Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 30, 1974 · Page 71
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June 30, 1974

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 71

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, June 30, 1974
Page 71
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Page 71 article text (OCR)

Passenger Packets on the Kanawha By James A. Wallen The Kanawha is a towboat river today, carrying barge- loads of coal, oil, gasoline, chemicals, sand, cement, and other heavy bulk materials between industrial terminals. . But such has not always been the case. For almost a century the bordering hills echoed the melodious whistles of packet steamers carrying passengers, package freight, and farm produce on regular schedules. And in earlier days, the steam packets even carried the U.S. mail. Although scheduled, passenger-carrying steamboats were active on the Kanawha decades before the Civil War, it was from 1865 into the 1930's that the trade really flourished. Numerous shallow-draft steamers, most of them sternwheelers, announced their comings and goings with the musical chords of finely-tuned steam whistles. The bigger steamboats came to Charleston from Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, while the short-trade packets maintained schedules upstream t o C o a l b u r g and Montgomery, and downstream to Red House and Buffalo. Coming up from Gallipolis, 0., and Point Pleasant, smaller packets made connection at Winfield and .other landings with the short-trade boats coming down from Charleston., * ' The one .sidewheeler that . ran regiilarly between Cincinnati and Charleston during the early part of the present century was the Greenland, a fine steamer 210 feet in length, with a long, second deck cabin- lined with staterooms for carrying 125 overnight passengers. One who remembers well the interesting life that prevailed aboard the Greenland is James A. "Jim" Harmon, retired steamboat engineer, who was "striker," or apprentice engineer aboard the Greenland in 1910. "It was a three-day trip from Cincinnati to Charleston and back to Cincinnati," he relates, "and during the summer months we were usually filled with overnight passengers, plus a few daytime passengers just going short distances. "There was always some activity for everybody to be interested in, because we had a good many landings to make for both freight and passengers. And in those days, before the U.S. Engineers put in the present system of high dams and larger locks, each way there were eleven locks to go through on the Ohio, and six on the Kanawha during periods of normal water. "As soon as we were out of Cincinnati a few hours, everyone-was getting acquainted The Evergreen at Red House in 1907. This photo may have heen taken of a church excursion. and enjoying the trip. The Kanawha River scenery seemed to have had particu- larappeal to the people from Cincinnati. Long tables were set lengthwise in the cabin at mealtimes, and a dozen white-coated waiters kept busy serving all the food everyone wanted." *· But nothing is free, of course, and the fare for that three-day round trip of 526 miles of scenic rivers was $12 per person. That sum included meals and stateroom. "We always stayed at Charlewton long enough for the passengers to go uptown and walk around for a while," says Harmon. In addition to our stop at Charleston, we usually had Cincinnati freight for such places as Pliny, Buffalo. Wjnfield. Red House, and St. Albans, stopping at those way landings on our way up the river." Harmon had previously been on the K a n a w h a . a 180'/z-foot sternwheeler running from Pittsburgh to Charleston. "The Kanawha made all S ' ; v i -.-···· . - j ' s ' i v»: .s, ·».·*"; the farm landings along the Kanawha River," says Harmon. He describes her as a" "chicken and egg;boat." "The Kanawha^would stop at the small towns and any place a farmer would come down to the river bank and wave a handkerchief. The pilot would answer these . hails with a brief toot on the whistle and swing her head in toward the bank. . "By the time we left the Kanawha River on our way back to Pittsburgh, we were oft«i joaded with coops of chickens, cases of eggs, hogs, calves, cows, chickens, and sheep, : ali for the Pittsburgh market: There - were times .when coops of chickens were even stacked up on the roof." · · ^ ' · ' · . . . . Jim Harmon., who was raised on a 350 acre farm fronting on the Kanawha River near the mouth of Little Guano Creek above Red House, had never expected to be anything but a stearin boatman as he watched the boats passing his home during his days as a youngster working on the family farm. r'i ', *. : - n ·°':: :i i - . * j - v i '~,.i .;!··/; He was ,15 years old when ·-he went to work as cabin ^watchman aboard the ^ficeenwood, He soon progressed to "striker" and, in time, obtained his engineer's license, later standing watch at the engines of scores of steamboats on the Kanawha, Ohio, Monongahela, Green! and Mississippi rivers before retiring. But even before he had a job on the river, he liked to .travel on the boats, and remembers going from Plymouth to Charleston on the short-trade packet Gondola : for a fare of 25 cents. '!0ri those ;short-trade boats, your fare didn't include meals, "so it would have cost me another 25 y _cents if I'd wanted a place at ,-*· "the table, where I could have . had just about all I wanted to -: : The informality of work- ;ing on riverboats in those '"days is illustrated by a · ',- Christmas season experi- , ence he had. ~ About the middle of December. Harmon was waiting ,at Cincinnati for the train that, would take him home for the holidays. He walked down to the public landing and went aboard the Cincinnati-Maysville packet Courier to pass the time of day with the engineers. One, of the Courier's engineers was trying to get two weeks off to get married, and saw Harmon as just the "man he. was looking for. "I felt I ought to help out, but I wanted to go home for Christmas and see all the family." says Jim. But he gave in when the Courier's engineer told him to "Go uptown and buy all the presents you want, and the Tacoma will put 'em off at your home landing on her trip up the Kanawha this week." It was done. Both the Courier and the Tacoma were owned by the Greene Line, and there was no trouble in arranging for the Tacoma's special landing at the Harmon farm. It was the beginning of a long and happy period of work on the Courier for Engineer Harmon. » The list of packet boats that ran on the Kanawha late in the past century and in the early part of the present century is a long one, bearing many names that have been written indelibly into the valley's history. Among the steamers plying between Charleston and Montgomery were the Handy No. 2, Calvert. Cricket, J.Q. Dickinson, Valley Belle, Kanawha Belle, and Helen Lane. From Gallipolis came the Boone, Big Kanawha, Evergreen, and Leroy. Between 1898 and 1908, the little steamer Neva ran from Gallipolis to Buffalo and Winfield, while the T.D. Dale came down from Charleston to Winfield. The Liberty was operating from Gallipolis to Charleston in 1921, later running from Pittsburgh to Charleston until 1936. The General Pershing was in the Pittsburgh-Charleston trade from 1918 to 1921, followed by- the larger Senator Cordill. Earlier boats in this trade were the H.K. Bedford, Lizzie Bay, Urania, and Gfeendale. The Henry M. Stanley, a sternwheeler, was one of the outstanding packets in;the Cincinnati-Charleston trade in addition to the Greenland. The Stanley was, like the Greenland, a popular passenger steamer. * · » · · · ·-.'·· . With so many wooden- hulled paddiewheelers ^running on this narrow, crowded, and sometimes shallow stream, accidents were in:evitable. Some of thenrwere spectacular. .:,....·_ ,,· . On the dark, blustery night .of Dec. 19, 1901, the Kanawha Belle, downbound at her normal running speed, went over the top of Dam 3, below Paint Greek, and dived 18 feet into the black water below; the Kanawha Belle.was , completely wrecked; and eight lives were lost. 7 It was.,caused by ; .a ; .tragic a n d needless mistake.; , r The pilot who had come on watch a short time before- after having been asleep in his 'stateroom -- thought the boat was headed-upstream, as she had been when he went off watch. He had not been told that instead of going .to Montgomery: as usual, the steamer had fallen so far behind schedule the captain had decided to have her turned around and go back to Charleston. + ' . One of the largest packet steamers to ever sink in the Kanawha was the 200-foot sternwheeler Sunshine, which struck a submerged boulder at Knob Shoals, a short distance above Buffalo, in the summer of 1894. The Sunshine, which belonged to the White Collar Line, was not a regular Kanawha River boat, but had been sent up to the mines near Charleston to load fuel coal.for-lhe boiletof Mute 2m' June

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