Editor's note: This story was originally printed in the Hannibal Courier-Post during the newspaper's 100th anniversary edition in 1938.
This is the second installment of the history of the river as it relates to Hannibal.
Water has played an important part in the development of Missouri. There is a little more than one acre of running water to 100 acres of land. Water is a big factor in the transportation problems of this as well as other states in the great valley, for the Mississippi river forms the line on which the rates on east and west shipments are based.
The first ferryboat across the river at this point was established in 1831. It was owned by Samuel Stone and Theophlus Stone was the first ferryman. The boat was a large flat bottomed affair. Oars, manpower and muscle sent the ferry back and forth on its journeys between the Missouri and illinois shores but later it was operated by horsepower and then many years later, the steam ferry took its place.
When the ferry was first established here each foot passenger paid 25 cents toll each way. The vehicle charge was 25 cents for each wheel and another 25 cent charge was made for each horse.
Another ferry boat, operated by Raymond Rutter plied between Port Scipio, a short distance above the Wabash bridge, and the Illinois shore.
The first steam ferry boat began operations in Hannibal in 1849.
The envoy was one of the first steamers to make regular trips between St. Louis Hannibal, Marion City and Quincy. It did a big business. The William Wallace was another early day steamer. It was commanded by Captain Carlisle of Saverton. The "William Wallace" carried its full share of passengers and freight. The peculiar thing about this vessel was that the cabin was not on the steamer itself, but on a keel boat which was towed along side.
Steamboating was a flourishing industry on the Mississippi river between 1836 and 1845. A steamer, the Rosalee, was commanded by Captain Cameron. The steamer "Boreas," the "Quincy," the "Annawan" and the "Olive Branch," plied between St. Louis Hannibal and Quincy in the early days.
In 1845 the St. Louis & Keokuk Packet company was organized and put a fleet of boats in the service and the steamers "Kate Kearney." the "Edward Bates." the "Monongahela" and the "New England" were familiar sights to people living in river towns between Keokuk, Iowa and St. Louis. These boats were popular packets and carried so much freight and so many passengers that more steamers were needed and the "Jennie Dean" and the "City of Warsaw" were added to the fleet and divided business with two other steamers, the "DiVernon" and the "City of Hannibal," two of the best and most popular boats of the line. Later the company added the "Andy Johnson" and the "J. H. Johnson."
Blamed for Cholera Epidemic
In 1850 the steamers were blamed for bringing the cholera up the river There were four deaths alone on the steamer "Monongahela" between Hannibal and Quincy on one trip. During the epidemic there were 24 deaths in Hannibal from cholera.
Business was good on the river between 1845 and 1855. Travel by packet was considered the ideal way of making a trip. And hundreds of persons used the steamer between cities on the river, while stage coaches and farm wagons brought people from out in the state to the river towns to catch the boat, for points on the river.
Tons of hemp and other merchandise, loaded on steamers at St. Louis was shipped to points up stream and from there was freighted to inland cities and towns.
A series of accidents occurred to several steamers belonging to the Packet company between 1852 and 1868.
A flue of the steamer Kate Kearney collapsed in 1858 while the boat was racing near Canton. Later this palatial steamer was burned in the big steamboat disaster which occurred a few miles above St. Louis.
The steamer Ocean Spray, an Illinois river boat, was, at the time of the catastrophe, racing with the "City of Hannibal," which was commanded by Captain Matson, an old veteran river man. The owners of the Ocean Spray were determined to pass the City of Hannibal if possible and members of the crew of the vessel were throwing turpentine into the furnace. In some manner the barrel, from which the turpentine was being dipped, was turned over and the mass caught fire, the flames quickly spreading to all parts of the steamer. The burning Ocean Spray, drifted down the river among a number of steamers. The Kate Kearney was directly in the pathway of the blazing wreck and this steamer caught fire and was also totally destroyed.
Later the City of Hannibal was sunk a few miles south of Louisiana and in 1852 a number of people lost their lives when there was an explosion on the Edward Bates.
The steamer Dictator struck one of the piers of the Hannibal bridge, April 17, 1876, and then drifted clear of the structure and sank.
Other River Steamers
The Northern Packet company operated the "Northern State" in 1856. The "Excelsior," the "Sucker State," the "Denmark" and the "Metropolitan" were among the other boats owned by the company. The steamers were at first operated as far north as Davenport but in 1859 the boats began going up the river to St. Paul.
The St. Louis & St. Paul Packet company, the Eagle Packet company, the St. Louis & Tennessee River Packet company and the Streckfus company operated steamers on the river later.
Gradually with the construction of the network of railroads and the establishment of fast trains, with comfortable day coaches, chair cars and sleepers, passenger travel was weaned away from the boats and little by little, the boats lost the fast freight business to the faster railroads.
Several years ago the movement was launched to improve the upper Mississippi river by creating a nine foot channel from St. Louis to the head of navigation. Work on this project is almost complete. The channel will be created and maintained by building twenty five dams and locks in the river.
The dams serve to create pools in the river, keeping the water at practically the same depth from the lower side of the upper dam to the upper side of the dam miles farther down stream. For illustration the lock and dam in the river at Clarksville will keep the water at the same depth as the water at the lower side of the dam at Saverton, preserving the nine foot channel.
When the dams are built and the locks are in operation all traffic, up and down the river, will be sent through the locks, in fact, that will be the only channel left open for navigation.
Dams are known as the "roller" type dams; from the fact that the main gate or water passage is in the shape of a huge roller, which can be raised or lowered as the operator of the work wishes. During the extreme high water the passage, if desired, can be augmented by opening the "tainter" gates in the dam (and each dam is equipped with a number of these gates) which work upward and outward and can be opened when desired.
The series of dams, old river men believe, will serve to increase river traffic, and will make the "Father of Waters" a mighty artery of commerce, which will carry trade between this and other nations of the world.
Several of the dams in this great waterway project are in course of construction. The dam at Keokuk, of course, was completed many years ago, this is a power dam, and electric energy generated there, moves the wheels in factories in cities and towns in many parts of the great Mississippi valley, including the City of St. Louis.
The dam at Guttenburg, Iowa. a part of the nine foot deep channel project, has already been completed as has also the dam at Canton, a dam similar to the one under construction south of Saverton and sometimes referred to as the Hannibal dam, although it is six and three-tenths miles down the river from this point.
Dams forming a part of the nine foot deep water channel projects and now under construction are known as 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 2O, and 22, and are located at the following points: Dubuque, lowa; Bellevue, Iowa; Fulton, 111. LaClaie, Iowa, Pleasant Valley, lowa; New Boston, Ill., nearing completion; Burlington, Iowa.
Quincy and Saverton, all in the Rock Island division, and dams 23, 24 and 25, in the St. Louis divisions. The last three named dams are located at Clarksville, Cape a Gris, Lincoln county; and Alton, III.
The building of these dams is really an immense river improvement project and the total cost of the work is great enough to make even the skilled mathematician sit up and take notice. Advocates of the river improvement project however, firmly believe that it will bring to the cities and towns in these middle states, the port of the world.
Most of the dams now under construction on the upper Mississippi river, will be completed on or before the fall of 1938.
United States engineers are on hand, at each dam to observe every bit of work done and to see that every part of the construction is according to government specifications.
Lock and Dam 22
The dam south of Saverton was built by the Massman Construction company of Kansas City, and with the lock, finished in 1935, forms what is known as unit 22, in the great nine foot channel project.
Work on lock 22 was started In 1933 and was completed in February 1935. The lock was built by Joseph Melser, incorporated, of New York. Hundreds of men were employed in the stupendous task.
The dam was built under the supervision of I. N. Towne, superintendent of construction.
The first carpenter was employed on this work by the Massman company September 21, 1936 but actual construction work was not under way until October 1936, and since that time steady progress has been made. The dam has been completed, final "cleaning up' now being in progress.