The Shining Road (parts 3 and 4) will try to cover the many events happening on and along the beautiful Ohio River in the 1800’s. This era moves way beyond the dugout tulip poplar canoe and the flatboat. Until now, these had been slow and usually downstream transportation. During this century, the sights and sounds will change. Prior to this point, the sights would have been boats floating down a quiet river, with people greeting one another across the quiet water. The silence could have been broken by an Indian attack, also.
Through the 1800’s, their river saw keelboats and the sounds were once again boatsmen calling across the water, or a bugle sounding through mist and fog. As the steamboat arrived, so did the sounds of paddlewheels thrashing the water, and the pilot’s bell, the steamboats lived a short and dangerous life on the Ohio River (four and a half years average) but their bells lived on. These bells might range from the size of a bucket to a hundred, or a thousand pounds. The bells were routinely heard to arouse roustabouts at the levee, or the departing bell as they left. These bells were reused because they were the voice of prized boats and a memory of a romantic time on The Shining Road. Some of the bells had silver dollars melted into their metal to enrich their tone and price. These bells went from sunken steamers, to other steamers, towboats, churches, schools, etc.
By the 1840’s, The Shining Road was getting busy enough for traffic lights. The bells were handy for boats to signal arrival and departure at the dock, but they were very much necessary for signaling for passing in the channel. This issue was extremely dangerous in narrow snag-filled channels, in the rain or fog. Now enter the steam whistle, and exit tranquility. The first whistle shrilled from the “REVENUE” on the Ohio, in the early 1840’s. It was built by Captain William Robert Fulton in Pittsburgh. This brought a whole new element to life along the river. As the bells grew in size, so did the whistles. They each had their own sound, personality, and pitch. This allowed rivermen and townspeople to know who was coming around the bend in advance.
At the Campus Martius Museum, at Marietta, there is a collection of steam whistles in the “River Room”. After having long been silent, these whistles were taken to the Union Carbide Plant at Long Reach (mile 146) where they had one last hurrah. They were hooked to steam lines and choked and coughed briefly, but then found their voices once again, as they filled the valley with music of days gone by.
We got a little carried away with the topic of river sounds, and zipped right past some very important episodes in the early 1800’s, on the river. Let’s start with 1803.
How much bigger does it get on the Ohio River than Ohio becoming a state? This should have been party time for most along the Ohio River. Speaking of along the river, you know the counties that were along the river from Marietta, to Cincinnati were the original counties in the State of Ohio, and of course, Scioto was one of these original counties in 1803.
As the Ohio River flowed west, so did America. The Great River brought multitudes past, through, and to Ohio. As America achieves her destiny, so does Ohio, and her river.
1803 also marks the date of “The Louisiana Purchase”. Up to now the Ohio has been a main artery of traffic to and beyond Ohio. International politics now have Spain and France at odds over “Tuscan Wars”, Louisiana, and money. The Spanish, French, and English would all like to control the trade and cash flow on the Mississippi River and call that the westward extent of America. Then Napoleon hands Thomas Jefferson the opportunity of a lifetime with the Louisiana Purchase. Because of their war debts, France offers the Louisiana Territory to us for 15 million dollars (60 million francs), which is for about ninety thousand square miles of trans-Mississippi territory. This means a real estate deal of 4 cents per acre. The beauty of this deal is that it gives us expansion west, the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, cheap land, and Texas, more or less. We also viewed this territory as settler land, Indian relocation land, and going all the way to the sea.
What does the Louisiana Purchase have to do with the Ohio River? Well, if you were headquartered in Washington, D.C. and wanted to get to the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, you go by way of the Ohio River. President Jefferson assigned Meriwether Lewis the task of making the trip to assess the worth of our gain and Napoleon’s loss. Most of us think of the “Voyage of Discovery” as being out West, but it had to start and end in the East. Upon approval from Jefferson, Lewis started ordering provisions for the trip in June of 1803. This included food, gear, men, trading items for the Indians, and vessels. One of the biggest irritations for the moody Lewis was getting the vessels. The boat building process fell way behind his schedule. Lewis felt that the shipbuilders in Pittsburgh were “drunkards”, and not worthy of the Great National Cause he was about to embark upon. The keelboats and canoes finally left Pittsburgh the last day of August. Now remember, this is summer, and this is well before any locks and dams, and this means the Ohio River is only ripples in places. The two tons of freight, plus summer time equals the boat don’t float.
Lewis got a lot better look at Ohio than he had planned. He was still cursing the “drunkards” in Pittsburgh, when both canoes leaked, were repaired, and still leaked. (These large canoes were called Pirogues.) With the overload and a small stream, they only made 5-6 miles per day, many days, and they spent most of September on the Ohio river, being towed by oxen from the river bank. This lack of progress cost them a valuable month of good weather and jeopardized their ability to be where they wanted to be by winter’s bad weather.
Lewis would always remember nothing good about his trip down the Ohio River. As his memory served him, it was about starting late, being towed, leaky boats, the Falls of the Ohio (at Louisville, KY.) and shooting a woman. This was not his proudest moment. They had only gone 3 miles, when they pulled off at “Bruno’s Landing”. As Lewis was showing off his new air-gun, he pumped it up, started to pass it around to spectators and it went off. It struck a woman in the crowd, 40 yards away. She went down bleeding profusely from the temple, and the crowd went wild. Luckily, she was only grazed, and survived, but Lewis was making memories along The Shining Road, that he would never forget.
By the time he picked up William Clark, in Clarksville, Indiana, Lewis was just about fed up with everyone but “Seaman – the Sagacious”, his 115 lb., black, Newfoundland. The Lewis and Clark Expedition, as most of us know about, can officially begin, and Lewis can look at The Shining Road in his rearview mirror.
In part four we will try to touch on many more major events on our river in the 1800’s.