historian Back to
discuss history of steamboats
Madisons early Victorian era
Helen E. McKinney
(June 2010) Danny Lee Back has traveled more than
12,000 miles aboard steamboats, a mode of transportation all but forgotten.
So deep is his fascination for the river that he has been giving river
history programs for the past 20 years.
Back bases his program material on research gleaned from his collection
of more than 700 books and 200 magazines about the river and steamboats.
I consider myself a River Historian. I study all aspects of the
rivers with a focus on transportation, said Back, a Patriot, Ind.,
Back is a river historian who has
presented programs on the history of
inland rivers and steamboats since 1990.
I find the river peaceful and tranquil. Traveling
on a steamboat at 3-5 mph gives you an opportunity to take in the scenery,
Back, 65, is a member of the Indiana Historical Societys Speakers
Bureau. He has been a guest speaker aboard several steamboats including
the Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen, American Queen, Barbara-H and the
Back will bring his river knowledge to Lanier Days, scheduled for 10
a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 19-20 at the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site
in Madison. At 11 a.m. Saturday, June 19, he will speak on Steamboats
on the Western Waters.
Listeners can expect to learn from Backs presentation the
story of the steamboat on the Ohio and Mississippi River system,
he said. His program will touch on a variety of topics, including early
river transportation, locks and dams, different types of steamboats,
what life on the river was like during the steamboat era, commercial
uses of the river in the 1800s, hazards faced by steamboats and factors
that contributed to the decline of the steamboat.
Originally from West Chester, Ohio, Back is a retired Section Manager
for Procter & Gamble, where he worked for 35 years. In 1989 he transferred
to Cape Girardeau, Mo. He and his wife of 44 years, Sue, eventually
settled in Patriot, located in nearby Switzerland County.
Back often makes time to devote to his passion, river travel, having
traveled from Budapest to Amsterdam on the Danube, Main and Rhine Rivers.
He has traveled more than 10,000 miles on inland rivers aboard the River
Explorer and on six remaining authentic steamboats.
He belongs to several river history organizations, including Sons and
Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen, Midwest River Buffs (Keokuk, Iowa) and
Paddlewheel Steamboatin Society. He was a crewmember of the Steamboat
Natchez during Tall Stacks in 2006. Many members of these clubs are
experts on the steamboat or are descendants of steamboat families,
Currently, Back is giving programs about Samuel Clemens steamboat
pilot career for the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read
project. He also sits on the Posey-Patriot park board and is assisting
in developing a river front park.
Back created the History Museum for Patriot and the Life on the Ohio
river history museum in Vevay. He assisted the Cincinnati Museum Center
in developing a River History Program.
The life and culture of early Victorian-era Madison has been celebrated
through Lanier Days for more than 20 years. James F.D. Lanier owned
the Lanier Mansion and resided in Madison from 1817-1851. His son, Alexander,
owned the house from 1861-1895.
The event covers these time periods, but focuses on 1840-1870,
said Gerry Reilly, Site Manager for the Lanier Mansion State Historic
Site and Eastern Regional Manager of Historic Sites.
Included in the event lineup will be several historical talks, Victorian
cooking techniques, period music, childrens activities and a Historic
Trades Fair that will feature artisans demonstrating such 19th century
trades as soap-making, blacksmithing, woodworking, weaving, spinning,
masonry, timber framing and plastering. Several Civil War re-enacting
groups will be participating by firing artillery on the hour, conducting
military boot camp for children and holding mock battles both days.
One reason the event focuses on the Civil War is because the Civil War
was the most major event in American history in the time period covered
by the house, said Reilly. Mr. J.F.D. Lanier loaned Indiana $1,050,000
during the war even though he then lived in New York, said Reilly.
His loans paid for equipping troops with weapons and uniforms
and paying interest on the states debt of $650,000. He is considered
to be the savior of Indiana during the Civil War.
The Historic Trades Fair portion of the event was added last year by
Rhonda Deeg, Madison Main Street Program Director and co-owner of OlHouse
Experts. Deeg was a member of the Madison Bicentennial Committee and
planned the fair to celebrate the preservation craftspeople that
built our beautiful city.
Deeg is also a member of the Preservation Trades Network, a national
organization that conducts trades workshops all over the United States.
It is our mission to educate the public about the Historic Trades
and provide networking opportunity for building owners to learn and
talk with craftspeople and for craftspeople to talk with each other
about historic building methods and techniques, she said.
Event participants will be able to mingle with craftspeople and learn
proper methods, techniques and products to use for restoring their own
historic home, furniture, etc., said Deeg. The Historic Trades Fair
is sponsored by Mon-Ray Storm Windows.
A five-course Historic Preservation Trades Technology Program is offered
in Madison by Ivy Tech Community College, where Deeg is a member of
the Historic Preservation Program faculty. The Historic Trades Fair
adds to the other events that will be showcasing the 19th century lifestyle.
For more information, call Gerry Reilly
at (812) 273-0556.
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