River To Rail: Boats & Captains

River to Rail has thus far has addressed the big picture, but the individual boats and the captains who piloted them have wonderful stories of their own. Let us begin with the Riverboats.



Nannie Byers: An Ill-Fated Madison Boat

The Madison Courier, on July 22nd, 1863 remarked, “Capt. Keyt’s new boat, Nannie, made her trial trip a few days since and gave entire satisfaction. She is a very light draft boat, drawing a little less than fifteen inches, and runs exceedingly well. With such an officer as Capt. Keyt, the Nannie cannot fail to be a general favorite, in whatever trade she may run. She was built at the Dry Docks Yard in this city.” 
On February 24, 1866 the People’s Line steamer “C. E. Hillman”, upward bound, collided with the Cincinnati & Memphis packet, Nannie Byers just above and in sight of Madison at about 2 o’clock in the morning. To add to the confusion, the night was dark and rainy with a high wind. The Nannie Byers was cut down and sank within four minutes of the contact, turning over completely in the churning waters. Those who were lucky enough to struggle out of their state rooms found themselves swept into the water, confused and dazed, not knowing which way lay the shore. The second mate managed to save a lady thrashing about in the choppy waters and some floated to the shore on bits and pieces of debris, but many were not to be so lucky. Five members of one family, the Griffiths from Ohio, perished, leaving only one daughter surviving. A young soldier named Gander would be buried with honors by his comrades and a father and son would died together in their stateroom. For days the bodies would be discovered along the shore, passengers and crew alike. They were all solemnly attended to by the citizens in Madison.

The exact cause of the wreck was hard to determine. It was probably a combination of bad weather and bad luck. It seems that both boats had given a passing whistle but the Nannie Byers at some point became unmanageable and slithered half way around in the current at which time the “C. E. Hillman’s” bow struck her amidship. The Hillman was barely damaged but at least fifteen dead bodies attested to the horrible damage sustained by the “Nannie Byers”.

Captain Keyt had left the boat at Cincinnati and she was in the charge of Captain W. J. Rusk, a hard luck captain who, in his career, managed to lose seven boats under his command. Captain Keyt came from Cincinnati to console his crew and offer assistance where he could, but little could be done.

The “Nannie Byers” was purchased by the Madison Marine Ways. After all, she was already sitting practically in the yards when she came to rest. She was rebuilt there and name the “George D. Palmer”.

On April 12, 1867 the newspaper reported,

“It will be remembered that on the morning of the 23rd of February, 1866 the steamer C. E. Hillman, then in the employ of the People’s Louisville & Cincinnati line, and the steamer Nannie Byers, collided near this city, by which the latter boat was sunk, and proved a total loss. Notwithstanding the Board of Inspectors pronounced against the Byers, her owners at once instituted suit against the People’s line for damages. The case has been pending in the courts for over a year, and a day or two ago was compromised by the owners of the Byers receiving eighteen thousand five hundred dollars, and the suit being dismissed at the cost of the defendants.”

Mattie Cook

From the Wednesday, May 11, 1887 edition of the Hartford Herald News in Grayson County, Kentucky.

When the vast cane-brakes covered nearly the entire section know as the bluegrass region of Kentucky, and when lurking Indians made every thicket an ambush from which to shoot down and scalp the earliest white settlers, there came from Pennsylvania a man of German decent and whose name was Liter.

Among the children left by him was Henry the father of the subject of this sketch. The family lived three years at Bryant’s Station, for protection against the savages. Henry was but a child and when he grew to manhood married Mary Ament, one of the earliest natives of the section.

This happened in Bourbon County, where July 14, 1822 in a family of seven children Adam Liter was the sixth born to them. The means of procuring an education were scant in those days and it was common among the best minds to procure their learning after maturity and by their own efforts. That Adam Liter is a well informed man is due to his own efforts As a youth he helped on the farm, but his ambition took him abroad in various vocations — a part of this time as confectioner in Madison, Ind. Failing health caused him to engage in running flat boats on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and afterwards lead to a career of steam boating, in which he was successful and popular along the rivers on which he ventured.

For many years he owned boats with which he plied the Green and Barren rivers between Bowling Green and Evansville. Occasionally he also ventured on the Ohio, Mississippi and Wabash.

At the breaking out of the Civil War he owned two boats which were taken by the government. In 1863 he built two more and these were also pressed into government service, armed and added to what was called the “TIN-CLAD FLEET.” He built other boats and sold them. He also leased and operated a coal mine near Scottsville on Green River. It was while boating on the Green River that he bought several farms, aggregating 1,000 acres, on the great bend opposite South Carrollton on which he settled in 1871 and on which he has displayed the same good judgment as in other enterprises. He is known as a progressive farmer and no one is more posted in the practical lessons of agriculture and stock raising. He takes several agricultural papers and applies modern machinery to his farming operations.

Capt. Liter was married in 1846 to Sarah C. Foster of Cincinnati, Ohio and has two sons living. He has always voted Democratic ticket is a Baptist in religion and has been an Odd Fellow since he became of age. Though often pressed by political friends to stand for representative from his county, he has never offered for that or any other office. His aspiration now seems to be to close an active life amid his stacks of grain and lowing herds where the black smoke of the steamers, which daily pass nearly around his farm, will remind him of the times and the enterprises by which he gained his well earned title of Captain


Maggie Harper

In July of 1877 Captain Henry C. Harper contracted with the NAVY YARD for a new light draft steamboat to run between Madison and the upper locks of the Kentucky River. Alfred Knowles, Ben Temple and Isaac Thacker began immediately working on construction of the boat. She would be called the “Maggie Harper”, a namesake of the captain’s oldest daughter. The contract for building the cabin was let to Oscar Trigg and William Brydon, joiners. Walch and Halfenburger of the Indiana Foundry of Madison began rebuilding the machinery of the old steamer ”Dove” for use on the “Maggie Harper”.

By September 4th, the local newspaper noted that the “Maggie Harper” would soon be launched and invited people to attend the event. On the 11th of that month the boat was “skidded” to the river’s edge to await an anticipated rise in the river which soon came and she was towed to Johnson’s levee to receive her machinery.

On September 29th the Madison Evening Courier printed a detailed description of the “Maggie Harper” as follows:

“HONOR TO WHOM HONOR IS DUE-Capt. Henry C. Harper, who as everybody knows has been untiring in his efforts to please the citizens of Madison and other towns between Carrollton and Louisville, has just finished another new boat, the Maggie Harper, named very appropriately after his daughter. The hull and upper works are by Isaac Thacker & Co. Length 133 feet by 32 feet beam, 4 feet 7 inches depth of hold. Two boilers 24 feet long by 38 inches in diameter, of best quality of steel and bear a test of 276 pounds, allowing her 186 pounds steam pressure. Captain Houghton says he never had a more satisfactory or higher test in all of his experience. Walsh and Halfenberger put up the engines, which are 13 1/4 inches cylinder by four feet in stroke. Her cook house has one of Bridgeford & Son’s cooking ranges in it, and John Adams furnished the kitchen furniture. The pantry ware was furnished by Mr. Frank J. Prenatt, of the city, and is very complete and handsome. Her cabin contains 26 state-rooms, two of them being double. The mattresses, pillows and bedding, also the furniture are from Dickenson & Co., Louisville, Ky., and all are of the best manufacture. Messrs. J. Hoffstadt & Sons, of this city, furnished and fitted up the carpets, which are of a light color and a fine texture of Brussels. The marble fixtures of the barber shop and wash room by James H. Crozier & Co. are of the usual fine quality turned out by that firm. Taking altogether the new steamer is a thing of beauty and grace. Persons should bear in mind that she leaves to-morrow at one o’clock, with Capt. Bob King on the roof, J. Mike Giltner in the office and jolly Chris Bader as the chief of the commissariat. In conclusion we will add that the Maggie Harper is complete in every respect, having steam capstans, swing stages, &c.”

The “Maggie Harper” served long and well mostly running between Carrollton, Kentucky and Louisville, Kentucky, but in 1879 she was brought to the Madison Marine Ways for an overhaul. The Madison Courier announced:

“The steamer Maggie Harper comes off the Marine Ways looking like a young girl in love, all smiles and blushes. While she has been out her hull has been strengthened with new timbers and plankings, her texas lengthened and the pilot-house put on top. Her chimneys have an addition of two rings; also a full coat of paint inside and out. She is drawing about fifteen inches of water now, which is a little less (about four inches) than when taken out. She will come up to the city on Thursday and resume her place in the trade Friday, leaving here at 12 o’clock, noon, for Louisville.”

In late October, 1881 the boat had a near miss when she had sixteen timbers broken at Were’s Landing. The wind blew the vessel back upon a log just as she was leaving the shore and she again entered the Marine Ways for work. Upon completion of repairs she returned to work as usual.

The “Maggie Harper” met stiff competition from newer boats in the mid 1880’s and she was taken out of local service after many long years on the Ohio.

Louis A. Sherley

The Louisville and Cincinnati Mail Line Company contracted with the Madison Marine Railways in early April of 1876 for the building of a boat. It was to be a light draft stern wheel steamer for low water trade and to be completed by the 4th of July. The early specifications were: The hull to be 210 feet long, 34 foot beam and 4 ½ feet depth of hold. It was to have two engines. The cylinders of the engines were to be 16 ½ inches in diameter with 6 feet length of stroke. The two boilers were to be of steel each 44 inches in diameter, 26 feet long and containing 6 lap-welded flues, each 10 inches in diameter. The Marine Railways immediately went to work on the steamboat.

By the middle of May the cylinders for the engine were cast and the new steamer was nearly all planked. While the work was progressing as predicted, there was one change to be made. The original name chosen for the boat was the “Specie” but on June 20th it was announced she would bear the name “ Louis A. Sherley” after a son of Z. M. Sherley who had died in Louisville two years earlier. By this time the boat was nearing completion. It was predicted to be as fast and beautiful as any made anywhere. “The boys at the yard have taken a great deal of pains to make her as perfect a steamboat as ever ran the Ohio”.

On July 5th it was announced the new mail steamer, “Louis A. Sherley” got up steam and made a run of a few miles with the intention of testing her machinery. Everything seemed to be satisfactory. It can be surmised that she endured a bit more fine tuning and then on July 22nd the Madison Courier published the following article:

“The Mail Company’s new steamer Louis A. Sherley raised steam this morning and took her departure for Cincinnati to receive her cabin furniture and elegance, and another monument to the skill of Capt. Dan Morton and Madison mechanics as boat builders. The Mail Company contracted for the boat complete, and after a trial trip and a thorough examination are well pleased with the Sherley in every particular as regards draft and speed. Every article that enters into the composition of a steamboat is of the best material, and the workmanship cannot be surpassed. The boat is 220 feet long, 34 feet beam, with 4 ½ feet hold. She is furnished with a full length cabin and an unusually large hall; 38 large, airy state rooms. Her machinery consists of two 47 inch boilers 26 feet long, with six 10 in lap welded flues. In each; two 16 ½ inch cylinders with 6 feet stroke to drive an 18 feet wheel, with 25 feet of bucket; a doctor engine to supply the boilers and force the water to all portions of the boat.—The machinery was built by Messrs. Welch & Halfenberger, of the Indiana foundry, and reflects credit upon the young and energetic firm.. They are plain but work with the precision of the machinery of a lever watch, and so substantial that they will wear out half a dozen boats. Messrs. Hoffstadt & Sons of this city furnish the carpets and curtains, which speak volumes in their favor when we reflect that they had to compete with all the carpet houses in Cincinnati. The Sherley will certainly be one of the fastest and lightest-draft boats on the river, and necessarily must prove a success as a low water boat. She is supplied with all the modern conveniences as a freight boat, and when not needed for the low-water season in the passenger trade between Cincinnati and Louisville can be advantageously run in larger trades as a freighter.”

For the trip to Cincinnati her captain was Dan Morton, her pilot Henry Thomas and her engineer Charles Marshall. She was to be delivered over to the mail company and it was noted, tongue in cheek, that Captain Morton was to make the presentation speech; he carried the manuscript in his coat pocket, for it was seen sticking out—with a cork in it.

On August 7th it was noted that Captain Samuel F. Hildreth, of the Ben Franklin, will be in command of the Sherley and James Browinski in charge of the office. It had been noted a few days earlier in the local newspaper that: “Captain Sam Hildreth, of the steamer Ben Franklin, is a veteran in the boat business. Thirty years ago he was the commander of a steamer called the “Industry” running to Pittsburg, and during a high stage of water with a strong current while running close to shore, an ox team traveling along the road that wound along the river bank, came up and bantered the Captain for a race. The Captain accepted, and the Industry put to the top of her speed, but with all she could do, the ox team passed the boat inside of a mile.” Perhaps the oxen taught Captain Hildreth a lesson because the “Sherley” became well known for her performance on the river, running over 700 trips by December of 1878, missing only five trips.

Effie Deans: Civil War Riverboat

Captain Frank Burnett supervised the building of the “Effie Deans” at Madison, Indiana during the summer of 1863. He was described as “a gentleman and a good fellow, as well as an accomplished officer”. The “Effie Deans” was built 159 feet by 35 feet at the beam and with a 5 foot hold. She was fitted out and finished on the same plan as other Keokuk packets and had accommodation for 100 passengers. As soon as the finishing strokes were applied to her, he sold the “Effie Deans” for a neat $6,000 profit. Captain E. A. Shipley bought it while it still sat at the building docks for the Keokuk Packet Company. The boat left Madison About the 15th of August, 1863 with Captain Shipley as her master. Persons who had freight to ship were informed the boat would depart from Madison at 4 p. m. She worked trips to New Orleans and up the Missouri.

During the last years of the war, the Native Americans of the west began, in earnest, to press for the return of their lands. Only a handful of U. S. soldiers in scattered forts existed to defend the civilians in the area. With this end in mind, General Grant decided to send a contingent of “galvanized soldiers” (*footnote 1) to the west and in the summer of 1864, six companies of galvanized soldiers (also called U. S. Volunteers) were gathered in St. Louis where 600 of them boarded the “Effie Deans” which was to make the 600 mile trip to Fort Rice in the Dakota Territory. However, due to low water in the Missouri River, the “Effie Deans” could not proceed to her appointed destination and found it necessary to abandon her pathetic cargo. The men, with only meager rations and unsuitable clothing, were forced to march the last 270 miles. They finally arrived at Fort Rice on October 17 after a grueling struggle. (*footnote 2)

This boat accomplished a phenomenal voyage in 1864. She left St. Louis in April, traveled to Fort Benton and back, a distance of 4,500 miles. On her return to St. Louis she was sent down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico when she encountered the Alabama River and traveled to Montgomery. She made the return trip in the same season. She did all of this, arriving back in St. Louis without accident or incident. The whole distance of this incredible journey was 8,276 miles.

The “Effie Deans” was burned and lost at St. Louis on April 7, 1866, a little less than three years after her construction began.

  • footnote 1: The word galvanized usually refers to a metal coated with zink to protect it from corrosion. The surface color may change but the metal beneath the coating remains the same. The word was used during the civil war to describe soldiers who were captured and to avoid the horrors of a prison camp, they change sides. They color of uniform changed the outward look of the men but beneath the uniform they did not change allegiance.
  • footnote 2: Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, St. Louis


The “Caroline” began taking on her first cargo about May 15, 1863. She was built in Madison by the Dry Docks Company and left Madison on her first trip on June 4 with Captain Talley in charge. Her dimensions were 155 feet in length, 32 feet in width and with a 5 foot hold. She boasted two engines with 17 inch cylinders, a 4 1/2 foot stroke; two boilers, 22 feet in length, 43 inches in diameter and six flues. The cabin of the “Caroline” was tastefully done with one end adorned with a painting of the new boat being built at the Dry Docks and the surrounding area.

She was owned by Captain Talley, F. L. Dubach and the Pearl Starch Company with Captain Talley in charge. James G. Wilson was her first clerk and John Phillips filled the position of second clerk. Shortly after, on June 18, 1863, it was announced that Captain (Charles) David had chartered her to replace the ill fated “Prioress” that had burned at Cincinnati in April of 1863. She was to make the Madison to Cincinnati run. She was to fill in also for the “Bostona” during low water season.

The “Caroline” was later in New Orleans (1866-1868) running the New Orleans-Arkansas River and also ran to Shreveport (1869). She was lost on the Red River in 1870.

Tom Jasper

During the first week of April 1867 Captain Frank Burnett closed a contract with the steamer “Sherman” to transport from Cairo to Madison the machinery for a new St. Louis and Quincy steamboat to be built at the Madison Marine and Railways boatyard. A few days later Captain Burnett resigned his command of the “Mollie McPike” (built in Madison in 1864) and on April 9th Captain Burnett arrived in Madison to personally superintend the building of the boat. Ten thousand feet of pine and oak had been rafted to the boatyard and stood ready for the carpenters to begin their work. By the 11th the “Sherman” was underway with seventy tons of machinery. Among this cargo were the old boilers from the “Eclipse” of 1852. Madison mechanics were to rework and fit them up for installation in Burnett’s new boat. On May the 8th John C. Crosley commenced work on the cabin and on the 10th the Courier mentioned that Captain Lew Vance was out in the woods “selecting a couple of large oak trees from which to manufacture the cylinder timber for Captain Burnett’s new boat. He found them in the same forest from which the Richmond’s timbers were taken.”

As June began, work had progressed on the boat to the point that she would soon be turned over to the painters. The shafts were installed on the 5th of June and on the 13th Captain Burnett officially bestowed the name “Tom Jasper” on the new boat. The “Tom Jasper” was launched from the boatyard on June 24th, minus her machinery. The Ohio River was falling rapidly and she was to be taken below the falls to receive her machinery and finishing touches for fear the river would get too low for her to get over the falls and she was too large to go through the canal.

On July 31, 1867 the Daily Courier stated, “The steamer Tom Jasper, now approaching completion at New Albany is intended for the St. Louis and Quincy trade, and is, in many respects, superior to any steamer in the line, as she is provided with all the modern improvements. The Jasper was built for Capt. Frank Burnett by Vance & Armstron, at Madison, Indiana and was taken to New Albany in an unfinished state for completion. Length of hull, 250 feet; breadth of beam, 41 feet; floor, 36 feet; depth of hold, 6 ½ feet. The cylinders are each 26 inches in diameter, and 7 feet stroke, and are supplied by 6 five-flued boilers, 86 inches in diameter and 24 feet long.”

On August 9th there was some excitement on the “Tom Jasper” while lying at the wharf in New Albany. It seems a prepared supper had been placed on the steam table in the pantry and the engineer had been ordered to turn on the steam to keep it warm. The table had never been tested and to the surprise of everyone there was a small explosion, breaking the heavy iron plate in two and sending food in every direction. Steaks, chops and fried cakes were adhered to the ceiling and broken china littered the area. It was surmised some malfunction of the pipes had occurred causing an explosion and a delayed supper.

The “Tom Jasper” was completed and ready to proceed but low water kept her at New Albany for several more days.

However, on August 24th the Madison Daily Courier reported,

“The steamer Tom Jasper, built at this city by Vance & Armstrong, has just taken her place in the St. Louis and Keokuk packet trade. The Louisiana Republican and Quincy (Ill.) Herald contain glowing accounts of the Jasper’s reception all along the route, and pay high compliments to her builders, Vance & Armstrong, and to John C. Crosley, the architect and builder of her cabin. Peddie & Neill, of this city, her painters, also come in for a share of praise, and G. P. Mellen for the superior quality of her plated ware.”

The St. Louis Dispatch of the 17th stated,

“The first trip of the new Quincy packet Tom Jasper created a perfect furore at every point between St. Louis and Quincy. The people at every town flocked on board and gave her such a welcome as to dispel doubts as to her success. Everybody expressed themselves delighted, and passed high encorniums on every department, but more especially on her outfit, which was acknowledged to be superior to any thing on the Upper Mississippi. The furnitures, carpets, chandeliers, and mirrors attracted much attention. Large delegations of citizens at Louisiana and Hannibal flocked to the landing on her approach, and as she touched the wharf, band of music commenced playing. Captain Burnett was called out at every point and speeches full of hope and promise for the success of the new enterprise were showered in a manner that leaves no doubt that the people between here and Keokuk are with him heart and hand in his new enterprise. At Quincy there was a perfect jam. Men, women and children, from every quarter, rushed aboard, and extended the right hand of fellowship to Captain Barnett, which made his hart dilate with joy. He had little thought that the sympathies of the people were so much enlisted in his cause.”

The accolades and applause may have been a bit premature as the “Tom Jasper: never quite lived up to such great expectations. It seems the boilers from the old “Eclipse” were not powerful enough for her 27” cylinders and as a result she was one of the slower large Upper Mississippi packets. On November 27, 1871 the “Tom Jasper” sank below Cairo, Illinois, but was raised. She returned to Cairo on November 25th for repairs but her freight was considerably damaged.

She was sold to the St. Louis and St. Paul Packet Company for far less than her original price of about $70,000. The hull was reconfigured and a new power plant was installed and was, at last, making money for her owners. She now carried the name “Centennial” but her success was short lived because in February of 1879 she was caught in the ice at on the Mississippi and was destroyed, or was she? See our article on the CENTENNIAL to find out what really happened.


If it were true that the “Centennial” was dismantled in 1879, as stated in Way’s Packet Directory, it must have been a great shock to Captain T. A. (Thomas) Davidson, who in late 1881 contracted with Captain D. C. Robinson of the Madison Marine Ways to add 18 feet to her length.

The Madison Evening Courier noted on December 2, 1881:

“Captain D. C. Robinson, of the Madison Marine Ways, says the Centennial, on her way from St. Louis to Madison, will not be cut in half to be lengthened, but will receive a new stern modeled after the St. Louis & St. Paul packet Gem City. The Centennial was built from the hull of Tom Jasper, which was lengthened and widened. Her new stern will make a still further change. At present she is a 1, 300 ton boat and has been running between St. Louis and New Orleans. She will work a 17 foot bucket when she again turns a wheel.”

On December 5th the Evening Courier added,

“The big Centennial arrived here from St. Louis on Saturday night. She is to be pulled out and a new and improved stern built on her. This will add 18 feet more to her length, which will then be 320 feet, the longest boat, we believe, in the Western or Southern water, except one—the Ed Richardson, which is 325 feet long. The Centennial is probably the biggest boat our marine ways has ever tackled but with their improved machinery and newly repaired ways they will be able to manage her. Capt. T. A. Davidson and Clerk G. D. Marsh who brought the boat around will remain here while she is being repaired—our citizens will find them clever, genial gentlemen.”

Mr. G. D. Marsh stated she was as large a boat as was ever taken out here, but size was not the big problem for the Marine Ways. The river had commenced to rise in December and it continued its advance into January of 1882. Rising waters stopped work on the boat at least four times. On January 20th the worst was realized. The flood waters were up to the boiler deck and ready to flow into her cabin. A windstorm, so strong it was “pushing the river backwards” came in and the waves battered her sides. Crews worked through the night to put her in a more favorable position, and by morning it looked like she was safe. While the men waited they watched the water and rain tear apart buildings and send them careening down the river. People scrambled to higher ground and all the while the shrieking winds battered what the floods hadn’t washed away. They waited for the weather to “play out” and it finally did.

The first week of March saw the “Centennial” aswarm with carpenters and mechanics. All was progressing nicely and Captain Davidson ordered her to be measured. With the added length she was now 324 feet, 6 inches long, probably the longest boat on the river. At the end of March, after still another delay because of high water, she has been on the Ways for four months.

Finally, on the morning of April 17, 1882 the big boat made a trial trip, and departed for her line (between St. Louis and New Orleans) in the afternoon. On the 18th the Evening Courier ran this article,


The remarkable experience of the steamer Centennial since hauled out on the Marine Ways, early in the winter has attracted the attention of our people more perhaps than any vessel that has ever been on the cradles here. The repeated interruptions by water and her perilous position during the flood, created an anxiety for her safety and a sympathy for her owners among all classes of our citizens, and her name became as familiar as any of our local packets. The announcement that she would make a trial trip in front of the city yesterday before her final departure for St. Louis attracted a crowd and the shore was lined with people in front anxious to see the gallant vessel that had successfully passed through such tribulation during the past four months. About 10 o’clock yesterday morning the shrill silvery sound of her whistle at the shipyard signaled that all was ready. She backed out, straightened herself and steamed up the river, passed the city and was saluted by the spectators that lined the shore with a general waving of hats and handkerchiefs, She looked very handsome in her bright new suit of fresh paint.

After speeding her a few miles up the river to demonstrate that everything worked satisfactorily, she returned to the wharf where she took on board 3,000 bushels of coal. While at the landing she was visited by hundreds of our citizens who were courteously received and politely chaperoned over the massive vessel by Capt. Davidson and clerk George Marsh.

Her main cabin presents a handsome appearance, freshly painted in white and gilt, except the state-room doors which are purple and gold and on each door a handsome landscape view or portrait. The forward end of the cabin is ornamented with a well executed view of East St. Louis and the great bridge, and the after end with a view of South St. Louis, in all presenting the appearance of a beautiful floating panorama.

Speaking with Capt. Davidson in regard to the work upon his vessel, we expressed the hope that the aggravating delays in prosecuting the repairs had not given him an unfavorable opinion of Madison and her boat-builders. Said he, ‘I leave here with the satisfaction of knowing I have a better boat than it ever was before. My long sojourn has enabled me to form the acquaintance of some very clever gentlemen, and I can always say a good word for Madison and her boat builders. The Centennial would have been in the breakers of the flood at any other place, save one, and might have fared worse. The Madison mechanics, with D. C. Robinson directing affairs, can not fail to prosper. They do not work as rapidly, perhaps, as some other yards, but they do their work in first-class manner. With the facilities here and the cheap rate of rent and living, D. C. Robinson can make contracts and clear money where other yards would lose on the same work.’

The Centennial took away several Madisonians as a part of her crew viz: Mac Bondurant, mate; Joe Cowan, watchman; Charles and Fritz Metzheiser, cooks; Sam Medlicott, Peter Barrett, Wm. Courtney, John and Joe Sheridan, deck-men. The carpenter is Jon. Wykoff, of Keokuk, Iowa; the engineers, Ben. A. Hoffman and Oliver Bray, of St. Louis; pilots, L. T. Dix and A. Merker.

The “Centennial” was evidently not dismantled in 1879 and in 1882 she seems to be one of the larger boats on the river. When we find out what really happened to the “Centennial”, we will add an epilogue.

The Steamer Richmond

Steamboat building was a very competitive business. There was only a limited amount of business to go around and the newspapers often remarked on builders scurrying about trying to drum up business. Each new contract was considered a triumph over fellow builders.

In Madison especially, boat building was one of her major industries, employing hundreds of men, and the satellite industries of boat building employed hundreds more. Boat building wasn’t taken lightly and it would seem bragging rights were closely guarded, also. A case in point took place on April 5, 1867 when The Daily Courier published the following article concerning the building of its latest boat:


Charles H. Clarke, river editor of the Louisville Courier, has written a long and very elaborate description of the Steamer Richmond, but, with apparent intent, he has totally ignored her birth-place, the mechanics who built her, and the country that supplied the material. In fact the whole tenor of his article, which might properly be styled “a cunningly devised fable,” is evidently designed to lead the reader to believe the Richmond is a Louisville built steamer; whereas everybody ought to know she is anything else—that she is Madison (Ind) built, from stem to stern, from hull to texas deck. Mr. Clarke speaks in the highest terms of the architectural skill of the mechanics who fashioned this modern floating palace from the monarchs of the forest, but studiously avoids mentioning their names. He is particularly eloquent in his description of the conveniences and comforts of the cabin and state rooms, but fails to state that for the enjoyment of their things the traveling public are indebted to Mr. J. C. Crosley, builder and designer, of Madison. Mr. Crosley, however, can afford to look over this effort of Mr. Clarke to magnify Louisville mechanics, as his reputation as a steamboat cabin builder is not confined to a single steamboat. Specimens of his handiwork and taste can be seen on all of the Western rivers. The manner in which his work is and has always been appreciated can be illustrated by the fact that during the war the headquarters of the commanders of the flotillas that passed down the river, the flag-ships, we mean—were Madison built steamers, and their splendid cabins were designed and constructed by him. Not a plank or line was drawn on the Richmond’s cabin but by Mr. Crosley himself. We feel highly flattered by the following glowing description of her cabin, which is literally true, and a fitting tribute to the ingenuity and skill of Mr. Crosley and the master-workmen of Madison:

The ladies’ and gentlemen’s cabins inclusive, or as denominated, the main cabin, has an extreme length of three hundred and four feet, the longest, and, we may add, the most comfortably constructed of any boat that has ever been built on the Western waters. It is thirteen and one half feet in length, and lighted by an elevated sky-light, which extends the full length on either side, and can be thrown open in summer or warm weather, imparting a good draft, free circulation of air, or perfect ventilation.

The cabin is painted a decorated in most exquisite taste, the moldings and fret work are brought into relief by the skilful pencil of the artist, while the golden etchings along the elaborately carved ceiling, and the sketches of scenery and incidents interspersed at points calculated to catch the eye, as well as the happy blending of colors and shades throughout the whole vast space of this gorgeous hall, with the long array of tables of highly polished mahogany, the rich table covers, all of the most beautiful pattern and color, the genuine Moquette, imported directly from the celebrated manufactory in Prussia, and the rosewood state-room doors, all in unison, make the cabin of the Richmond complete.

The state rooms of the Richmond are the greatest attraction of the boat, being the largest and most comfortably arranged of any craft that has ever been built for the accommodation of passengers in the West. They are, in fact, parlor state-rooms, being twice the size of the rooms usually constructed on passenger steamers, as owners have generally planned their cabins and rooms, not for comfort or convenience, but almost solely for the purpose of crowding the greatest number of room intothe smallest amount of space. Now the Richmond, although the longest steamer on the water, with the largest cabin ever built, has no more state-rooms than boats half her size. She has but thirty five rooms on a side, or seventy in all; but each room is twelve feet long and nine feet wide—a perfect little parlor home—with a comfortable bed in one corner, tastefully dressed and made up of the best materials, as well as the richest, and draped with silk damask and Brussels lace, making it a perfect bijou of a palace. The front of the room is occupied by a center table, a bureau, chairs, mirror, wardrobe, toilet and washstand all complete, with space enough to serve a breakfast, or lunch, or supper, for a party of two or four to each room. In addition to this, the rooms are connected with each other by means of folding or sliding doors, so that two or four state-rooms can be thrown into one. In fact, all the rooms on either side are connected with each other by means of the inner or sliding door, on either side of which is an exquisitely contrived patent spring lock, which is under the exclusive control of the occupant of the room, a perfect burglar-defying lock.

“Mr. Clarke, afraid that the publication of his article in the columns of the paper alone would not accomplish his intention—to make believe that the Richmond is a Falls City built boat—has re-produced the same in pamphlet form, with a highly illuminated title page, for gratuitous distribution. The pamphlet, however, does greater credit to the printer than its contents do to the author, if we are correct in our conclusion as to what he wishes to convey to the minds of his readers.

The reputation of Madison as a boat building point is world-wide; and so long as she can boast such mechanics as Messrs. Vance and Armstrong, the builders of the hull of the steamer Richmond, ad Mr. Crosley, the designer and builder of her cabin, we have nothing to fear from such unfair attacks upon their well-earned laurels.

The Richmond will leave Louisville for New Orleans to-morrow, commanded by Captain J. Stut Neal, with our fellow-citizen Robert P. Lodge in the Clerk’s office.”

On April 9, 1867 the local paper offered more proof of the Richmond’s origin—“THE RICHMOND’S CABIN—_The New Albany Ledger_ pays Mr. Crosley, of this city, the following compliment: The cabin of the steamer Richmond was built by Mr. J. C. Crosley, at Madison, Indiana. In every regard the work of the cabin of the Richmond is superior to that of the Great Republic. There are no open seams, no scarifications of the plane, no axe and saw tooth marks upon it as upon the wood work of the Republic’s cabin. In point of mechanism the job is far ahead of the Pittsburg boat, and is highly creditable to the mechanics of Madison.”

One would think enough accolades had been strewn about to convince anyone, but the paper offered one more small bit of evidence from, of all places, the Dumfriesshire, Scotland Herald and Register, to-wit: “The Herald and Register, of March 22nd, publishes a full description of the great Madison-built steamer Richmond, written by its own correspondent. Unlike the river editor of the Louisville Courier , he renders ‘honor to whom honor is due’, giving all praise to the mechanics of Madison; and the Herald awards to Madison, Indiana, the credit of building the finest boat in the world. A full description of the Richmond is also published in the London Times.

If you would like more information on the “Richmond”, we refer you to WAY’S PACKET DIRECTORY. There you will find more interesting facts about a boat that probably never needed the aggressive defense she received from her “hometown” newspaper.

Virgie Lee & Julia No. 2

On May 15th, 1876, the Evening Courier quoted from the Cincinnati Sunday commercial that, “J. H. Stratton, of the Julia No. 2 has returned from Madison where he went to lay out the office of the new “Virgie Lee. He is more pleased than ever with the new boat, which he is satisfied will be faster than the Julia.”

The 27th of July saw that Captain Houghton, a United States steamboat inspector, was in Madison to inspect the boilers of the “Virgie Lee”. The inspection must have been a success because the next day it was reported, “The new steamer Virgie Lee left the shipyard yesterday to take her place in the Cincinnati and Kanawha river trade, being fully completed in every respect, and her machinery working like a charm. Her owners expressed themselves as well pleased with the boat throughout, and she goes forth as another card in favor of the Madison Marine Ways and the skill and ingenuity of Madison mechanics.” On September 8 in was reported that, “The Virgie Lee arrived from Cincinnati this morning with a big trip. She will leave for Cincinnati tomorrow morning-R. H. Morrow, master.”

It has been speculated the “Virgie lee” was originally built to replace the “Julia No. 2” which according to newspaper reports was at the Marine Ways at the same time the “Virgie Lee” was being built. For example, on April 19, 1876 the paper noted, “Inspectors Devine and Fisher, of Cincinnati, visited the Marine Ways today, and complimented the yard highly on the fine appearance and superior workmanship of the new steamers St. James and Julia.” And further on that same date, “Captains Honshell and Reynolds of the new steamers St. James and Julia No. 2, were in the city yesterday inspecting their new boats now building at the Marine Ways. Both gentlemen are highly pleased with the progress made and the workmanship displayed by the Madison builders.” On April 26, 1876 the Evening Courier stated, “The Julia No. 2 was successfully launched from the Marine Ways yesterday evening. She sits upon the water like a swan.” The “Julia No. 2” is not listed in the list of boats built by the Marine Ways so this could be an overhaul job. We don’t know the history of the “Julia No. 2” from the time she was launched but on August 15, 1877.. The newspaper reported that a corps of workmen was busy dismantling the “Julia No. 2” at the foot of West Street. Then on September 26 it was noted, “The hull of the Julia is being fitted up in first class style for a wharf-boat by Williams & Barton, and will be ready for business soon.”

The “Virgie Lee” became a familiar sight at the Madison docks shuffling from Madison to Cincinnati from the time of her launching, and on October 24th the People Packet Line bought the “Virgie Lee” for the sum of $17,000. She became a regular out of Madison and this notice ran in the paper on November 30, 1877, “NOTICE TO SHIPPERS: Having purchased the splendid steamer Virgie Lee and placed her in the packet trade between this city and Cincinnati she will hereafter make regular tri-weekly trips, leaving this city every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at 6 o’clock AM. Returning, will leave Cincinnati on the alternate days at 3 PM. Promising fair dealing with the traveling public and shippers, we respectfully solicit a fair share of business. W. H. Kirby has been placed in command and Andy Harrigan in the office, who will make it their especial business to look after interest of shippers and passengers. PACKET COMPANY”

On November 18, 1878 the “Virgie Lee” was withdrawn from the Cincinnati and Madison trade and began the run between Evansville and Cincinnati, in charge of Captain F. H. Humphreys of Evansville with Captain Kirby in charge of the office.

Calument: The Saga of a Sad and Stubborn Lady

The Calumet was built in Madison during the summer and fall of 1876. On the 28th of November she slid into the river at Madison and 12 hours and five minutes later she was at the docks in Cincinnati, not a bad time for a new boat. Captain Phil Anschutz was mightily pleased with his new boat and pronounced her maiden voyage a success. She was loaded with cargo bound for New Orleans and everything seemed to be going smoothly— everything with the exception of the weather.

It was an early and unusually cold fall in 1876. The river had begun to freeze and the Calumet had encountered floating ice on her first time out. The temperature had been dropping down fast as had the depth of the water— a sure-fire combination for trouble. The Calumet was now, however, safely docked and made snug willing to wait for, what was assumed would be a break in the weather. However, as the boat hugged the shore, it was noted that the river was “blocking up” and without immediate warmer weather it was feared she would freeze over. Only a few short hours later, that’s exactly what she did. “The ice in the river blocked and stopped floating at 4:10 o’clock this afternoon. All the ice has been formed in the last 24 hours,” said the local paper. The ice was ushered in by a “northwester” that battered the countryside all night during which the temperature dropped to 10 degrees below zero.

Boats lay up next to wharves, hugged the shore, or hid in the tributaries-any place that afforded safety and they waited. On December 11, 1877 the ice in the Ohio broke with a terrific crashing and grinding noise, piling the broken pieces in heaps along the shoreline. Much damage was done to barges and property and at the Madison Marine Ways 118 logs were swept away adding to the already dangerous situation. It was noted the Sherley, theVint Shinkle and Abbott’s ferry were safely harbored in the Kentucky River. By all reports the boys were having a good time and the boats were in a good fix.

On the 15th of December any hope for an early resolution was squelched as the weather again took a turn for the worst. Ice reformed and the river was again blocked.

A frozen river was nothing new and life progressed towards the inevitable thaw. People skated on, walked on and sledded on the Ohio. To break the tedium a shooting match was held on the river. Even in an inanimate state, life seemed to evolve around the river.

December turned into January and on the 8th it was noted that the mercury was at 8 degrees below zero and three inches of new snow had fallen. On the tenth the New Albany Ledger remarked this was only the second time in fifty years the river had frozen over, solid at that city. January dragged on and the cold weather held. Reports from up-river began to filter in. The river was rising and the ice was running.

Then from Cincinnati on the 12th, “In the breaking of the ice gorge here this morning the new steamer Calumet, valued at $24,000, sank and will probably prove a total loss; she was insured for $17,000; she had a cargo for New Orleans, some 3,000 tons.” On December 14th Cincinnati glumly reported, “The ice which has remained stationary above Newport bridge gave way at noon today, and striking the sunken steamer Calumet, turned the wreck around and swept it down with the current, making the boat a total loss. When the wreck of the steamer was swept away Captain Dugan and the mates were on board but made their escape by jumping on the Golden Eagle when the wreck reached that steamer.” That same day The Madison Courier stated, “The rise from above, together with the heavy discharge of water and ice from the Kentucky River, caused a grand move of the ice fields at this point. In advance of the general crushing and crumbling, zig zag seams shot across the ice fields in every direction, producing deep rumbling tones like distant thunder. In some places great fields of 20 acres of smooth surface moved along without a break, and alternating with them came the rugged, tossed and tumbled masses, crushing everything before them. A part of the wreck of the steamer Calumet passed this city bout 2 o’clock this afternoon.” The next day it was reported the sunken steamer Calumet had returned home and was lodged near the Marine Way, her birthplace.

By the 17th of January the river was free of ice but flooding now became a problem. Wreckage that had been protruding from the water now was submerged. Salvage operations would be put on hold for more favorable conditions. At least navigation was back to near normal. The river had closed on December 9, 1876 and re-opened for navigation January 17-one agonizing month and 8 days.

On February 1, 1877 Captain Anschutz arrived in Madison from Cincinnati in search of his lost steamer. He soon divined it to be about 200 yards beyond the Marine Ways and about 100 yards from the shore. He contacted the then famous sub-marine diver, John Guire, who arrived in Madison on the 7th. On the 8th of February a large flatboat was connected to the wreckage and Guire donned his costume consisting of a flannel suit worn over his ordinary clothing then a gum suit pulled over all. The gum suit was seamless and covered the diver to his shoulders where the base of the copper helmet was attached by bands and screws. A ladder was attached to the flatboat and before descending down the ladder, Guire donned a girdle of lead bars weighing 100 pounds and shoes with lead soles each weighing 20 pounds. With a line about his body and being attached to an air hose connected to an air pump he climbed down and disappeared beneath the cold, murky water. Guire better secured the wreck to the flatboat but, other than that, little progress was made. The hull was filled with mud and debris and would not be coxed or coerced to move. In the days that followed all sorts of remedies were applied including punching a hole in the hull and filling it with drums pumped full of air. On the 13th a big boat tugged at the wreck then sullenly left the scene. On the 19th the steamer “Samuel Clark” pulled and struggled with the “Calument” but gave up. In exasperation Captain Anschutz abandoned the heap to wait for low water. The once proud “Calumet” had become little more than a spectator sport and she petulantly lay on the bottom refusing to be lifted.

Over the next few months, time after time, attempts were made to loosen the “Calumet” but time and again the old girl refused, seemingly comfortable in the nest she had made on the floor of the river. In August the huge towboat, “Jacob Heatherington” and diver, Guire again make a try for her with no success. At this point Guire can see no use for further attempts, and to preserve his reputation as a salvage man, he permanently leaves the scene. In September another diver is brought in but has no more luck than Guire. By November, nearly a full year after her maiden voyage, and after being pumped and drained, turned over, cleaned out, filled up, drug to shallow water then to deeper water, the “Calumet” still lay on the bottom. In a heroic effort, and probably as a last ditch stand, the towboats “J. Sharpe McDonald”, the “Josh Cook”, “Nellie Speers” and the “Heatherington” all use their tremendous power in unison in a failed effort to raise the stubborn old girl. The newspaper reported, “Alas, poor Calumet, her life has been short and full of trouble”. Duuuuh. In December three towboats again make a try and again they fail. The newspaper states she will now most certainly be abandoned.

There is no further mention of the Calumet until years later when the newspaper makes a slight reference to her demise, leading one to believe she is still lying there, still and silent. Perhaps it is best to understand that when a lady decides to settle down it’s best not to try and dissuade her.

The Ferry Trimble

In 1894 a visitor to the Madison Marine Railways wrote this article to the editor of The Democrat newspaper. It was published December 24, 1894…

“Having a little leisure time on my hands, and strolling around your beautiful city, I happened in on the shipyard and was much interested in the working of the Marine Railway, with its powerful machinery for pulling out great steamboats.

I saw on the ways the elegant new ferryboat that is now nearly finished for Capt. Joseph C. Abbott. Capt. Barmore kindly pointed out to me some of the features in the new boat that will make it the most convenient and safe and comfortable ferryboat that has ever run between Madison and Milton.

In the first place, her capacity for carrying wagons and passengers is nearly double that of the old ferry.

Then she will have an elegant cabin with fine toilet rooms and every convenience for ladies use. This will add greatly to the comfort of the passengers; for though the trip across the river is a short one, yet ladies coming in from a long dusty ride to visit the city will often enjoy and appreciate the convenience afforded for brushing up a little before going shopping and coming in competition with the Madison belles.

Then she will be a very safe boat, having a good stout hull, well ironed to battle with waves and ice on the raging river; with powerful machinery and plenty of boiler capacity, so that it will not take all day to cross the fish pond.

The boat will be painted in the finest style and the cabin ornamented with beautiful brackets and gilded drops. A strong railing gives a feeling of security on the main deck, while a lighter and more fanciful rail adorns the skylight roof, and a very pretty and graceful roof covers the head of the gentlemen who presides at the wheel.

I am inclined to think that Capt. Barmore has not confined himself to the letter of the specifications in the construction of this ferryboat (and) has taken a commendable pride in giving to the citizens of Madison and their Kentucky patrons a ferryboat, that will be something to be proud of and enjoy, not only in the ordinary line of business but in many a moonlight excursion when music and pleasure shall rule the hour. – Visitor

Bald Eagle: The Irene Dunne Connection

On November 14, 1878 there was a large gang of plankers at work on the new boat Bald Eagle at the Madison Marine Ways. The contract for painting was let to James Neal; Swormstead & Company was to furnish the paint and Walsh to furnish the shaft and set up the machinery. The other work such as sheet iron, copper and tin work, etc was to also be supplied by Madison concerns. Charles Henry, Esquire, of Madison had been contracted to provide and oversee the installation of the boilers during the construction of the boat.

On the 29th, Captain Henry Leyhe came to Madison to look things over. He and his brother, William, were owners of the Eagle Packet Company and they were very involved in every aspect of the business. They had started the business around 1861 with their first boat, Young Eagle out of Warsaw, Illinois. By 1878 the company had grown to be one of the best on the rivers. They had a fleet of “eagles” that, over the years, would include the Grey EagleWar EagleSpread EagleGolden EagleLittle Eagle, and the two above mentioned boats. While in town, Captain Leyhe contracted with the Marine Ways to lengthen the Little Eagle 30 feet and put on a new stern. TheLittle Eagle was to arrive from St. Louis within the week. The Bald Eagle was completed and went to work mostly on the St. Louis-Red River and St. Louis-Ouachita Rivers trade. She earned a good reputation on the water and served well.

On May 27, 1896, a catastrophic cyclone hit the city of St. Louis. The devastation was so extensive that it cannot be described in this short essay. Suffice it to say buildings, large and small, were toppled, communication was halted and darkness descended over a stunned and broken city. The riverfront and the boats tied up there fared no better and the Bald Eagle was one of those unhappy vessels. She was ripped from her moorings and sent crashing into the middle pier of Eads Bridge. The crew was forced to scramble onto the pier and huddle in terror until ropes could be lowered from the bridge above. They were finally hoisted to safety but, unfortunately, the watchman was lost. The battered boat floated past the bridge and sank. Only some of her machinery was salvaged and the Bald Eagle passed into history.

There is an interesting story connected with the building of the Bald Eagle. The builder and supervisor of the installation of the boilers for the Bald Eagle, the above mentioned Charles Henry, Esquire, was the grandfather of actress, Irene Dunne. After the death of her father, Joseph Dunn, Irene, her brother, Charles and her mother, Adelaide all returned to Madison to live next door to Irene’s grandfather and step-grandmother, Rose.

In 1868, Charles Henry had come from Cincinnati to Madison to engage in the trade of boiler making. His business was located on Second between Depot and Vernon Streets and he was soon well known for his superior and meticulous work. He made boilers for many of the famous steamers that plied the Ohio, Mississippi and other rivers of the country. His services were in great demand until he sold out his interests and retired at an advanced age.

Irene Dunne’s father was a steamboat inspector based in St. Louis and her first break in Hollywood was in the movie, “Showboat”. This is a great example of the influence the river and the boats on it had on the lives of individuals during the era of steamboats.

City of Madison: A Matter of Pride

In the spring of 1882 the Cincinnati and Louisville Mail Line contracted with the Madison Marine Ways for a new boat to replace the United States and by July the newspaper announced that the boat was nearing completion and that the Mail Line would name her the City of Madison. It further stated that the company “had many boats built here; established free wharfage and in numerous ways contributed to the interests of our merchants and citizens, and some action as an acknowledgment would be entirely appropriate.”

She was a beautiful vessel, well built and elegantly furnished under the command of Captain Dan Morton, who also superintended the work on her. On the 19th she made a trial trip up to Carrollton, Kentucky, and back to Madison and she performed well. She only awaited a final inspection by those in authority and a flourish or two and she would be on her way.

The City of Madison was made 270-feet long, 42-foot beam and six-foot hold, with two engines with 24½-inch cylinders and seven-foot stroke. They drove a 27-foot wheel, the length of the buckets being fourteen feet. She had four boilers 42-inches in diameter and 28-feet long with a doctor and donkey pump, the latter being designed for use in case of fire and to wash off the decks. There were 56 beautiful state rooms in the cabin and 12 berths. The texas boasted 40 berths.

The City of Madison had several new features, the result of long experience in building for a special trade. She had a single stage and booms with the jackstand on top of the derrick. Her guards were wide and roomy and her machinery was in as compact position as possible, as all freight was carried on deck. She was of light draft with a large carrying capacity.

Even the painting in the cabin was somewhat new and different, everything being done in the softest tints, with a pleasing effect. The skylights were made of leaded Cathedral glass, the bulkheads were a light canary color and the ceiling a variety of shades. The hall of the main cabin was laid in walnut and oak.

On the 26th of July she made her maiden voyage to Cincinnati. As she stopped at the various towns along the way, she was greeted with crowds of happy well-wishers and many boarded her for the trip to Cincinnati. When she arrived in Cincinnati, she was met by the sound of dozens of whistles and the cheers of a large crowd waiting to get a good look at her. There were many Madison citizens on board and after much merriment and backslapping, they boarded the Sherley and the United States for a leisurely trip back home. The City of Madison remained to pick up her permanent crew and cargo.

On July 27th the Evening Courier announced that the appreciative citizens of Madison contributed to the purchase of a beautiful stand of colors for the new steamer. They had the famous Madison artist, William McKendree Snyder, paint an artistic design on a canvas, after which, the equally famous photographer, Joseph Gorgas, photographed it and had it framed. The legend was as follows, “The colors of this boat were presented by the undersigned citizens in acknowledgment of the compliment paid the city of Madison by the Cincinnati and Louisville Mail Line Company in naming the boat after said city.” It was signed by dozens of the city’s inhabitants.

The flag and mementos were presented on the evening of August 1st, 1882. The levee was thronged with well-wishers. The Philharmonic Society serenaded the crowd and young ladies, dressed in white, sported ribbons matching those of the color standard. A canon boomed out the approach of the boat and pyrotechnics lit up the night sky. After the steamer glided into port, a series of speeches took place by prominent citizens, all lauding the new boat and her new name. Finally, it was proclaimed, “I present you, City of Madison with this stand of colours. Unfurl them to the breeze. May their starry folds remind all that the citizens of Madison retain a place in their affections for the officers of the Mail Line Company. As pure as the constellations represented upon the colors, may the misfortunes of storm and tempest never overtake this steamer; may her every voyage be crowned with success.”

After the ceremonies, Captain Charles David, invited any who wished, to take the boat up-river to meet the downward bound mail boat. With this the boat moved over the moonlit surface of the river with her colors flying gracefully in the balmy breezes, now just another working boat upon the Ohio River.

For many years the good wishes of the citizens of Madison were met, but on the night of June 18, 1894 the City of Madison was returning from a trip to Memphis, with a stop-over in Owensboro, Kentucky, where she picked up a group of bikers for delivery to Cincinnati. At about 4:10 a.m. citizens of Madison were awakened by her distress whistle. Many hurried to the river’s edge and as daylight dawned over the river, they could see the partially sunken “City of Madison” lying on the government dike. Within minutes of striking the dike the hull filled with water and she was stranded.

No lives were lost and a broken toe seems to have been the only injury. A misplaced buoy was blamed for the accident. On June 20, 1894, the Madison Courier headlines read, “All Hope of Saving the City of Madison Abandoned.” The order was given to wreck her, and she was torn to pieces. An interesting relic was taken from the boat before her destruction. It was a picture with the signatures of those who had donated a silk banner which had floated from her flagstaff. Many of the city’s prominent people of the day were featured on the keepsake.

Perhaps no more beloved boat sat upon the water and perhaps no boat was so deeply mourned. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, came to gaze sadly across the river at the poor, broken boat as she clung to the unyielding dike. TheCity of Madison had come home for the last time.

The City of Madison of 1854

We know there was the City of Madison built in 1860 and the City of Madison of 1882, both built in Madison, Indiana, but what of the City of Madison of 1854?

The following article is taken from the Madison Daily Courier of March 10, 1854.

“STEAMER—CITY OF MADISON — We saw yesterday for the first time this beautiful craft. —the design was originated in this city but was executed by George T. Jones, Esq., of Cincinnatti.

Judging from the external appearance, (for we did not enter the cabin) Mr. Jones has never turned out a more perfect job. From keel to pilot-house, all seems to have been done in the most workmanlike manner. Some of the decorations are highly artistic and in excellent taste. The model is “easy,” and in relation to speed, we are assured that the time occupied in a trip, to New York, for instance, will not exceed three days.

This vessel is, in short, the only genuine specimen of a western steamboat that we ever saw—-on a bank draft. Persons having further curiosity may be gratified, as we were experimentally, by purchasing at the Branch Bank a check on the East. It will be issued on the new plate lately prepared at the extensive engraving establishment in Cincinnati, of which Mr. Jones has charge.—-The principal ornaments, (always excepting, of course, the Cashier’s signature!) consist of the steamer alluded to-the name, “City of Madison,” being engraved on the wheel-house-and a fine likeness of President Madison.—With the locomotive and cars, which occupy a prominent place, the check is emphatically a Madison affair, not only beautiful, but perfectly appropriate.

The West has enough of grand and picturesque scenery, and men and objects of sufficient interest to afford ample material for vignettes and ornaments, and we have often wondered why, when western bankers could just as well select that which is appropriate to their own localities, they persist in having their checks and notes covered with sad looking resemblances of Yankee schooners, southern cotton bales, and other incongruities of “the same sort.”

From the above article it can be interpreted that a boat called City of Madison was used as a model for the bank note under discussion yet, Way’s Packet Directory mentions no City of Madison before 1860 nor do we find it on any other boat list. Nowhere in our research have we found any mention of the City of Madison during this time period.

Anyone who can add to this information is welcome and encouraged to do so. We will, of course, pursue this further. A third City of Madison would add nicely to our steamboat history.

The Mittie Stephens: U.S. Navy Transport

The side-wheel steamer Mittie Stephens was built at the Madison Marine Railways Company by Alexander Temple and company for Joseph L. Stephens of Booneville, Missouri. It was probably named after his daughter who was born about the same time the boat was being built.

The “Mittie Stephens” was described as a “strong, staunch steamer and one of the better boats that had been built in Madison for some time”. (1)

Intended for the Missouri trade, her first run was made about May 25, 1863, when she left Madison, Indiana bound for St. Louis. It is claimed she was illegally seized by the Union and made to serve as a naval transport. She took part in the failed Shreveport Campaign as a part of Admiral Porter’s fleet.

After the war she was rebuilt after which she had several owners in quick succession between that time and the fateful day of February 5, 1869, when she left New Orleans bound for Jefferson, Texas. She carried passengers and cargo, including almost 300 bales of hay. A spark ignited the hay bales and an inferno ensued.

The boat was turned toward shore but she grounded in the shallow waters. In an effort to force the boat on shore, the wheels were kept running and this action pulled many of the fleeing passengers into them, causing most of the deaths. Of 107 passengers, 61 perished and the “Mittie Stephens” burned to the water line that ominous night.

(1) Madison Courier, May 29, 1863


Capt. David White of the Old Enterprise

William Wesley Woollen, biographer, once said of David White, “No man in his day more deeply impressed himself upon Madison than David White. He came here in 1846 from Pennsylvania, where he had been engaged in the wool trade. He was about six feet tall, with rather less than average flesh for one of his height, had stooped shoulders, and walked with his head well forward and his eyes upon the ground. His life was one of vicissitudes. He was rich today and poor tomorrow. He failed in business in Pennsylvania, in Madison, in Iowa and, I believe, in St. Louis. But failure with him was but a stimulus to new exertions. Most men sink under adversity; not so he. If he touched the bottom it was to reach a foundation for a rebound. He went down under one wave and sprang in triumph upon the top of the next. His energy never gave way and his industry never tired. He was a leader in every public enterprise of his day. Madison is mainly indebted to him for her gas works, for her marine railway, and for the establishment of one of her insurance companies. He labored hard to connect her with the world by a net-work of railroads, but in this effort he failed. He saw the trade which had been hers directed to other cities, and the sight made him sad. He left us and went elsewhere, but so long as the great enterprises he inaugurated remain he will not be forgotten. It was eminently proper that his mortal remains should be brought here and consigned to rest among a people for whom he had done so much.”

Captain David White was a man of tireless energy and great vision. Had Hollywood produced a biographical account of his life, it would have needed an actor who combined the audacity and boldness of an Errol Flynn, the stalwartness and determination of a Gary Cooper and the energy and vitality of a Bugs Bunny. White jumped from one enterprise to the next with the zeal of a duck attacking a June bug. His only constraint to greatness seemed to be his innate capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

His first endeavor was in the wool business in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Through much manipulation and financial maneuvering he had nearly managed to “corner” the wool market in the area when, as a harbinger of things to come, the bottom fell out of the deal and he was forced to leave, his business and financial reputation in tatters.

He went to Pittsburgh where he served as clerk on the steamboat,“Edwin Heckman”. This did not last long for he could not be contained within the confines of clerk’s job. He traveled to Washington where he obtained a contract to deliver mules to the army in Mexico during the war with that country. He shipped them on a fleet of steamboats to Natchez and traveled overland with them to the army. This successful enterprise set him up for another venture and he settled in Madison in about 1846. At about this time he went into partnership with James Cunningham in the Mammoth Cave Pork House. In November of 1852 the newspaper reported the he had made $60,000 in pork in one day and was likely to profit by $200,000 by the end of the week. He built a grist mill for the grinding and processing of corn to be sold abroad, much of it being sent to a starving Ireland. This mill burned and he immediately erected a flouring mill at the corner of Broadway and Ohio Streets. He called the mill Magnolia Mills. He soon rid himself of the mill, selling to Robert and Frank Bowers. In about 1850 he championed the use of gas as a means to light, heat and propel industry forward. He was mainly responsible for the gas works, one of the earliest in the area, and became its president. He was also an investor and great backer of the Madison Marine Railways and championed its craftsmen. Here he had built the “David White”, the “Winslow” and the “Indiana”. He was involved in insurance, shipping, railroads and a host of businesses that would have physically crushed a lesser man. It is inconceivable that without deliberate and concentrated effort anyone could manage to run each and every business into the ground. But during a succession of years when one business disaster after another took place, that’s just what he did. Just before the Civil War we find him painting as a lowly journeyman on the steamboat “Jenny Whipple” at St. Louis.

Never one to indulge in self pity or to be plagued with self doubt, White found himself in the enviable situation of having no way to go but up. With the help of old friends, he scraped together enough money to purchase a third interest in the “Jenny Whipple” and shortly, in the true David White spirit, he was full owner of the boat. The Civil War was just beginning and within a year David White owned the “Magenta” and several other boats and was carrying for the government and supplying the army. He never shied from taking on jobs no one else wanted or those involving danger. Soon he was at the top of the heap again. When peace came, he proceeded to organize the Mississippi Transportation Company, with a full line of steamers plying between St. Louis and New Orleans, using much of the capital he had gained during the war years. Evidently, he lost his toehold on greatness one more time and left the river trade and decided to try his luck on dry land. He managed to invest in and help build a telegraph line through the wilds of Minnesota. In 1867 he made arrangements to place the first section of the Mississippi Valley Telegraph Company lines from Minneapolis to Winona, following a survey of the St. Paul and Chicago Railroad. On August 16th he left St. Paul to place the remaining sections in the course of construction, so as to insure the completion of the line to Saint Louis by the first of January, 1868. He later organized a company to open and exploit lead and coal mines in Missouri. His energy and indefatigable spirit were so remarkable as to earn him the universal name of “Old Enterprise” or, as one newspaper dubbed him, “Old Enterprisus Revivicus”. He was eminently a useful man, aspiring to and reaching the heights of success. His only problem was sustaining his perch once arrived. In the end, the Great Equalizer, death, claimed him and he was laid to rest at Madison in 1893. “Old Enterprise” had come home to rest.

Capt. William H. Keyt of the Nanny Byers

William Henry Keyt was born in Westfield, New Jersey in 1811. As a young man he ventured west to the state of Ohio. We don’t know what endeavors he attempted while residing there, but we do know it was there he married and it was there where his only child, a daughter named Laura, was born in 1839.

By 1850 we find Mr. Keyt and his family are settled in Madison, Indiana and he is involved in commerce. He and his partner, Samuel Strader, are commission merchants, dealing mostly in wholesale groceries and dry goods. They owned, or more likely, leased a large warehouse, no doubt a ramshackle affair as was the trend of the day, at the foot of West Street. Elegant or not, it was a choice location situated just across from the wharf and no doubt it was a busy and profitable arrangement.

In 1859, his daughter, Laura, married Thomas Clelland Cunningham. The Cunningham family was deep into commerce and business in Madison and soon Captain Keyt and Thomas went into partnership and opened a starch manufactory. Evidently, the business did well and both families seem to have been prosperous. William ran the business while Thomas served in the Union Army. 
On the 1860 census, William Keyt is listed as a steamboat captain. Just when and how he became a captain is unknown. It could be surmised that his varied businesses were doing well enough to warrant owning a boat to import goods for his wholesale business and to export starch from his mill. We no not know what boat or boats Keyt is associated with during this time. 
In 1863, however, Captain Keyt contracted with the Madison Dry Docks Company to build for him the boat “Nannie Byers”. (see) Almost surely the Byers was used to transport cargo for his business but it also seemed to be a popular boat for passengers, making the trip to Cincinnati and also up the Kentucky River. A tragic accident in February of 1866, however, put the “Nannie Byers” out of business and, evidently, ended Kyte’s career as a riverboat captain. Though Kyte was not in charge of the boat during the incident, the great loss of life may have convinced him that the hazardous life of a riverboat captain was not for him. 
His son-in-law died in 1875 and two years later his wife, Ann, was gone. William returned to Ohio and ran a sugar and molasses factory for awhile. 
As he grew older, and no doubt as his health began to falter, he looked about for a place to spend his waning years. His daughter had relocated in California and his grandson, James Clelland Cunningham, had settled in Oregon in 1883 where he owned a large farm and was in the process of rearing a large family. No doubt the thought of a serene life, surrounded by his great-grandchildren, appealed to Keyt and he joined James in the far west. There, in Douglas County, Oregon, Captain William Henry Kyte, entrepreneur, businessman, steamboat captain, and factory owner, died in 1902 at the age of 92.

Captain William C. Lepper Jr.

If heredity has anything to do with the bent a man’s life might take, William C. Lepper, Jr. (more commonly and affectionately known as “Billy”) was destined to become a river man. He once said, speaking of his family, “ Steamboating was in our blood”. His grandfather, Benjamin C. Lepper had been involved as an owner and operator of steamboats in the Cincinnatti-New Orleans trade and Billy’s father, and Uncle David had followed in the business. The family had lived in Cincinnati for several years on York Street between Jefferson and Mayo Streets and later moved to Newport, Kentucky just across the Ohio River. In 1863 Benjamin and his wife, Sarah, sold their home in Newport, and moved the family to a farm in Ripley County, Indiana. Three sons, David. Joseph and William C. Lepper, Sr. went with them. It was here Billy Lepper was born. As he put it, “I was born in a log cabin (just as Lincoln was) in southern Indiana at 5 P. M. just in time for dinner and have not missed a meal since”. He had a large, extended family. His grandfather, Benjamin, and grandmother, Sarah, were next door neighbors on one side and his Uncle David and Aunt Hannah Lepper were situated on the other. When Billie came along in the later part of 1870, he made a family of five, his older brother, Joseph, and sister, Lillian, already having their “plates at the table”, so to speak.

Around 1875 farm life must have begun to pall for William, Sr. and his brother David because they packed up their families and moved to Jefferson County, Indiana. David went to Madison and William settled in North Madison on the hill just above. They went back to work on the Ohio River. Grandma Sarah died about this time and Grandpa Benjamin remained on the farm. Perhaps Billy and his siblings spent time with him because they are listed twice on the 1880 census, once with their parents in North Madison and once with Grandpa Benjamin in Ripley County. By this time five more siblings had been added to the Lepper tribe. They were, in order of appearance, Daisy, Josie, David, Walter and Clayton Lepper. Hazel and Guy would follow a little later.

Billy must have been thrilled when William also moved his family “down the hill” to Madison. They settled in a house at 1030 Park Avenue. Now Billy was just two short blocks from the river where he no doubt spent his free time, exploring the levee, watching the boats and extracting stories from the river men. Billy had already decided life on the river was for him. As he explained, “It seemed so easy and fascinating after following a mule on the farm”. Perhaps his father felt it would be better to set Billy on the deck of a boat rather than have him loitering about the docks, or maybe he knew it was inevitable that Billy would take to the river, so at age 14 he joined his father on the “Mountain Girl” on the upper Kentucky River. This would be the first of over fifty boats Billy would serve on. You see, Captain William C. Lepper, Jr. was destined to lead the life most boys of his day merely fantasized. In his memoirs he relates high adventure and near death experiences as most men would discuss a day at the office. This article can only hit the highlights of a life so filled with river history.

After a time on the Kentucky River with his father, Billy signed on with the “Blue Wing” where he was, for the first time, “left to his own devices”. He passed muster and in 1891 found himself on the big steamer, “Thomas Sherlock”. She struck the bridge at Cincinnati and Billy came near meeting his maker. Evidently, all his correct instincts told him to hurry off the boat but his practical side insisted he return to the cabin to retrieve a newly purchase derby hat. His practical side won out and when he struggled back up on deck, he realized he might be wearing that derby to the Promised Land. He was forced to dive into the icy water and swim for shore. Sadly, when he drug himself up on the levee, the derby was no where to be found.

In 1896, while serving on the “Telegraph”, Billy became a full fledged hero, quite probably saving many lives, passengers and crew alike. The “Telegraph” hit the rocks and Billy, serving as third clerk, evacuated everyone in such a calm and efficient manner that many didn’t even realize the boat was sinking. The one exception to the orderly passengers was a young lady who panicked and Billy had to drag her off the boat. After manhandling her onto the shore, the lady thanked him for saving her life and he, in true Billy Lepper manner, apologized for being rough with her. During all the commotion Billy obtained a scar from broken glass that he carried with him the rest of his life.

After the “Telegraph” incident, Billy was disgusted with the steamboat business and he resigned and settled in Newport, Kentucky. He related, “Soon after this I married Miss Sadie Bradbury, of Rising Sun, Indiana, a fine talented young lady. With three other boys, we started a small chewing gum factory and was doing nicely. After three months of married life my wife passed away and is buried at Rising Sun. I sold out my interest in the gum business at a loss and went back on steamboats for a few months to recuperate some of the money I had lost.”

Shortly after going back on the river, Billy met up with two old friends from Cincinnati, J. H. Mathews and G. N. Roberts. They were enamored of the Klondike goldfields and were preparing to make the trip there. They asked Billy to join them and, what with his recent disappointments, it sounded like a good idea to him. It was, as he said, “A beautiful dream”. After reaching a certain jumping off point, they arranged for supplies and loaded up their sled, purchased three horses and headed into the frozen north. The first night out, two of the horses died and things looked pretty serious but this was just the beginning of adventures he would experience in the snowy wilderness. After several heartbreaking, hair-raising and near fatal exploits, Billy skedaddled for hom, never to approach the snowy north again. He arrived home without a cent to his name but he never regretted his sojourn in the north. In his memoirs he states, “ It is my great desire to visit this country after an absence of fifty years.”

While up north, Billy’s brother, Ben passed away. This fulfilled a premonition Billy had experienced while so far away from home. He ehad written in his diary the date of Ben’s death. He and Ben had grown up together and shared a love of life on the river, both going on steamboats at an early age. At his death the local newspaper said of Benjamin C. Lepper, “He was a good man in all the relations of life, and was one of the most valued and efficient steamboat clerks on the river. His last service was on the steamer Hattie Brown in the Madison and Warsaw trade.” His loss remained with Billy all his life.

Again Billy felt the urge to settle down with a wife and family. Maybe his adventures in the Klondike had mellowed him and he was soon married to M. E. Edith Klooz on April 1, 1901. Perhaps Billie would have recognized the irony of being married on April Fool’s Day. Their first and only child, Margaret, arrived two years later during a relatively calm period in Billy’s life. He was acting as purser on the “E. G. Ragon” for Captain George H. Wilson and helping Captain Wilson plan the cabin for the new steamer, “Morning Star”. Domesticity agreed with Billy and he went into the wharf business at Evansville and was agent for the Louisville and Evansville Packet Company and the E. & P. Packet Company. He purchased a home in Evansville and settled into the life of a businessman, soon operating his own wharf boat. In 1908 he was appointed receiver for the Green River Coal Company. The coal company was sold at auction by order of the U. S. Court in 1910.

In 1911 Billy’s wharf boat was destroyed by fire while waiting out the winter freeze on the Green River and he soon moved the family back to Louisville where he and Captain Pope, owner of the “Fowler”, decided to equip the boat for excursions and place her in the local trade at Louisville. This was the first independent boat to enter the local excursion trade and she met with opposition from other organized companies. She turned a fair profit, though, and Pope sold the “Fowler” and Billy once more moved on.

Billy got entangled in a situation with the Ohio and Mississippi Navigation Company which left a bad taste in his mouth the rest of his days. It seems newspapers and local inspectors had tried to put the blame on him for the loss of the “Queen City” near Louisville. Billy was exonerated of all charges but the ever honest Captain Lepper extricated himself and headed for the west coast where he remained for a short time, finding things not to his liking on the west coast.

In 1914 he and his family moved to Cincinnati where he captained the “Ohio” until the Security Steamboat Company sent for him to take charge of the office of the “Homer Smith” and her second season Billy came out as her captain. The “Homer Smith” was a popular boat, all decked out with colored lights which gave of a lovely glow as she floated along the river at night. At the end of the season Captain William C. Lepper left the river boats to take the position of Marine Inspector for the Neare-Gibbs Insurance Company of Cincinnati.

In his new position Billy was to inspect all vessels insured by the Neare Gibbs Company and to ascertain if sunken boats could be salvaged. If so, it was his job to secure divers and equipment and get the job done. As with any job Billy undertook, he threw himself into the work, learning and improving every step of the way. In short order, he began to excel at the job. He continued in this capacity until his retirement, becoming one of the most respected men working on the inland waters.

Captain Billy Lepper was a common site on the inland rivers for well over fifty years but in 1945 he retired from the river work he obviously loved. He had outlived many of his old river acquaintances but as he had said himself, “God willing, I fully expect to join them on the other shore”.

The Madison Courier once said of Captain Lepper, “There is no better clerk, or a more clever and accommodating gentleman on the river than Capt. Billy Lepper. He has been continuously employed on the river for nearly forty years, and has always enjoyed the respect and esteem of the public and the highest confidence of his employers. He is a moral, upright gentleman, and does not possess a single immoral habit-a reputation very few enjoy.” This would be a fitting epitaph for Captain William C. Lepper. He is buried in the family plot at the Evergreen Cemetery at South Gate, Kentucky. The date on the tombstone reads, April 28, 1952.

NOTE: The picture of Billie as a young man was taken at Madison, Indiana and is dated June 3, 1889. It was sent by Billie from St. Louis to Willard Clashman of Lexington, Indiana. Most of the men of the Lepper family worked on the river. His grandfather, his uncle David, father (William, Sr.) and brothers, Benjamin, Walter and David, all were respected river boat men. It was truly a river dynasty.