Riverboat History

Ohio River rich in riverboat lore

By Mary Ann Gentry
Contributing Writer

When Port William was being settled in the early 1800s, families traveled down the Ohio River from Pennsylvania with their children, furnishing and some livestock aboard.
In 1838, my great-great-grandparents, William Thomas and Sarah McCrackin, with their four children, docked at the point of Port William, which is present-day Carrollton, Ky.
They liked what they saw and decided to stay.
One of the earliest Ohio ferryboat franchises was allowed in the early 1800s to George Ash of Lamb, Ind. Ash had been kidnapped by Indians in 1775 and lived with them for 17 years.
Later, he left the tribe and settled across the Ohio from Port William. He assisted the U.S. Government in understanding the Indians' logic, and for this was awarded a large acreage to live on in Indiana, just west of Vevay.
The franchise lasted through three generations for 125 years.
(Mary Jo)
When the George Ash franchise ended, the ferryboat, Ohio, became the ferry between Lamb and Carrollton. It was owned by the McKay Co. and continued crossings until 1947 when the bridge between Milton, Ky., and Madison, Ind., no longer charged a toll.
(Ohio ferry)
On the Kentucky River, ferryboats crossed to Wide Awake, which is present-day Prestonville, Ky. One of the first was owned by James Coghill, and a later one was the Heath Ferry, which operated from 1870 to 1900 when a bridge over the Kentucky River enabled settlers to cross faster.
On up the Ohio River, ferryboats were busy for many years. The last one to serve those in Ghent, Ky., and Vevay was the Martha A. Graham, which ran from 1943 until 1978 when the Markland Dam Bridge was completed.
The Hattie Brown was built in 1884 to carry freight and passengers from Warsaw, Ky., to Madison, stopping at Ghent and Carrollton docks twice daily. Some newlyweds rode the Hattie Brown for their honeymoon transportation.
Sunday afternoon excursions for a family were enlightening trips. In 1915 she was damaged in a storm, but was refitted and used until the ice in 1918 on the Ohio River sank her.
The residents of Carrollton were pleased to learn in 1890 about a steamer named Carrollton. In 1891, a second steamer belonging to the White Collar Line of Cincinnati began traveling the Ohio as far as Pittsburgh.
In 1895, some boys set fire to bales of hay at the Cincinnati dock, destroying the Carrollton and three others in port.
The Kentucky was a large sternwheeler built in 1907 in Madison. She carried cargo and passengers from Louisville to Cincinnati until 1932 and belonged to the Greene Line.
Today's Belle of Louisville paddlewheeler was built in 1914 and was originally called the Idlewild. She operated up and down the Ohio River for nine months a year. In 1947 she was renovated and renamed the Avalon and used mostly for excursions in warm weather.
Jefferson County, Ky., eventually bought the steamer, refitted her and renamed her the Belle of Louisville. She is one of the attractions on Louisville's waterfront – pretty good for an 85-year-old lady.
(Belle of Lou)
The Island Queen was a familiar sight on the Ohio from 1910 until 1947. In cold weather, she docked at the mouth of the Kentucky because that river was deep and seldom froze. However, the severe winter of 1918 damaged her.
In 1925, a new Queen was outfitted. In the summers, passengers boarded her for a day's outing at Coney Island, near Cincinnati. While in port in Pittsburgh, an explosion destroyed her in 1947.
(island queen)
A houseboat owned by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Davis was another familiar sight along the Ohio River through the 1930s. During Prohibition they supplemented their income by peddling moonshine.
(flatboat sketch of couple)
The beautiful and majestic Delta Queen was built 73 years ago in 1926. She travels the Ohio, Mississippi and Tennessee rivers. The big, red paddlewheeler and calliope are always recognized by people along both shores.
Since 1976, the Delta Queen has had two sisters, the Mississippi Queen and the American Queen, both larger than the Delta Queen.
Today, there is a boat service at Carollton. The Grey Ghost, operated by Gene Valco's Market, carries supplies to barges and large boats traveling the Ohio River. The barge captains call ahead to place their orders and the Grey Ghost docks alongside to deliver.
This service was begun in 1978 by Haydon McIntyre and has been continued by Valco since 1984.

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