Archive for September, 2011

Day down

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

The sun has just gone.  I feel the miles – Pittsburgh to Cairo.  I am eastward bound and am ready to go home.  It will take some time and thought to measure the value of this journey. 


I violated two of my principles in Cincinnati.  First, I by-passed Cincinnati then I used the Interstate while doing it.  Because I did not have the time to do the PLCHC justice and reach Cairo, I by-passed Cincinnati in favor of Lawrenceburg, Vevay, and Jeffersonville.  My decision to skirt Cincinnati was based on my belief that I will more likely travel there than to the smaller towns.  As I drove home on I71 , Cincinnati showed its beautiful lighted skyline – an impressive display much like entering Pittsburgh from the Fort Pitt tunnel at night.


Next year – maybe Cincinnati and Louisville then St Louis to Fort Benton.

Jeffersonville – Cairo

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Proceeding on.

The Howard Steamboat Museum is fascinating in a thousand different ways.  The history of the family, the family home, the artifacts in the museum collection, the steamboat photographs, and the curators and my personal guide ( I arrived early) made a memorable impression.  The museum receives my highest “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval.  Time well spent.


Most of the  town of Jeffersonville is protected by a flood wall.  Unlike Pt Pleasant and Ironton, some Jeffersonville homes and businesses, including the Howard Steamboat Museum, are between the wall and the river.  I was told the Howard home was out of reach of most floods.  Only the Flood of 1937 entered the living quarters of the home to a height of  10 feet


Last stop – Cairo.  Photos of the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio and the sculpture “Proceeding on” referring to the Lewis and Clark expedition will be loaded later.  I was the only person in the park.  Standing at water level was an emotive moment thinking about the people who had passed this point.   In town, the Custom House Museum was open according to its sign, but  locked.


Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Proceeding on.

Ironton.  My interest in Ironton is the role Capt Thomas S Calhoon and his steamer, Katie Stockdale, played in the delivery of Ohio River relief between Pittsburgh and Ironton after the Flood of 1884.  Details of the relief effort are found in The Mercy Mission.   


Ironton was founded in 1849 by John Campbell, a noted pig iron manufacturer.  Until the nearby iron reserves played out and the demand for steel replaced iron, immense wealth was generated.  Many fine residences were built.  Unfortunately the floods of 1917 and 1937 plus the Great Depression devastated the city.


Today, I was pleasantly surprised by the buzz in Ironton.  It by far is the most vibrant river town I have passed through.  Its community leaders are obviously  implementing good policies.  It was pouring so I did not get out of my car nor did I talk to anyone.  Like Pt Pleasant, Ironton has a wall between the river and town.  It also has a railroad track and station along the river.  


Lawrenceburg.  In 1865 a cub pilot aged nineteen on the sidewheeler CT Dumont made two important trips to Lawrenceburg, IN from Parkersburg, WV.  The occasion the return of Union Soldiers from the Civil War battlefields.  The cub pilot was George WE Poe, the son of Jacob Poe


Like many of the other river towns, Lawrenceburg is 200 years old with an appealing main street missed by most highway travelers because of the by-pass.  Early in its history, Lawrenceburg was notorious from Pittsburgh to New Orleans for its sin and vice.  After the advent of steamboat commerce, its “Gamblers Row” grew quickly. 


Today Lawrenceburg was surprisingly busy.  Nice main street leading to the “Watch Walk” which is a stone levee and park.  Nice when the weather and  river stage permit.


Vevay.  The “Life on the Ohio River” Historical Museum in Vevay, IN was a fun stop.  Its primary connections to Georgetown, PA is the Billy Bryant Showboat and the str CT Dumont.  The Bryants were always guests of Charley Poe when they landed in Georgetown.  In fact the friendship was so strong Billy Bryant dedicated a chapter in his book to Charley Poe who he described as “one of the most fascinating River characters we have ever met”.  At age nineteen while learning the river between Pittsburgh and Louisville, George WE Poe was a cub pilot on the CT Dumont which ferried two crammed loads of returning Civil War soldiers to Lawrenceburg in April 1865. Charley Poe and George WE Poe were brothers.


Vevay is a now stilled community of simple businesses and beautiful homes.  It has a wonderful park along its waterfront.  Founded in 1802 by Swiss immigrants, Vevay claims to be the home of the first commercial winery in the US.  Today there is no significant industry to the best of my knowledge.

No By-Pass

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Proceeding on.

The Pt Pleasant Riview Museum is a must-do destination.  I had hoped to find information about my Georgetown steamboat men because they worked on the Kanawha River.  I was not disappointed.  Great library of steamboat books including the Bupp Collection.


Before the steamboat era, Pt Pleasant was the site of a frontier fort – Fort Randolph.  Officers from Ft Randolph were summoned to Georgetown for strategic meetings.  See The Lost Frontier Fort for more details.


I feel like an explorer even though I am “motoring” in my Mini.  Unlike a real boatman, I do not experience the water nor view towns from the river; unlike a normal motorist, I have not taken the by-pass.  Preferring a more natural experience, I have avoided the Interstates favoring blue roads along the river passing directly through the small river towns mentioned by Georgetown steamboat men in their letters and interviews.  Like a steamboat man, I try to walk along the riverfront to get a better feel for the towns.  I hope to meet people who have good stories and so far I have not been disappointed.


For quarters, I search out B&Bs or river hotels.  For hearty fare, I try to find local delectables in a family owned river café or bar within foot distance.  The hunt for dinner is harder than you might imagine in these once vibrant river towns.  As you have no doubt guessed, I travel on my stomach.  No doubt my waistline will suffer from this philosophy.


Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Proceeding on.


Marietta – nice place. 


Capt John Calhoon  of Georgetown, PA was the victim of an accidental drowning in the Ohio River at Marietta in 1846.  At the time, he commanded one of Jacob Poe’s boats according to Harriet Calhoon Ewing during an interview conducted by Capt Frederick Way.  During that period, Jacob Poe owned and operated four  steamers: Fairmont, John B Gordon, Tuscarora, and John B Gordon No 2Jacob Poe’s brother, Adam, was the principal owner of the Cinderella, Pioneer and Financier during the same period.  To date, I have not been able to confirm Harriet Calhoon Ewing’s statement.  Nor have I found any information about an accidental drowning in 1846 at Marietta.  Capt John Calhoon was the father of Capt Thomas S Calhoon and the grandfather of Harriet Calhoon.


I failed to satisfy some of my Ohio River/Marietta/steamboat questions so I took a side trip to Athens, OH to visit their Historical Society and the library at Ohio U.  Again, no luck, but the Rare Books Library at Ohio State has papers of Capt William B Anderson who was a pilot on the str Kenton.


Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Proceeding on.

Wellsville, OH is one of those either/or places.  The old homes and Wellsville River Museum sitting atop the high bank seem inviting, but the road through its business district is sided by worn and shuttered buildings.  From 1832-1852, Wellsville was a buzzing river town.  In 1852 influenced by Pittsburgh businessmen, Wellsville became a terminus for the railroad connecting Lake Erie and the Ohio River generating more buzz.  Wellsville’s position as both a rail and river transportation center was a blow to Wheeling’s ambitions.  However, as river commerce diminished, Wellsville declined.  Its population has sloped downward in every census since 1920.



Wellsville, OH 1915 (Anna L and John F Nash Collection)

Wellsville, OH 1915 (Anna L and John F Nash Collection)


Postcard of Wellsville, OH 1915 (Anna L and John F Nash Collection)

Postcard of Wellsville, OH 1915 (Anna L and John F Nash Collection)


I did not stop at Wheeling across the river from Bridgeport, OH,, although it looked good and I needed a “pick-me-up” – a beer or maybe a just a coffee.  Perhaps there was a remnant steamboat tavern I missed?   The downtown was much larger than I remembered.  The Wheeling connection  to Georgetown begins with the defense of the frontier during the Revolutionary War and the post-revolution Indian Wars.  The officers at Fort Henry were summoned to Georgetown for a strategic meeting to plan the defense of the frontier from Indian attacks.  See The Lost Frontier Fort for more details.


Next I was headed to Moundsville and Sistersville.  Moundsville has a rich history.  It derives its name from the Indian burial mounds constructed more than one thousand years ago.  Until recently the historical site was maintained by prisoners from the WV penitentiary.  Not much to see at the waterfront.


Sistersville was named to honor two daughters (18 and 19) of the twenty-two children of Charles Wells.  Whew!  The stately Victorian era homes are result of wealth produced by the discovery of oil in 1891 rather than river commerce.  The town grew to a peak of 15,000 with the influx of oil men, drillers, wild-catters, and laborers.  After the boom, the stilled community has maintained a steady population of about 1,500. Like other river towns, Sistersville has witnessed considerable decline.  One good thing is that Sistersville maintains its connection to the river via the Sistersville Ferry which claims to be the oldest ferry on the Ohio River, and the only ferry in WV.

The Journey

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

After two years of failed beginnings, tomorrow my journey along the Ohio River begins.  It begins in Georgetown, PA, of course, like my steamboating ancestors. To get to Georgetown, I drove through Pittsburgh crossing the Fort Pitt Bridge near the point, so I actually started my journey at mile mark zero.  I intend to visit the river towns, river museums,  historical societies, and book stores down the Ohio River.  On a similar journey an early British traveler, Thomas Ashe, wrote in 1808:


                The Ohio… has been described as beyond competition the most beautiful river in the universe, whether it be considered for its meandering course through an immense region of forests; for its elegant banks which afford innumerable situations for cities, villages, and improved farms; or for those many other advantages which truly entitle it to the name originally given it by the French, of “La belle riviere.”  …it is not too far distant when its whole margin will form one continued series of towns and villages.


As Thomas Ashe predicted, the banks of the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to Georgetown, are filled with small towns and  industry.  Although the steel industry has all but disappeared, there are power stations, oil depots, chemical plants, cement works, sand pits, coal piles, railyards, and other heavy industries.  It is the kind of place bombardiers align their sites on in wartime.  It is grim by day and grimmer on a rainy day like today.  


Nothing marks the Ohio River valley more than its big power plants, atomic and coal, with their high stacks leaching smoke and steam into the sky.  Cutting these emissions has largely been left to the honor system by our current elected lawmakers.  Somebody (maybe Bill McKibben in “Eaarth”) said that utility companies have shown the same likelihood of changing their ways voluntarily as turnips to sprouting feathers. 


I do not know how far I will journey in a week, but the fun begins tomorrow.