Older Photographs of Early Boats

paddlewheel boat

Attached is a real photo post card of THE NEW KLONDIKE which ran on Flathead Lake in Montana in the early 1900's. Dayton is a little village on the west side of the lake and Riggins was the photographer. He may have taken the photo at the outset of an excursion and then printed the cards while the boat was gone so he could sell them to the passengers as they left. Nice tidy little boat, wish we could see more of the sternwheel.

The ladies and little girls in white dresses and big hats make it interesting. There's a fellow on the dock talking to one or more passengers on the boiler deck above. A moment frozen in time . . .

paddlewheel boat

The Guiding Star (above) and observations by John Fryant:

"Wow! She looks brand new. Stage gunnels haven't been painted yet. You can see that there was steel plating around the bow. Some sort of big spar or derrick laying inside on the main deck as well as a yawl boat. You can also see that the 'scape pipes and stacks slanted outward from the vertical. Great photo! Thanks for sharing."

paddlewheel boat

Puddle Jumpers - There appear to be 5 boats in this photo although all you can see of one of them are its stacks visible between the 2 boats in the right foreground. Jim Hale identified more than the Yazonia and Hibernia, will have to ask him again what the other names were. This is pretty much the right half of a panoramic photo which included more of the riverbank to the left. The Yazoo was often not navigable when the river got really low and even these little puddle jumpers didn't have enough water to float on.

Jim Hale identified the Yazoo boats for us. I'm attaching the same file again so you'l have the caption ready if you decide to hang the picture in the museum.

The boat in front of the "Hibernia" is the "Des Arc." The boat nearest the bank is the "Fifteen" and the small pool style boat between the Fifteen and the Des Arc is the "Maggie."

paddlewheel boat

North Star of Rock Island on Upper Mississippi. This was one of the photos that was included in the Julia Belle Swain brochure when she was running out of LeClaire some years ago.

paddlewheel boat

Missouri River steamer Montana in 1864 from a stereo view.

paddlewheel boat

Attached old photo from eBay of the New Era Floating Palace and their co-ed band. Probably the musicians were mostly actors and stage hands when they weren't in uniform like this. The photo had some major goobers on it on the upper left top deck that took many man-hours to resolve. I had to guess what some parts looked like under the blemishes.

paddlewheel boat

The towboat CHEROKEE worked for the Louisville district of the U.S. Engineers and is evidently pushing quarter boats to a sight along the Ohio River to house and feed crews working on and engineering related project.

I like the windmill on the wharf boat in the left foreground. Perhaps the windmill provided power to pump water out of the river for a kitchen or rest rooms.

paddlewheel boat

Here's a new pair of real photo post cards just in. The towboat ELINOR was built in 1905. On the first card the following was written in the right margin:

"Chief Engineer on the Boat since built 4 years ago 1909"

So that was consistent with the boat's history. The cards had been glued in an album apparently and there's black paper from the album pages stuck to the back of both of them. The only fragments of writing that I was able to read were on the second card (the first apparently had nothing written on it).

"Savannah, Illinois" on the top was the place it was evidently sent from and the words "yours, Dad" on the bottom signing off.

Probably the 2 cards were mailed together in an envelope so they didn't have to be addressed or postage attached to them.

paddlewheel boat

Latest real photo post card off eBay at an unusually reasonable price, what a treat for a change. It's the SUSIE, designed by the Howard boatyards and shipped up to the Klondike disassembled and built up there. The SARAH and the HANNAH were Susie's sister ships (see citations from websites below), all 3 designed in the classic Western Rivers style to transport gold seekers during the Klondike Gold Rush. Iowa steamboat captain W.H. Bledsoe went up there and was sued for "breach of promise" . . . sounds like he "jilted" some lady he proposed to. I don't think they're doing much of that any more.

Interior Alaska

The Sarah, Susie, and Hannah were the queens of the Yukon River steamboats.

Ordered by the Alaska Commercial Company, they were built in Indiana and shipped to Unalaska where they were reassembled.

The 222-foot sternwheelers had 1,000-horsepower engines.

They served with style, from rich mahogany-paneled dining rooms to their monogrammed bed linens.

The boats were designed to carry 150 passengers, but sometimes as many as 500 persons were aboard.

Those without cabins slept where they found space

Excerpt from:
By Jerry E. Green

BLEDSOE, W.H., (Mississippi River)
1877, Born, Iowa (Federal Census, 1920, Iowa).
1900, Captain Bledsoe was from Davenport, Iowa. In 1900 he was pilot on the SUSIE with Captain Dolson (Waterways Journal, May 12, 1900, p 10).
1901, The Davenport Republican for Aug.11, 1901 has an interesting article regarding his being sued for breach of promise regarding his time in the Klondike.
1908, Master of the ST. MICHAEL (S&D Reflector, March, 1978, p. 43)

paddlewheel boat

I've also attached a post card of the STACKER LEE which was a rather plain utilitarian steamer although the fancy style lettering of her name on the stern perks her up a bit. http://www3.clearlight.com/~acsa/stagroot.htm

paddlewheel boat

For a grainy old snapshot there was a lot of detail was revealed in a super hi rez scan of the image and I was able to I.D. the Shamrock and Moonlight from this and provided the attached scan and my observations to the Daily Mail during my correspondence with them. Charleston with Towboat Shamrock No. 2, Edwards, moonlight.

New Orleans photo

Newest arrival, an undated Associated Press photo, possibly '40's of '50's Probably not a paddlewheeler but a nice looking boat with great name and signage. Nice that the life preserver included NEW ORLEANS on it.

. . . written in blue pencil on verso:

Mississippi River
Packet boat which supplies delta with merchandise & returns to New Orleans with oranges, furs, fish, moss.


Hi Dave,
Fascinating photo. Great detail. From the size of the stack and the shape of the pilothouse front I'd say a gas or diesel powered prop boat. Not steam, as she has a horn on the stack. Perhaps converted from an old steamboat with new upper works. Can't find any reference to her in Ways Packet Directory. Might be a good submission to the Reflector for possible i.d. The paint job looks fairly new or well scrubbed.

Valletta steamboat

Steamer Valletta. Just bought this photo today at a Pasadena post card show. The Valletta (built in 1901 destroyed by fire 1932) was a Sacramento River boat. They're providing transportation for an Odd Fellows picnic here. (I confirmed it was an outing for Lodge 133 at Colusa on the Sacramento River.)

This almost looks like a movie still with a bunch of extras. My favorite part (outside of the boat) are the dogs in the lower right corner. Feels like you could step right into this picture doesn't it? There isn't a date on it but I'd guess very early 1900's, not long after it was built. Thought I may have scanned this crooked but the people are standing straight so the boat must be listing towards the shore with too many passengers on that side.

The original photo measures 6-1/4 X 8 inches, mounted on a larger piece of board.

avalon 1950s photo

From a 1950's Louisiana calendar, Avalon in a bayou near Plaquemine. Brightened the boat but left the sky threatening, humid and ready to rain.

old steamboats

Attached from the Murphy of the ADAM JACOBS has always been a favorite of mine. The African American couple with their little girl on the hurricane roof and the Victorian fashions of all the ladies including two with parasols are charming. The upside down "waterfall" effect of the steam rising was probably due to a time exposure, only other blurs are down by the main deck which may have been the white jackets of stewards scampering aboard the boat. The front of the cabin with shuttered windows on the boiler deck looks very homey.

Photo Courtesy of Murphy Library at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse
Steamboat Collection Photographs

old steamboats

These 3 of the SENATOR CORDILL are beautiful not only as photos but the boat herself was so curvaceous on the outside and inviting on the inside.The interior surfaces shine and the ambiance/atmosphere is enthralling, in these pictures the cabin looks like you could walk into it, the depth and detail is seemingly three dimensional. Truly remarkable. All 3 are Murphy Library treasures.

Photo Courtesy of Murphy Library at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse
Steamboat Collection Photographs

Fred Way summed her up the SENATOR CORDILL (number 5050) in his Packet Directory:

"In memory of this big lady, let it be said this scribe (who was master-pilot on her three months in 1931, and pilot in 1932, '33 and '34) she was the most comfortable and satisfactory pile of lumber to pilot that I know about. In high wind she was as deliberate as a turtle. She had pretty engine room bells, a most wonderful whistle - she was one of the very few steamboats I really anticipated coming on watch on, day or night, rain or shine.

There is a complete store of the SENATOR CORDILL with many photographs in S&D Reflector, March 1971 issue, pages 13 - 25.

old steamboats

This just in the GREATER NEW ORLEANS photo date 23 March, 1928 when the boat had only been in the excursion business for about a year. Probably toured the harbor and maybe down to a few bayous.

Fred Way's profile on the boat below. Unusual industrial strength derrick in the foreground to operate the swinging stage with. Seems like a bit of overkill for the relatively light lifting it was required to do. Looks like a large scale version of those things a kid could build with an Erector sets.

GREATER NEW ORLEANS - Sternwheel excursion boat built Cincinnati, Oh., 1895. Originally named VIRGINIA, then STEEL CITY, then EAST ST. LOUIS, then ISLAND BELLE (all see). Under the latter name was sold in April 1927 to Greater New Orleans Amusement Co., headed by C. Maestri, completely rebuilt at Paducah, and renamed. Ran excursions at New Orleans for a year or so, then was sold to Streckfus Steamers, St. Louis who dismantled her and used the boilers on their excursion steamer WASHINGTON.

old steamboats
Attached 8 x 10 from Bert Fenn's collection that ended up on eBay. It was obviously screened so must have been copied from a book or magazine print and the quality is not up to par, was a bit disappointed but didn't pay too awful much for it. Not really worth posting but you may find the the boat in early stages of construction interesting.

This is not as spectacular a picture as the real photo post card that I bought some years back taken at the same location from a different occasion from further back which you have in the photo wing of my museum. Point Pleasant, West Virginia was a biz-zee place.

old steamboats

On the St. Paul, summer 1913, it's one of my all time favorites since it makes you feel like you're standing where the photographer was . . . like a door opening onto a dream with the reflective water in the distance and the feeling of serenity (except for the little boy on the right with his hand up to his ear . . . that wildcat screechin' of a cally-ope is difficult to endure at that close range and since I have Tinnitus it really raises Hell with my ears.

1900 steamboat

Wedding cake gingerbread on pilot house roof, the picturesque Alabama steamer JAMES T. STAPLES was built in 1900. The STAPLES was severely damaged by a boiler explosion in 1912 but the wreck was salvaged and the boat rebuilt as the PEERLESS where my 9 foot pilot wheel did duty in the pilot house (see page of photos from Dave's river room, click here).

old showboat

Remarkable image of the Showboat "French's New Sensation."

The paintings on the outside must've been in full color, gives it a carnival side show feel and I expect a Wurlitzer band organ to be playing and carousel horses riding in a circle on the top deck. The actors and crew are colorful characters, great slice of life in them days.

French's New Sensation was a theatre on a barge pushed by a towboat although apparently it could be steered from the whimsical looking pilot house on top of the floating theatre. Not sure how they hooked up the steering to the rudder or rudders of the towboat or how they communicated with the engine room to order full speed ahead, stop etc.

You can see a little bit of the front end of the towboat which pushed it. There are two towing knees pressed against the stern of the showboat and the tow is lashed to the barge upon which the theatre was built. You can also see part of the jackstaff (for want of a better name) on the front of the towboat.

old steamboat

Just in - 1904 albumen print of the Anchor Line boat HILL CITY at St. Louis 1904. Have never seen such a l-o-n-g boat with so much extra length between the stacks and the bow. She seems to be transporting wagons and/or carriages, lots of wheels visible on the top deck.


John Fryant's comments:

According to Way''s she was originally the City of Monroe, built 1887. 275 x 45 x 8. Obviously a Howard built boat. Badly damaged in tornado at St. Louis May 1896, then lengthened and rebuilt and came out as Hill City - 327 x 44 x 8.5. So they lengthened her 52 ft. She was remodeled into an excursion boat in 1903 and named Corwin H. Spencer. Some years ago someone gave me a big old iron bearing block which they said came off the Spencer. I still have it.

old steamboat photo

A Culver picture captioned on back "Loading rock phosphate." Probably along the Ohio River.


Grainy real photo post card of the li'l HIAWATHA which appears to be an excursion boat. The little "Texas" cabin is tucked behind the pilot house instead of under it, a style of nautical design which can be seen on several boats in the 1848 panoramic photos of Cincinnati, Ohio. Ladies in white dresses are present in so many excursion boat photos, very stylish.

U.S. Greenbrier

Four of the U.S. GREENBRIER, lighthouse tender that came in a cache of steamboat photos taken by a chap who traveled the rivers, working on boilers in boat yards and repairing boilers when a boat was stranded somewhere and couldn't move under her own steam until she was fixed up.

old paddlewheel steamboats

Dated 1943 of young lady standing near a seated old gent with the lighthouse tender GREENBRIER behind them.

Red Wing

From a stereoview of the Red Wing 1870. Those huge smokestacks and outsized flags are amazing, must've taken 3 men and a boy to raise banners like that. Low bridges already must have made stacks this high impractical.

old cotton packet

This shows a photograph that the artist based Ray's painting of Captain Cooley's AMERICA on. The present owner of the painting is Terrell Dempsey of Quincy, Illinois. Terrell was living in Hannibal, Missouri when he wrote Searching for Jim: Slavery in Sam Clemens's World to which Dave Thomson contributed research and illustrations. Dempsey's book is available from amazon.com: Searching for Jim: Slavery in Sam Clemens's World


Unknown steamboat tied to a tree stump at Marianna, Ark. Cargo includes bales of hay as well as boxes and barrels. They hadn't lowered the swinging stage but appear to be off loading barrels of something rolled along by deck hands. Marianna is on the L'Anguille River and county seat of Lee County which is in the center of the eastern border of Arkansas.

Dave Thomson Museum Wing Index

Photos of Older Boats
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steamboat photo