom

The mid-to-late 19th century marked the Golden Age of the steamers on America’s inland waterways. Madison, in particular, benefitted from this boom with the establishment of several successful shipyards, which in addition to its already favorable location, made it one of the major port cities in the central Ohio River Valley. Unfortunately, this era of fortune and progress was tainted by America’s horrific Civil War. During the conflict Madison played its part, staunchly supporting the Union cause with troops and the production of numerous steamers used by the U.S. Navy.

Madison’s Shipyards

In its heyday, it was the shipyards perhaps more than anything else that gave Madison the economic boost necessary for the little town to flourish. According to the 1899 souvenir edition of the Madison Daily Democrat, “Among all the institutions that help to develop the growth and commercial worth of Madison there are none that tend more largely to its prosperity than our ship yard.” The boat-building industry “employs hundreds of mechanics, and at the highest wages paid by any institution in the city.”

However, due to the poor state of Madison’s early records, identifying exactly when and where any of the town’s numerous shipyards were built is an extremely difficult undertaking. With much persistence and patience, however, one can uncover a reasonably accurate timeline in the dozen or so conflicting accounts.

Madison’s First Shipyards

Madison’s first shipyard was located “just below what is now Ferry Street.” Built around 1835, this small facility turned out Madison’s first steamboat, theIrwinton, on the Fourth of July, 1836. Despite the fact that this yard produced numerous steamers in its short existence, the financial panic of 1837 caused boat contracts to dry up and brought about a momentary pause in Madison boat-building.

Around 1838 the yard was relocated to “below where the old Mammoth Cave pork house was located,”footnote 1 in other words, on the waterfront at the town’s east end in the appropriately named suburb of Fulton. After a few more productive years, the primary owners and managers of the yard, Prime Emerson, David Barmore, and famed Jeffersonville builder James Howard, moved on to different projects and the yard was permanently closed.

The Madison Marine Railway

By the early 1840’s the focus of shipyard activity had shifted to the west end of town. There, near the foot of the present railroad cut, a large drydock was built around 1840. By 1850footnote 2 the Madison Marine Railway was established on that spot and began building not only packet steamers, but also ferries and barges. This yard also functioned as a repair station and ran a thriving business fixing damaged vessels and refurbishing outdated ones until disaster struck on the night of July 3, 1856.

From Disaster to Heyday

According to the July 6th copy of the Daily Evening Courier, “On Thursday night the ship-yard buildings, the new boats on the ways, and a large quantity of lumber was burned…the entire loss is estimated at $60,000. Only ten thousand of this sum is covered by insurance.” The next day’s edition began to take stock of what was lost in the blaze and its possible impact on the town. “The destruction of the Madison Ship-Yard by fire is a severe loss to Madison, thereby throwing out of employment directly a large number of the working men of the city.”

When stockholders were unable in some cases and unwilling in others to pay for the reconstruction of the ruined yard, they surrendered their shares to managers, Alexander Temple and Don Carlos Robinson, who rebuilt and ran the yard until 1865. From that time until the 1930’s and 1940’s, the yards were managed by a succession of owners, but by the late 19th century the popularity and employment of steamers was beginning to wane. A short revival was seen from the turn of the century to perhaps the 1930’s, when a thriving industry grew up around the use of steamers as pleasure vessels, but despite this, the fate of the Madison Marine Railway was sealed and by 1941 it was abandoned. The 50’s saw the site converted into a Kocolene oil terminal, but at present it lies vacant.

The Famous Madison Marine Way

The following is an article from The Madison Courier-February 4, 1882

Our Shipyard-The Famous Madison Marine Way

Origin, History and Present Prosperity of a Great Industry
Record of Steamboats and Barges Built and Repaired
Who Has Owned and Conducted It
And the Existing Management’s Big and Merited Boom
Present and Prospective Prosperity.

The Madison Ship-yard during the past year enjoyed one of the most successful business seasons ever known in its eventful and checkered history. It is an institution of far more importance to the life of Madison than our people suppose. In fact, it is of more real benefit to Madison than any other manufacturing establishment in our midst.

Since the present firm started in July, 1878, they have built twenty-six new steamboats and barges and repaired eighty steamboats-the work amounting to a quarter of a million of dollars. During the year 1881 the amount paid for wages alone was $51, 504, an average of about $1,000 per week for the whole year. Add to this the amount expended by the crews of boats under repair here for supplies and outfit, and the amount of employment given to collateral branches of the business-tin work, sheet iron and copper work, boiler-makers, foundrymen and machinists-and the week’s average of wages will swell up to $1.500. Nearly all this money enters the tills of Madison merchants.

By careful and close attention to business, together with skillful management, hard work and a fixed determination to do nothing but good, honest work and charge honest prices, the present firm have more than regained for the Madison Ship-yard its former enviable reputation; and in St. Louis today, and wherever its work is known, it ranks A No. 1. They have now under contract a side-wheel boat, 265 feet long, for the Cincinnati and Louisville United States Mail Line Company; a towboat 100 feet long for Wisdom & Dubach, of Hannibal, Missouri, and the large steamer Centennial, on which they will put a new stern and add some 35 feet to the length, making her, when finished, 318 feet long. This speaks well for the future of the yard, as the opening of spring will no doubt bring to it sufficient work to keep 200 men steadily employed during the entire year.

INTERESTING FIGURES: Through the kindness of Mr. George W. Palmer, Assistant Secretary and Treasurer of the Company, we are enabled to give a complete statement of the names and lengths of all the steamboats and barges built at the yard since his connection with it, to-wit:


Name Class Length

  • Flavilla Stern Wheel 130
  • Travis Wright 130
  • St. JohnSide Wheel 175
  • 12th EraStern Wheel 135
  • NorthwesternSide Wheel 245
  • Alice 220
  • Rock Island 200
  • City of Quincy 280
  • Lettle Fleta tern Wheel 130
  • Lewis V. BogySide Wheel 167
  • LookoutStern Wheel 128
  • Henry Probosco Side Wheel 235
  • Warsaw FerryCentre Wheel 120
  • WildwoodSide Wheel 180
  • Fleetwing Stern Wheel 115
  • John Scott 145
  • Kittie Higler 170
  • Clifford 110
  • Jo Kinney Side Wheel 236
  • Geo. C. WolfeStern Wheel 195
  • Vice PresidentSide Wheel 165
  • Spread Eagle 175
  • JosieStern Whee l145
  • Abbott’s FerrySide Wheel 90
  • James F. Joy 145
  • Kate KinneyStern Wheel200
  • Fannie Tatum“175
  • B. L. Bastrop“155
  • Laura L. Davis“185
  • J. W. TalbotWharf-boat100
  • Russell HinkleyFerry-boat174
  • Ellen G. SmithSide Wheel160
  • MaumelleStern Wheel165
  • John TaylorFerry-boat115
  • Tom ParkerStern Wheel100
  • Belle“134
  • Dawn“160
  • U. P. Schenck“250
  • BonanzaSide Wheel265
  • Virgie LeeStern Wheel180
  • L. A. Sherley“220
  • Gen. Pike“220
  • Fannie Moore“175
  • John H. Hanna“180
  • Calumet“240
  • Port Eads“200
  • Alexandria“160
  • Lotus“185
  • Bald Eagle“200
  • EagleFerry-boat85
  • ParoleStern Wheel130
  • Fred A. BlanksSide Wheel260
  • A. T. JenksStern Wheel110
  • Moline“125
  • Menomine“120
  • Wiggins’ FerrySide Wheel200
  • C. W. ColesStern Wheel130
  • City of Frankfort“132
  • Judelle“100
  • Emma Etheridge“125
  • Nos. 1 & 2 TransferModel160
  • Nos. 3 & 4 U. P. Schenck“160
  • No. 5 Hare“165
  • Nos. 6 & 7, GouldScow150
  • No. 8, PatModel110
  • No. 9, Harry, Jr.“150
  • No. 10, Loyd, Jr.“150
  • No. 11, Ruth“150
  • No. 12, Charlie“150
  • No. 13, Pearse“180
  • No. 14, Noble“175
  • No. 15, Missouri No. 3“160
  • No. 16, Missouri No. 4“160
  • No. 17, Keokuk“175
  • No. 18, Jake“150
  • No. 19, Jerry“150
  • No. 20, Hill“100
  • No. 21, William“100
  • No. 22, Twenty-four“200
  • No. 23, Twenty-five“200
  • No. 24, Twenty-nine“200
  • No. 25, Forty-two“225
  • No. 26, Forty-three“225
  • No. 27, Forty-four“228
  • No. 28, Eighty-eight“225
  • No. 29, Wasp“100
  • No. 30, Surprise“125
  • 4,420

The following summary gives the length of all the boats and barges built at the yard during the time stated above:

BOATS: 10,216 feet
BARGES: 4,420 feet
TOTAL: 14,636 feet

Making a total length of 2 ¾ miles and 116 feet, at a total cost of $731,958. Add to this machinery, etc, and it will give a showing of at least $1,000,000 brought to Madison through the instrumentality of the yard. Our people should be proud of an institution that does so much to enrich our people.


As stated above the history of the yard has been an eventful and chequered one, from its incipiency in 1850 up to July 1878, when the present firm assumed control of it.

The original intention of the incorporators was to erect a rolling mill on the site, or near the present ship-yard. In 1850 a company was formed for that purpose, under the title of the “Madison Iron Manufacturing Company.” After incorporation they changed their plans, for some reason unknown to the writer, and determined to go into boat-building. A Mr. Murray, who had just completed the Cincinnati Marine Ways, was employed to build the Madison Ways, and completed them in the year 1852.

When the company was ready for business the ways were leased to Alexander Temple and Don C. Robinson, who commenced by building the steamers Golden Gate, 180 feet long, and the J. M. White, 300 feet long. They continued to build large and fine boats, doing good, honest work, and soon established for the ship-yard an enviable reputation.

A Great Disater

On the 2d day of July 1856, Messrs. Temple & Robinson met with a great disaster by the burning of their saw mill, mold loft, etc.; also a large boat nearly completed on the ways. This disaster for a time stopped operations at the yard. The company, being unwilling to rebuild, closed out their interest to Messrs. Temple & Robinson, who rebuilt the destroyed buildings and repaired the damaged ways, and run the yard successfully for some years.

Firms Changed by Sad Deaths

In 1865, Vance & Armstrong purchased the yard and run it until the death of Mr. Vance on the ill-fated steamer United States. The surviving partner, Mr. Henry Armstrong, being unable to conduct the business, it reverted to its original owner. Mr. Temple having died in 1867, Mr. Robinson re-sold the yard to J. R. Stuart & Co., the firm consisting of J. R. Stuart, Wm. H. Fry and D. C. Robinson. In less than a year the latter sold his interest to Benjamin F. Temple, son of Alex. Temple, who in about a year sold his interest to Stuart & Fry.

From 1869 to 1873 Messrs. Stuart & Fry conducted the business with great energy and success; but the panic of 1876, which paralyzed all business in the country, did not spare Madison, and the ship-yard felt its paralyzing hand. Added to all this came the melancholy death of John R. Stuart by drowning off the steamer Pat Rogers, on the fatal morning of August 5th, 1873, at Laughery Creek.

Mr. W. H. Fry, the surviving partner, employed the veteran boat-builder, Capt. Dan. H. Morton, to superintend the yard, and though always under a financial cloud, did a booming business for some years, turning out some splendid boats.

Building the Henry Probasco

One unfortunate venture of Stuart & Fry was the building of the side-wheel steamer Henry Probasco. She was 235 feet long, 36 feet beam and 6 2/3 feet depth of hold; engines 22 X 7 feet stroke, and cost about $40,000. Not being able to find a purchaser, Mr. Fry hired a captain and crew and run her himself. As might have been expected, from his inexperience, the thing was a failure, and, at the close of a losing trip to New Orleans, she was sunk on the Grand Chain, some miles above Cairo, Ill.

In addition to his shipyard interest, Mr. Fry was interested in the iron store of Maxwell, Fry & Thurston, at Indianapolis. Owing to a decline in the price of iron, this firm went into bankruptcy in 1876, carrying with it Mr. Fry and the old ship-yard, all involved in one financial ruin. The Sheriff sold all the personal property, and left the yard as clean as if an army of locusts had passed over it.

Five Years of Idleness

For five years this noble property lay idle, and everything and everybody in the west end of the city put on grave-yard appearance. The ship-yard’s weekly pay rolls gave life to that part of the city and when they could no longer be looked too, business was paralyzed. Many of the merchants removed to Jeffersonville and Cincinnati to obtain employment.

Organization of the Present Company

In July, 1878, under the management and untiring exertions of Charles A. Korbly, Esq., a joint stock company was formed, consisting of James Hargan, Charles Alling, F. W. Hablizel, S. M. Strader, James H. Crozier and D. C. Robinson, under the style of “The Madison Marine Railway and Ship-yard Co.” This Company bought in the interests of the three principal mortagage-holders, viz: Messrs. D. C. Robinson, G. W. Palmer and the Firemen & Mechanics’ Insurance Co., issuing stock therefore. Five Directors were chosen and officers as follows: James Hargan, President; S. M. Strader, Vice President; Charles A. Korbly, Secretary and Treasurer; D. C. Robinson, Superintendent.

The new firm had everything to contend with. No stock on hand, no tools, and boasted reputation and prestige of the yard gone. With many to say “God speed you,” but few to lend a helping hand. In spite of all these difficulties, the new Company has weathered the gale, more than regained the lost ground, and to-day the financial conditions and reputation of “The Madison Marine Railway and Ship-yard Co., for first-class work in every particular is second to no other establishment of the kind in the country. That it may continue to merit the success it has achieved is the wish of

Phelix Adair,
Madison, Ind, 
Feb. 3, 1882

note: Steamboat enthusiasts may want to compare the above list of STEAMBOATS with the Ways’ Packet Directory. There are some inconsistencies.

Madison's Civil War Steamers

Throughout the Civil War many steamers that were built, repaired, or upgraded at Madison served in the War Between the States. Like its contribution of soldiers, Madison served her country well in its maritime fight to preserve the Union.

During the Civil War, the shipyards of Madison were well-known as quick and efficient repair stations and upgrade facilities for the vessels serving in the Union navy. Today, however, very little documentation from that era survives and it is difficult to comment with any certainty on the ships built and serviced here, much less the day-to-day operation of the yards. Prior to the war, the United States Navy possessed only a small fleet of warships. With the outbreak of the Civil War, both the Union and Confederate governments were forced to lease or even seize many commercial steamers, impressing them into service as transport ships and gunboats. This stopgap measure helped both sides of the conflict to form makeshift fleets, adequate at least for river operations, however, the open waters off the Atlantic coast were a different story altogether. There the pre-war Union fleet of ocean-going vessels reigned supreme, blockading the Confederacy for almost the duration of the war.

In Madison, as well as many other ports along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, the Union government purchased or seized vessels on the docks to bolster the existing brownwater fleet. These steamers were then refurbished and sent out to carry supplies to the soldiers at the front or armored and armed with cannon and assigned a naval detachment to serve as floating artillery platforms for the many siege operations that took place on many southern rivers. Unfortunately, a list of the boats armored and upgraded at Madison yards does not exist, so at least for the time being we must rely on Way’s guide for Civil War information on ships actually built in Madison.

Of the steamboats built in Madison, over a dozen saw action in the Civil War, some as transport vessels, some as hospital ships, and some as gunboats. A number of the hulls built in Madison even went south, becoming Confederate naval vessels. Unfortunately, information on these few ships is difficult to come by.

While most of Madison’s Civil War steamers served in non-combatant roles, several were indeed armed and armored and saw action in many of the fiercest naval battles. The hull of the steamer De Soto was built at Madison and completed at New Albany. It seems this vessel had quite an interesting lifespan, operating first in the New Orleans trade until the outbreak of the war, when it was acquired by the United States Quartermasters Department. Sometime after 1861 it made its way south where it was captured as a Confederate gunboat in April of 1862 at Island 10. After its capture the De Soto had the distinction of conveying the wounded Commodore Andrew Foote to Cleveland, Ohio. Union forces renamed the vessel the General Lyon and upgraded its armor to that of a tinclad. It served as an armored gunboat until the war’s close.

Another boat acquired by the Union Navy was the steamer Emma Brown which United States forces seized immediately upon its completion. It was subsequently refitted as a tinclad and renamed the Gazelle. Like the General Lyon it also survived the war despite seeing substantial action. Perhaps the Madison vessel that witnessed some of the heaviest fighting was the somewhat deceivingly named Forest Queen. She served the Union throughout the war with her own crew and received a letter of commendation from General Sheridan after running the notoriously deadly Vicksburg batteries on April 17, 1865.

One Madison vessel that played a key role in the war effort was the City of Alton. This steamer was used to remove 10,000 muskets from the St. Louis Arsenal before a Confederate plot to seize them could be put into effect. The confiscation of these arms, carried out by city militia under cover of darkness, likely prevented the state of Missouri from joining the Confederacy.

Another boat whose hull was built in Madison was the steamer, City of Louisiana. In 1862 this vessel was chartered by the Union to serve as a hospital ship. She was refitted to accommodate the wounded and helped to remove over 3,000 injured soldiers after the battle of Shiloh. In 1863 the Union bought the vessel and renamed it the R.C. Wood, under which name it continued to serve the Sanitary Commission.

The City of Madison Disaster

While most of the vessels that saw Civil War action from Madison were leased by the Federal government or impressed into service from the private and commercial markets, several were built here under government contract. One of these was the unfortunate City of Madison.

Built for the United States Mail Line, the City of Madison was put to work hauling war supplies after the Civil War broke out. It followed the front through Tennessee and on August 19, 1863, just after taking part in Ulysses S. Grant’s expedition against Vicksburg, the City of Madison was peacefully moored at the docks of that town, preparing to steam downriver. Rounding off her full load of gunpowder with a shipment of percussion shells, the crew of the City of Madison stoked her engines and directed the workers securing the last of the cargo. What happened next is described by an eyewitness who, with some others of his unit, were detailed to pick up a load of hay near the docks that morning.

The Christie Account

“[A]bout noon, as we were leaving the levee, I saw a great cloud of smoke, flame, and steam, and a loud, prolonged roar as if a great gun had burst. But we soon learned that it was the City of Madison, a government transport, that had nearly completed her load of ammunition. I left the wagons and hastened in the direction of the scene of disaster, having about sixty rods to run. What a sight when I got to the boat, or where she had been, there she lay or what was left of her. A small portion of [the] upper deck and the stern besides the right hand wheelhouse, she was at the time of the horrible accident getting up steam so that she might proceed to Natchez. But as her load was not complete there was a large detail of as many as eighty men at work getting aboard the boxes of fixed ammunition, when unfortunately some careless or thoughtless person let a box of percussion shell fall, and it fell points down and then men and boat went up in one great cloud of smoke and flame. Men mangled, were thrown as much as one hundred yards from the boat, and ceased to breathe, boxes of ammunition were thrown up to a great height and fell among piles of the same that were on the levee. Tis said the captain’s family were on board, besides the deck hands, one hundred negroes were in the hold, stowing away the loading, and in fact I suppose there are over a hundred lives lost […] The Edward Walsh, a very large boat lying outside the City of Madison, is a total wreck as far as her upper works are concerned, there were a number of people hurt on her also.”

“Blowed to Atoms”

Another account of the explosion is given by a soldier who was loading her at the time of the accident. “On Aug. 19th, a lot of us were detailed to load a boat (the City of Madison) with ammunition at the Vicksburg wharf and while loading it we were placing boxes of percussion shells on hand barrows and carrying them onto the boat and some careless one dropped a box of shells and exploded them which ignited the powder and blowed the boat to atoms. A great many were killed and a great many others badly hurt and a good many other boats that lay near it was badly injured. I was on shore at the time and escaped unhurt."

The Conspiracy Theory

As an accident, the explosion of the City of Madison is a tragic event, but information contained in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion may point to a far more sinister cause for the disaster. According to a letter dated April 25, 1865 from the Provost-Marshal-General of Missouri, J.H. Baker, to C.A. Dana, Assistant Secretary of War, the City of Madison, along with at least a dozen other cases of burnt vessels, were the work of covert Confederate arsonists. The letter cites a confession of one of the saboteurs who states that Confederate Secretary of State J.P. Benjamin agreed to pay him and his conspirators $50,000 for their actions “provided those claims of the Louisville matter (burning of Government medical stores last year) were all right.” The report goes on to list nineteen of the arsonists by name and residence with additional remarks for some such as “Supposed to be in rebel lines”, “In Gratiot Prison”, “Can arrest him any time”, and “Came voluntarily and exposed the others; afterward left suddenly; am looking for him.”

Though the destruction of the City of Madison is often claimed to have been an accident and local papers even cite conversations with eyewitnesses, many of the sources seem to have inferred the ultimate cause of the disaster from reports they heard later. Few of the eyewitnesses were in a position to view the fateful slip that all believe doomed the vessel. A more interesting and certainly more controversial theory is that Confederate saboteurs planted on the vessel several pieces of “loaded” coal, large chunks of coal that had been sawed in half, hollowed out, and packed with explosives. These deadly bombs would have been indistinguishable from the rest of ship’s fuel supply and as the City of Madison was “getting up steam” at the time of the explosion, her loaders would have been shoveling coal into the engines at a furious rate. Pending this historian’s perusal of the court documents relating to the trial of the man who allegedly confessed to destroying the City of Madison, the issue will have to remain unsolved.

Madison Dry Docks Company

For a time Madison could boast having two steamboat building concerns in the little town. The Madison Marine Railway and Boat Yards had been well established since its first boat “Golden Gate” slid into the Ohio River in 1852, but to some it seemed the town and the steam boating business could support another yard. To that end, in January, 1860 the firm of Louis H. Vance, Henry Thompson, Joseph Brashear, Thomas McClelland, Samuel Beatty and William McClelland organized a new company and called it the Madison Dry Dock Company. The first boat to be built by them was a ferryboat for Joseph Abbott for use between Madison and Milton, Kentucky. The frame for it was laid before the dry dock had been constructed. The keel was laid between the old pork house and the railroad track, which runs to the riverbank, below the ruins of the Palmetto Mills. The ferryboat raised steam for the first time and moved into the current on May 29th, 1860 and a new boat and a new boat yard were launched.

Immediately following the completion of the ferryboat, the dry docks were built. Its dimensions were, “192 feet in length, 52 feet in width and 11 feet in depth.” (footnote 1) It was finished in the summer of 1860 and shortly thereafter the first boat was placed on the docks for repair. The boat was the “Ida May” and she was one of many to be repaired there. The local newspaper mentions many boats being repaired, reconstructed or reconfigured at both the Madison Dry Docks and the Madison Marine Railways and Boat Yards. The riverfront at Madison during the early 1860’s must have been a center of activity and, with the coming of the Civil War, even more business would be centered on the boats yards.

On May 22, 1863 the Madison Evening Courier noted,

“The following steamboats are now being constructed by the Madison Dry Dock Company:

The “Caroline”, Capt. Tally. This boat is so nearly finished that she will be prepared to receive freight in a few days. We give her dimensions: 155 feet in length, 32 feet beam, and 5 feet hold. She has two engines, with 16 inch cylinder, and 4 ½ feet stroke. Two boilers, 22 feet in length; and 44 in. diameter, with five flus.

A boat for Capt. F. Burnett: 160 feet in length, 34 feet beam, and five feet hold. Two engines, with 16 inch cylinders and 4 ½ feet stroke. Two boilers, 22 feet in length, and 44 inches in diameter, with five flus. She will be ready to launch in about three weeks.

A stern-wheel boat for Capt. W. H. Keyt: 126 feet in length, 20 feet beam, and 4 feet hold. Two engines, with 10 inch cylinders, and 3 feet stroke. Two boilers, 16 feet in length, and 42 inches in diameter, with two flues. Will be launched in about ten days.

Also, a side-wheel boat for Capt. Crane: 180 feet in length, 32 feet beam, and 4 ½ feet hold. Two engines with 18 inch cylinders, and 5 feet stroke. Two boilers, 26 feet in length, 48 inches in diameter, with four flues.

The hulls for all of them are being built by the Dry Dock Company. The cabin for the Caroline is being constructed by A. F. Temple, under the superintendence of Mr. George Spangler.

Messrs. Crawford & Davidson, of the Indiana Foundry, are building the engines for the whole of them, and in order to finish up their contracts in time they have been compelled to enlarge their Machine Shop and employ an additional number of hands. They are obliged to run a portion of the time night and day.

Messrs. Campbell, Speigle & Co. have the contract for making the boilers, and are progressing finely with them. The sheet-iron and steam-pipe work is being done by Mr. H. H. Armstrong.

In addition to the above, Messrs. Crawford & Davidson have built the machinery for a new boat made at Louisville, which was towed to the city yesterday to receive her machinery. 
The Marine Railway Company have also some two or three steamboats in process of erection, but we have been unable to get their dimensions.”

This level of activity seems to have continued through the war but with its conclusion the yard was sold. Whether this was due to decreased demand or the partners broke up and moved on to other pursuits is not stated. They may have, being keen businessmen, seen the downturn in boat building coming. In any event, one of the partners, Mr. Joseph Brashear states the yard was sold in the spring of 1865 to Captain Henry C. Watts and others and in October of 1865 John A. Porter, Nickolas Gratz and J. Hummel are noted in the local paper as part owners.

Joseph Brashear states that, “They erected a roof over the entire dock and loaded the dock with hay. They put 1,650 tons on her. She was taken in tow by the steamer Hazell Dell and taken to New Orleans. After disposing of the hay, Watts & Co. sold her to some New Orleans parties who used her for docking small crafts.” (footnote 2) Just when this was done is unknown but it must have been sometime in late 1865 as the “Hazel Dell”, according to Way’s Packet Directory, was snagged and lost at Demopolis, Alabama on January 5, 1866.

If these calculations are correct, the Madison Dry Dock Company was in business for only about five years. Those five years were perhaps the most turbulent in steamboat history on the rivers of the United States. It was when the steamboat was at the peak of its popularity and the “art of war” had come into its own on the river.

The following is a list of boats built at the Madison Dry Dock Company as remembered by Joseph Brashear, part owner. It is, no doubt, a partial list and will be added to as information becomes available.

Name - Year & Type - Originally Constructed for, Captain in Charge or Destination

  • UnionFerryboat -    -  Captain John Abbott for use on the Ohio River between Madison and Milton, Kentucky
  • O’Conner Ferryboat  -     - New Albany, Indiana
  • Fannie Brandeis1  - 864-Stw p - Captain Thomas Boles-Evansville
  • Mattie Cook - 1860-Stw p - Captain Adam Liter-Green River
  • Unknown -   - Two barges Memphis Packet Co.
  • Carolina (Caroline) - 1860-Stw p - Captain Isaac Talley, F. L. Dubach & Pearl Starch Co.Madison to Cincinnati Trade
  • Fantom (Phantom) - 1864-Stw p - Captain Charles Irwin of Madison
  • Lucy Ferryboat -   - Captain Taylor, Hamilton, MO
  • Indiana - 1864-SW p - Captain R. E. Neal
  • Calumet - 1865-Stw p - Captain Phil Anshutz
  • Mollie Gratz - Stw p - Louisville & Evansville trade
  • Nannie Byars (Byers) - 1863-Stw p - W. H. Keyt

Footnote 1: Biographical and Historical Souvenir, John M. Gresham & Company, Chicago, 1889
Footnote 2: Ibid.

William Hoyt: Inventor of the Calliope

After the great debate of 1848 when Mr. Hoyt, probably with good reason, claimed the rights to the invention of the rail cog system used on the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad, and lost, he
was once again embroiled in controversy involving, this time, of all things the calliope.

In 1851 the Dayton Journal and Advertiser ran the following article:

“Jenny Lind is about to be thrown in the background by a process of music making recently discovered by Mr. William Hoyt of Dupont, Indiana. Mr. Hoyt asserts that he has invented a plan by which music can be produced on steamboats, of the softest and most pathetic character by the agency of steam. His method is, to place across the boilers in a horizontal position a pipe of such length and size as may be proper for the purpose; both ends of course are tight. In or near the center must be a connection to let steam into the pipes. Upon the top of the horizontal pipe are placed seven or more small pipes in a perpendicular position, and at a suitable and convenient height, and in the top of these are inserted whistles of different sizes and tones. These whistles are so constructed as to turn up or down in such a way as to regulate the sounds while turning them, and a set of keys have also been introduced to let on the steam or shut it off when necessary in the same manner as the pedals press on a piano.”

It goes on to say that Mr. Hoyt states: “I am satisfied that music can be made on a boat or locomotive as well as it can be played with a brass instrument, and much cheaper, much louder, and without any loss of steam, as there is always a surplus while landing, whilst at the wharf and when leaving. It is my candid opinion that the Western boys will hear “Old Dan Tucker”, “Auld Lang Syne”, etc, played in Western waters by steam at a distance of ten miles”.

The Madison Courier on June 14, 1851 confirms Mr. Hoyt’s claim as follows:

“A Mr. William Hoyt of Indiana says he has invented a plan by which music of softest and most pathetic character may be produced on steamboats by agency of steam. It appears that the steam is made to operate upon a number of pipes, placed across the boilers of the boat, furnished with certain whistles governed by a set of keys by which steam is let on, or shut off at will. Our Dupont neighbor is destined to make noise in this world.”

Perhaps Mr. Hoyt, after his disappointing experience of 1848, had had enough of patents, because in 1855, J. C. Stoddard of Worchester, Massachusetts is generally credited with inventing the calliope.