The Scioto (Courtney Ellis Collection)
Thanks to lock and dam construction by the Rough River Navigation Company, incorporated in 1856, the citizens of Hartford and Ohio County, Kentucky once enjoyed regular steamboat traffic along that tributary of the Green River. Late in the 19th century the Scioto, a 94-foot-long craft owned by the Hartford and Evansville Packet Company, transported both freight and passengers between Hartford and Evansville, Indiana.
The daily demands of operating the Scioto are documented in a collection of bills and receipts held in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Dated 1899, they show the expenses necessary to maintain this floating conveyance of people and goods. We see purchases of foodstuffs such as flour, peas, corn, butter, coffee, ketchup, sugar and potatoes; provisions such as oil, matches and deck brooms; services rendered for laundering sheets, towels and tablecloths; and repairs to stoves, pipes and flanges. The Scioto‘s crew did business at both ends of its route, so Hartford and Evansville merchants are well represented. Some of these firms catered specifically to the steamboat trade, promising to serve their customers’ needs “at all hours.” Many of the Evansville businesses were appropriately located on Upper Water Street, now Riverside Drive.
Click here to access a finding aid for the Scioto steamboat collection of receipts, and here to learn about our premier collection of Ohio River Valley steamboat photographs. For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.
Josiah William Ware
A prosperous livestock breeder before the Civil War, Josiah William Ware (1802-1883) rubbed elbows with prominent political figures at his farm, Springfield Plantation, in Clark County, Virginia. But not even the perks of money and class could protect Ware from the vicissitudes of travel in early 19th-century America. Our modern highway traffic, cancelled flights and long airport security lines look rather pale in comparison to Ware’s experience of a journey home in 1837.
Embarking on the Ohio River from Maysville, Kentucky, as he reported in a letter to his cousin, Ware boarded a steamboat. . . which promptly broke its shaft. “We then got on another,” he continued, “which broke some part of her every morning making about 15 miles every night laying by in the day to repair & travelling at night.” As they struggled up the ice-laden river, “we burst some part of our machinery knocked off both chimneys, were on fire 3 times or 4 and was nearly capsized.” Ware and his fellow passengers were “at last compelled to foot it” at Wheeling, where they crossed over to Virginia (now West Virginia) in canoes. From there, both the number (and mood, no doubt) of the “crowd of passengers” made it “quite difficult to be entertained” as they found lodging scarce or nonexistent during the final leg of their nightmarish journey.
Ultimately, Ware took everything in stride. Calling himself “the Jonah of the travellers” (and perhaps thankful that no whales inhabited the Ohio River), he advised his cousin that if he was contemplating a journey, “never to associate yourself with so unfortunate a traveller as myself. You never will have good luck if you do.”
A finding aid and typescript of Ware’s letter can be accessed here. For more collections on travel in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.