The Steamboat Era

SIZE
82' Long by 24' High

COMPLETION DATE
January 2000

ARTIST NAME
Wes Hardin

TALKING POINTS

  • Lack of good traveling roads in the Wiregrass in the 1800’s ushered in the Steamboat Era with the main transportation being the Chattahoochee River on the east, and the smaller Choctawhatchee, which flows through the region.
  • Traveling upriver, the boats carried supplies for the towns and plantations, and on the downstream journey they would carry produce, bales of cotton, bales of cattle hide and barrels of turpentine and pitch heading for the factories in the East and in Europe.
  • Some of the boats did a booming vacation business; many people would save their money and take round trip excursions down the river to Apalachicola – usually a four day trip from Dothan.
  • Many boats, such as the John W. Callahan, had an excellent dining room and an orchestra that would be on the top deck playing music for the vacationers who would dance under the stars to the tunes and enjoy themselves. It was a romantic time.
  • The John W. Callahan was 153 ft. long by 35 ft. wide, and measured only 31 inches from the bottom deck to the bottom of the keel. It was really a huge barge with a paddle wheel. It was necessary to build the boats in this manner because of the shallow water and sand bars in many places in the river.
  • The end of the steamboat era began with the coming of the railroads to the Wiregrass in 1889.

There were few roads in the Wiregrass in the 1800s – and the roads that were here were little more than twin rutted paths. The main transportation in the region was the steamboats on the Chattahoochee River on the east, and, to a lesser degree, the boats on the smaller Choctawhatchee, which flows through the center of the Wiregrass region.

On their journey upriver, the steamboats would carry supplies for the towns and plantations, and on their downstream journey they would carry produce, mainly bales of cotton, bales of cattle hides, and naval stores (barrels of turpentine and pitch), heading for the factories in the East and in Europe. The steamboats would tie up at small makeshift wharves along the river banks to load freight, and would even accept passengers and freight in midstream brought to them by small boats from one of the plantations along the river.

Some of the boats did a booming vacation business. Many people would save their money and take a vacation by making a round trip excursion down the river to Apalachicola and return – usually for a four-day trip from Dothan. The vacationers and regular passengers would have very nice cabins on the middle deck, while the lower deck would be loaded with freight. Many boats, such as the John W. Callahan, had an excellent dining room and an orchestra that would be on the top deck playing music for the vacationers who would dance under the stars to the tunes and enjoy themselves. It was a romantic time.

The end of the steamboat era began with the coming of the railroads to the Wiregrass in 1889. Boats still ply the river today carrying gasoline, chemicals, and other produce upstream, and return loaded with pulp from the paper mills, and telephone poles destined for the eastern market and Europe.

The John W. Callahan was 153 ft. long by 35 ft. wide, and measured only 31 inches from the bottom deck to the bottom of the keel. It was really a huge barge with a paddle wheel. It was necessary to build the boats in this manner because of the shallow water and sand bars in many places in the river.