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The Monongahela River Packet Company And A Race On The River

Posted 02-12-2009 at 06:15 PM by Larry Durdines
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This is the steam packet boat Elizabeth at Fredericktown in 1902. She was 188 feet x 35 x 5.5 and was built at Brownsville ( the hull was built at Belle Vernon ) in 1888 for the Pittsburgh - Elizabeth Pa. trade. This trade died out by 1900, no doubt because the railroad had long by that time went as far upriver as Brownsville. It would be 7 more years till the rails reached any farther south. This made the Ten Mile Creek Country trade above Brownsville worth pursuing. In 1902 an independent line was formed called the Monongahela River Packet Company and ran the Elizabeth under that flag as far upriver as Morgantown. This put her in competition with boats of the Pittsburgh Brownsville and Geneva Packet Company , the oldest and biggest company on the upper river.

In August of 1902 she and the rival company's Str. I. C. Woodward met below old lock # 9 and raced each other to the chamber to be the first to lock through. They must have been pretty evenly matched because they arrived at the same time , both becoming wedged in the mouth of the lock and neither could or would move for the other. Here they sat for a while until the Masters of the vessels were called and the issue resolved .

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The race resulted in a tie

Which won the race is unknown but in the end the smaller company lost out to the bigger in the trade. The fall of the same year of 1902 saw the end of the Monongahela River Packet company. She was laid up later that year and in 1903 was sold and moored in the Allegheny river above Pittsburgh's 6th street bridge. In 1904 the boat next to her , the Olivette , caught fire setting the Elizabeth ablaze. She was turned loose, drifted under the Union bridge , a covered wooden structure and set it on fire . She was then pushed to the bank "where she burned at leisure".

Fire was a big enemy of these large wooden structures, dried wood, countless coats of flammable paint ( anyone who has ever worked on any riverboat, of wood or steel, can tell you that the paint is applied at every opportunity ) , kerosene lamps ( until the 1890's ) , coal or coal oil stoves, strong winds often present on the river, all made it a real possibility. Most cities had large wharf front fires at different times that would destroy many boats at once. Other very real dangers were snags ( sunken trees poking into the hull, causing some boats to sink in less than a minute ) and other sunken obstructions, boiler explosions, groundings and Pilot errors. Some boats lasted 20 years and many just a few years. All were heavily insured so when for instance, the Str. New Era was sunk then usually out came the New Era # 2 in a few months.

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Here's the Elizabeth at Brownsville rounding to with her stacks knocked back to clear the wooden covered bridge there. On the left descending bank is the Str. Edgar Cherry, a packet that ran for several years between Pittsburgh and Morgantown until she hit the gates at old lock # 4 and sunk in 1904.

Information for this was taken mostly from Ways Packet Directory, 1848 - 1994 by Fred Way Jr. Some images are from the most complete site on Mon river built boats, Steamboat Building in Elizabeth, PA . This wonderful site is maintained by Jay W. Mohney and his efforts are a priceless addition to river knowledge. This is taken from my site Ten Mile Creek Country.
Total Comments 2


Larry, thanks for this, from a 'burgher...the Mighty Mon...You know I know so little about Pittsburgh and her steamboat era but I'm reading as fast as I can...Looking at the pictures on your friend's website, gotta love how the spelling on the back of the very same towboat morphed over time from "Pittsburg" to "Pittsburgh"...

Welcome to our little bit of lunacy here...
Posted 02-12-2009 at 08:22 PM by Bruno Krause Bruno Krause is offline
Hi Bruno, thanks for the welcome. It seems to be a nice neighborhood here. I think you will agree that there is too little written of steamboats and the Monongahela River areas' contributions. We invented and then refined the western rivers steamboat right here in western Pennsylvania. Of course on down the river decades later, the wonderful shipyard artists there raised the design to a unique art form.
Posted 02-14-2009 at 01:55 PM by Larry Durdines Larry Durdines is offline

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