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-   -   When did natural gas/propane come to steamboats? (http://www.steamboats.org/forum/steamboats-history/2947-when-did-natural-gas-propane-come-steamboats.html)

Ed Barnes 04-12-2009 12:03 PM

When did natural gas/propane come to steamboats?
 
2 Attachment(s)
My question is not as odd as it sounds. I have a chandelier that several in my
family swore came off the Robert E. Lee (yes the one in the race)Problem is that they have all passed now that I am interested in finding out more about the
history of it. It started off as a gas light chandelier and then was converted
to electricity. I conversed with several folks on an antique forum about its
"maybe" history and they all said that steamboats of that era did not have
natural gas/propane/LNG or any thing like that. So all lights on a steamboat of
that era were oil? Any thoughts would be great. Also, is it possible to post a
picture on here and how. Thanks, Ed

Mathew Stage 04-12-2009 02:18 PM

[QUOTE=Ed Barnes;16564]My question is not as odd as it sounds. I have a chandelier that several in my
family swore came off the Robert E. Lee (yes the one in the race)Problem is that they have all passed now that I am interested in finding out more about the
history of it. It started off as a gas light chandelier and then was converted
to electricity. I conversed with several folks on an antique forum about its
"maybe" history and they all said that steamboats of that era did not have
natural gas/propane/LNG or any thing like that. So all lights on a steamboat of
that era were oil? Any thoughts would be great. Also, is it possible to post a
picture on here and how. Thanks, Ed[/QUOTE]

Ed, my college/academy, New York Maritime, has one of the largest nautical libraries... at least thats what they say. I went down there to see what I could dig up about your question, now since you say the Lee that was in the race I am assuming that you mean the original and not the one that burned.

According to the historical records when she was dismantled, all of the original chandeliers that were onboard went to the Presbyterian church at Port Gibson, Mississippi. Now if this is where your family acquired the chandeliers I think you are in luck. Now it doesn't say exactly how the chandeliers were lit but it makes reference to numerous other lighting fixtures that were taken off being oil burning.

Judy Patsch 04-12-2009 03:16 PM

Robt. E. Lee chandeliers
 
Those chandeliers are still in place in the church in Port Gibson. The church is also famous for the top of its steeple: a hand with the index finger pointing skyward.

R. Dale Flick 04-12-2009 06:09 PM

*RE: 'Gas/Electric Lighting on boats.'*
Hi, Ed and Steamboating colleagues:
Illumination by 'gas/electric plants' on steamboats etc. has a longer history than we think. Articles of the day are confirmed also in Capt. Fred Way's PACKET DIRECTORY listing the sidewheel GENERAL LYTLE of 1864 as having an electric light plant for an arc light aboard. The LYTLE was also listed early on as featuring the wearing of uniforms "of a blue cloth and caps" for each officer. The LYTLE also experienced a disastrous steamboat explosion while racing the ST. CHARLES.

The sidewheel Str. H.D. MEARS of 1860 was noted for her main cabin and Purser Office being illuminated by 'Johnson's Self Generating Gas' plant.

The sidewheel Str. NEW MARY HOUSTON of 1877 was noted for her electric light plant touted in Fred Way's PACKET DIRECTORY as, "...chaper and more brilliant than any light in existence outside of the sun and will supersede gas and come into general use throughout the world."

Previous to this oil lamps served and later replaced by cheaper coal oil fuel--though not as bright or 'smokeless' like whale oil. Whale oil was already expensive by the 1860s. Several recent experiments have been done using traditional whale oil just for laboratory use and calibration. Note old photos of steamboat cabins with oil lamps showing the china/porcelain 'smoke bells' suspended from above to catch the soot. Ice making plants were noted on some steamboats/steamships back in the early to mid 1880s.

Well, what do I know?

Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River.

Keith Norrington 04-14-2009 08:12 AM

3 Attachment(s)
Ed: The three chandeliers from the Str. ROBT. E. LEE which hang in the First Presbyterian Church, built in 1860, at Port Gibson, Mississippi were a gift to the church in the 1880's from the William Parker family. The LEE, famous for the race with the NATCHEZ in 1870, was built at New Albany, Indiana in 1866 and dismantled at the Howard Shipyard in Jeffersonville in 1876, at which time a second boat of the same name was built. Unfortunately, no photo of the cabin interior of the racer LEE is known to exist, but at the Howard Steamboat Museum we do have some of the cabin arches. According to the church records, the Parker family owned an interest in the LEE and acquired the chandeliers when they were replaced with new ones. Although there is some controversy as to whether the figure on horseback in the center of each chandelier represents General Robert E. Lee, it certainly stands to reason that it is the famous military man.

If you get a chance to visit Port Gibson, the church is open daily from about 8:00 AM until dusk. Aside from the nearby ruins of Windsor Plantation, the church is probably the most photographed antebellum structure in Claiborne County, owing to the large hand pointing to heaven atop the steeple. When Gen. Grant marched through Port Gibson, he decreed the town "too beautiful to burn". It is a very picturesque place and well worth visiting. The old train depot reopened last year after undergoing an extensive restoration by the Townsend family as a new restaurant, "Georgia's at the Depot". The food is great! The depot now also contains four shops offering antiques, clothing, collectibles, etc.

Herewith are several photos I have taken at various times of the chandeliers in the church sanctuary. The view from the rear gallery, taken in 1983, shows the handsome plaster archway which frames the grillework for the Henry Pilcher's Sons pipe organ, installed in 1930 and built here in Louisville.

Keith Norrington 04-14-2009 08:36 AM

1 Attachment(s)
Another chandelier, different in style and said to be from the ROBT. E. LEE, hangs in a Port Gibson home (circa 1830's) at 1002 Church Street. This chandelier, like the ones in the church, was installed in the 1880's.

R. Dale Flick 04-14-2009 02:16 PM

*RE: ROBT. E. LEE chandeliers/Port Gibson.*
Keith, thanks for posting the photos of the chandeliers from the Str. ROBT. E. LEE in the Port Gibson church and private home. Fascinating history that has intrigued many of us for years and your summation was clear and concise. I knew you'd be the one with the information. The photos are fine when enlarged for a closer look. Light fixtures, like furniture and carpeting, were no doubt altered or changed with the style of the period or need.

My question is: Did these chandeliers now or then have the chain system for raising and lowering to refill with oil in the old days or to change the bulbs today? Some steamboat photos of cabins show this system with a kind of 'hook' on the bottom to catch and pull down; then raise back up with a pole. This saved hauling a ladder in to do the work along with cleaning sooty globes and chimneys and dusting. Other times even rarer photos show a system of 'restraining cords' made of ornamental chain or even velvet to keep the chandeliers from swinging too dangerously from side to side if the boat was 'working hard' in shallow water or, in some cases on period ocean steamships, in rough seas.

Back when I was a kid about 1950 or so an old steamboat painter on/around 90 told my dad that in his young years painting boats at the Cincinnati Marine Railway here in Cincinnati he observed the cabin boys and chamber maids pull the fixures down by the chains to clean with vinegar or clear ammonia in water even if electricity was already in use. Oil lamps went out quickly with the advent of electric plants on steamers but no doubt a few boats retained them for a while longer. Keeping those grand cabins demanded a lot of elbow grease and hard work with all the river soot, smoke and dust. Cleaning products were limited then compared to today's but they did use naptha ['Napthaleen'] on the cabin carpets.

Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River.

Tom Schiffer 04-14-2009 05:57 PM

Dale: Naptha is used as an agent to in gasoline and is similar in flammability. Another name for napthalene is "moth balls", a solid at room temperature. My grandmother usta use naptha to clean (degrease) too. It is sometimes used as a constituent in soap. Cap'n Walnut.

R. Dale Flick 04-14-2009 06:06 PM

*RE: Naptha/Early lighting Etc.*
Hi, Cap'n Walnut and thanks for more information on 'naptha' Etc. I knew it was used as a cleaning agent. Commercial dry cleaning dates also to the 1840s. I'm sure you remember old TAG SOAP, don't you? Lots of TAG probalby used in scrubbing steamboat cabins and laundry aboard boats.

Question: In the days of oil lamps fueled with whale oil and coal oil wasn't there also a kind of home lamp that burned 'naptha' or a by-product of it? Diaries and other accounts mention now and then some of these home lamps "exploding" causing fire and injury--or worse. Any ideas? Owe you a phone call.

Coal Haven Landing, Ohio River.

Tom Schiffer 04-14-2009 09:10 PM

Dale: Naptha was sometimes used to generate gas for lamps...placed in a vessel and heated, the gas would react similar to CH4, methane, or propane. Cap'n Walnut.


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