Levee Scenes

St. Louis Levee ~ 1852

Steamboats in this scene of the St. Louis levee include the DUBUQUE, EXPRESS, HIGHLAND CHIEF and the AMULET. Steamers would often land two or three tiers deep here during the 1840s and 1850s. Note the covered wagon in the foreground. This is possibly the first photographic image of the St. Louis levee.

Quote: ~
St. Louis was still the “River Queen”, the greatest inland port in America. As many as 170 gingerbread-trimmed boats jostled one another each day along its six-mile wharf that was lined with untidy stacks of freight and produce. The bustle of the levee was the pride of every true Louisan. The sound of steamship bells and whistles mingled with the noise of tambourine girls, organ grinders, and bagpipe performers, the rasping of the fiddlers, and the musical cries of the apple girls, cigar vendors, and bootblacks. Loafers, drunkards, pickpockets, confidence men, and rowdies from nearby saloons continued to give the area a wicked glitter. Hoards of homeless children darted about, living on their wits and seeking shelter in forgotten corners. Young girls earned a few pennies by exposing themselves to the steamboatmen. Draymen cursed their heavily laden wagons all the way to the landing stages; drivers and carriages and hacks picked their way skillfully through the crowds to deliver or pick up passengers.

To the west, the business district was spilling out beyond Sixth and Seventh streets, obliterating the black locust trees, the old French houses and gardens, even the sinkholes and Indian mounds. By 1855 the city limits had expanded so much that the western boundary was well beyond the new Grand Avenue laid out by Hiram Leffingwell. Proudly insisting that his street would someday be the greatest in America, Leffingwell had wanted it to be three hundred feet wide; however, the County Court, not sharing his optimism, had reduced its width to eighty feet. The city also boasted important foundries, cotton and woolen factories, breweries, and the Belcher brothers’ huge sugar refinery. With this forest of new smokestacks, the St. Louis atmosphere grew murkier than ever. The city had become a major industrial center. But the demand for labor kept wages high, and few complained about working ten or more hours in a day.
Credit: ~ Chapter 20, St. Louis: an informal history of the city and its people 1764-1865, by Charles Van Ravenswaay, Candace O’Connor.

Keokuk Landing, Iowa ~ 1853

Four steamboats at the Keokuk landing in 1853; KATE SWINNEY, FEDERAL ARCH, BELLE GOULD, and U.S. MAIL. A significant early photograph, particularly given the tragic history of the KATE SWINNEY.

KATE SWINNEY: Built 1852, by a St. Louis tobacco merchant and named after his daughter. In 1854, made trips up the Missouri for the American Fur Company, going to Fort Pierre, bringing out most of the catch of buffalo hides, silver fox, beaver etc., for the 1854-1855 season. Snagged and lost on the Vermillion River, Aug. 1, 1855, loaded with furs. Her crew started to walk to Sioux City and were killed by Indians.

FEDERAL ARCH: Built 1850, ran in the trade between St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Was being dismantled at St. Louis when ice crushed her on Feb. 28, 1856, as the wrecking boat SUBMARINE was pushed into her.

BELLE GOULD: Built 1852, for the St. Louis – Keokuk trade. Ran on the Illinois River in 1853, and was snagged and lost at Island 25 below Cairo on Mar. 3, 1854.

U.S. MAIL: Built 1852, and ran in the St. Louis – Louisville trade. Snagged and lost at Atchison, Kansas, June, 1857.

Vicksburg Landing ~ circa 1905-1906

A remarkably detailed image of Mississippi packet boats BELLE OF THE BENDS, and the BELLE OF CALHOUN, loading at Vicksburg Landing. The freight includes furniture, cedar shingles, lumber, cotton bales, barrels and bales of hay.

The BELLE OF THE BENDS (right) was a sidewheel packet, built at Jeffersonville, Indiana in 1898, for the Vicksburg & Greenville Packet Company, running that trade for many years. At 451 gross tons, with 27 staterooms and 60 berths, she could carry 119 passengers including 30 in deck and steerage. She was the flagship of the parade at the opening of the canal at Vicksburg when the Yazoo River mouth was diverted on Jan. 27, 1903 (Vicksburg had been virtually isolated from the river since the Centennial Cut-Off on April 26, 1876. She sank in September 1909 at Peeler’s Landing 40 miles above Vicksburg and was raised. In 1910, she sank again in a rainstorm 20 miles below Lake Providence and was raised again. She was converted into an excursion boat and renamed LIBERTY.

The BELLE OF CALHOUN  (left) was built at St. Louis in 1895, and named for Miss Anna Wood, “Belle of Calhoun County, Illinois” in a contest held by the Hardin Herald. Originally owned by the St. Louis & Clarkesville Packet Co., with Frederick W. Swartz president, she was sold in 1897 to Captain T.B. Sims; in 1898 to J.W. Fristoe, Frank P. Hearne and Captain Byrd Burton; in 1899 to the Memphis & Vicksburg Packet Co. who changed her name to the JULIA; in 1905 to the St. Louis; Calhoun Packet Corporation, and Captain Lee Cummings, who reverted her name back to the BELLE OF CALHOUN; and in 1913 she was sold to Captain H.W. Sebastian.

Operating on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, her original crew in 1895 was; Captain Aaron Hall (master); Joe Chatterton and Harry H. Monaghan (pilots); Edward Young (first clerk); Zollie Block (second clerk); Oliver Cotrell (chief engineer) and William Tracy (mate). In 1913 her crew was; Captain George Carvell (master); Captain Roy Watson (master); H.S. Ruby (pilot); William Blaine (steward). In 1914 and 1915; Selby Crader (pilot). In 1915; William Bush (pilot). In 1917; Captain Ed Nowland (master).

In 1895, the Waterways Journal ran a contest to find the most popular packet crew operating out of St. Louis, and all the honors went to the crew of the BELLE OF CALHOUN.

On May 27, 1896, she was badly damaged in a tornado at St. Louis, sinking up to her cabin. She was raised and repaired. In October, 1914, she sank four miles above Alton, Illinois, with 4,700 barrels of apples on board. Her bow was on shore and her stern was in twenty-feet of water. Around 800 barrels were lost, and she was raised and repaired. In October, 1929, she sank again about three miles above Hannibal, Missouri, and was raised yet again. Obviously, she was not destined to sink. In the winter of 1930-31, she burned in Alton Slough.

New Orleans Levee ~ circa 1868

Four boats in this New Orleans scene have been positively identified. They are from right to left, B.L. HODGE (No.2), MONSOON, ST. NICHOLAS, and CUBA. The remaining boats, also right to left, are not confirmed but may be the BART ABLE, GEORGE D. PALMER, and the FLICKER.

The B.L. HODGE No.2 was built in 1867, and the MONSOON was lost to a snag on the Red River on Dec. 21, 1868, heavily loaded with cotton. Therefore the photograph was taken sometime during 1867-1868. The PALMER was lost after hitting the Quincy bridge on Oct. 2, 1868, which would further narrow the timeframe for this scene.

St. Louis Levee ~ circa 1869-71

The viewpoint for this scene along the St. Louis riverfront is similar to that of the Thomas Easterly image of 1852. Wagons unload a vast array of goods including barrels (pork and whiskey), sacks (grain and flour), and timber. River commerce is focused around the various company wharfboats, situated in front of warehouses and freight offices. A sign on the right wharfboat reads ‘COUNCIL BLUFF’ for the settlement on the Missouri River.

The overhead shadows indicate that the image was captured around the middle of the day. None of the steamboats have been identified.

St. Paul Levee ~ circa 1870

Pictured here at the St. Paul levee are, from left to right: HAWKEYE STATE, CANADA, and the PHIL SHERIDAN.

HAWKEYE STATE: Built 1860 for the Northern Line Packet Co., for the St. Louis – St. Paul trade, setting record times. Departed St. Louis on June 11, 1861, and arrived at St. Paul in 3 days, 6 hours, 20 minutes, making 54 landings. She made eight round trips that season in 73 days.

CANADA: Built 1858, she was one of the first boats for the Northern Packet Line Co., running on the Upper Mississippi River. Dismantled at Madison, Indiana, 1870.

PHIL SHERIDAN: Built 1866, for the Wheeling – Cincinnati trade. Lost her chimney stacks overboard in a storm on Mar. 20, 1866, and after repairs was taken by new owners to the Upper Mississippi., competing with the HAWKEYE STATE for speed records between St. Louis and St. Paul.

St. Louis Levee ~ 1871

A remarkably detailed engraving published in Harper’s Weekly. Based on a photograph, it reveals a myriad of activity with exceptional attention to detail.

Freight is piled along the riverfront as far as the eye can see, and includes barrels, bales, sacks, timber and shingles. Drays, wagons and carriages mix with workers, overseers and passengers. In the left foreground two men secure bales under a tarpaulin; the bales are branded with the names of their owners. Beyond them toward the wharfboat, a man operates a set of standing scales, weighing barrels as they are unloaded and stacked. In the foreground on the right, a wagon roles up with bags to unload, beside a group of passengers waiting to depart, and a dog. In the middle foreground, a man pushes a hand-cart containing luggage.

New Orleans Wharf ~ circa 1846-1850

The BELLE CREOLE features in this 1840s painting at New Orleans, which depicts the early steamboat architecture. Noteworthy is the absense of forward spars and stages.

BELLE CREOLE: Built 1845, in Cincinnati, and ran in the New Orleans – Bends trade in 1846, under Capt. Champromere.  On  Nov. 16, 1849,  she burst a steam line near New Orleans, with five killed. She operated in the New Orleans – Vicksburg trade in 1850, under Capt. J.M. White. No records beyond 1852.

Landing with Helen Blair  ~ circa 1896-1920

Five steamboats at a landing, possibly Rock Island, Illinois. From a hand-coloured postcard. The sternwheel packet HELEN BLAIR is third from the left. The sternwheel packet DUBUQUE is forth from the left.

HELEN BLAIR: Built 1896, at Harmar, Ohio, and originally named URANIA. From 1891, ran in the Iowa trades under Capt. Walter Blair. On Sept. 5, 1901, suffered a fire that destroyed her pilothouse and texas decks, at Muscatine, Iowa. Was rebuilt and renamed for the Captain’s daughter. The HELEN BLAIR and Capt. Blair traveled the rivers: On Apr. 27, 1913, she visited Galena, Illinois – the first boat to do so in years, and as it turned out, the last boat. In 1915, she ran a special trip from Davenport to Pittsburgh, arriving May 14. In November 1915, she ran up the White River to Clarendon, Arkansas, with potatoes, returning to Muscatine with pearl shells. In October 1916, she made a round trip from Davenport to New Orleans with 60 passengers. Dismantled at Memphis in June 1920.

New Orleans Levee, Bob Blanks Loading ~ 1905

A procession of workers loading the BOB BLANKS at New Orleans. Barrels, boxes, sacks, and even a block of ice (on the trolley center left) are among the items being delivered across a stage.

BOB BLANKS: Built 1903, and ran in the New Orleans – Red River trade. According to Frederick Way, Jr., in Ways Directory, she was a “cotton style with double stages, quite handsome”. She burned at Raccourci Landing, Louisiana, on Mar. 2, 1912.

The closeness of the photographer to the activity gives this image an immediacy that was rare until the advent of box cameras and roll film in the 1890s. Previously, only still subjects could be captured this close.

St. Louis Levee ~ 1872

This hand-colored etching depicts a boat named the LADY LEE, with the Eads Bridge in the background. Construction of the bridge began in 1867 and was completed in 1874. At the time of this etching in 1872, the stone approaches would have been in place and the steel arch work well advanced.

LADY LEE: Built 1871, at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Operated for the Carter Line from St. Louis to Red River, under Capt. G.F. Shields, master. In 1874 she was owned by the Illinois & St. Louis Packet Co.. She was lengthened from 176ft to 227ft in 1881. Ran for the Star Line in the St. Louis – Missouri River trade. On Mar. 29, 1882, she backed out of a landing 2 1/2 miles above Sibley, Missouri, into a strong side wind that drove her onto a snag, sinking her.

Jackson Street Landing at St. Paul

Painting of the Jackson Street Landing, St. Paul. Date unknown.

New Orleans Levee ~ circa 1866-1870

The principal landing as seen from Gravier Street, New Orleans, looking down the levee. The nearest two boats are large sidewheelers with cupolas on their pilothouses, but they are not identified. In the middle-ground, a wooden pathway leads across the landing, beside which carriages are parked. Wool-bale trolleys stand in a row on the wooden path with their handles vertical.

This scene is from a stereoscopic view by Samuel Blessing, who began making stereographs of New Orleans and the vicinity after the Civil War. He was a versatile and progressive photographer. The 1860 census of New Orleans revealed that he was a well-to-do citizen, with real estate holdings worth $7,5000, and personal property valued at $3,000. In March 1860, Blessing and his partner, Samuel Anderson, became exclusive New Orleans agents for “improved hallotypes.” Invented by John Bishop Hall, this was a collodion print that used layers of glass to impart a sense of depth. Hall spent some time at the Anderson and Blessing gallery overseeing the implementation of his process, such that at least one advertisement during this time referred to “Hall, Anderson and Blessing.”

In 1863, Blessing set up his own gallery and photographic supply outlet at 24 Chartres Street, where he remained for a number of years. He published a series of cartes de visite of celebrities and more than 200 U.S. and Confederate leaders at $2.25 per dozen, or in quantities of up to one thousand. He also issued twenty-five views of the entrenchments at Port Hudson, a Confederate stronghold beside the Mississippi that was captured by Federal forces in the summer of 1863.

In July 1865, Blessing married Mary E. Shaw in Maryland. The 1870 census for New Orleans lists him as living with his wife Mary, aged twenty-seven and “keeping house,” and with three children aged three to five years.  In 1867, Blessing survived a case of yellow fever, but one of his assistants died of the disease. Blessing continued in business into the 1890s. He died in St. Louis after a long and painful illness on November 18, 1897, and is buried at Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans. Blessing’s excellent post-Civil War stereoscopic views provide a remarkable visual record.

Edward J. Gay & Yazoo Valley

The EDWARD J. GAY was one of the largest and finest sidewheel packets on the Mississippi in the 1880s.

In July 1878, the EDWARD J. GAY was completed at the Cincinnati Railway Co., and towed south by the new J.M. WHITE, running her trials at New Orleans that October. She was fitted with engines from the GOVERNOR ALLEN, and her roof bell came from the BRILLIANT of 1850. She was designed for the New Orleans-Bayou Sara trade, and carried U.S. Mail under contract until January 1880. In 1884 her master was S.S. Streck and she was managed by Capt. T.P. Leathers. On July 30, 1888, she burned at First Street, New Orleans while laid up. She was known as the “mocking bird” due to her melodious whistle.

New Orleans Levee

Steamer YAZOO VALLEY on the right. Note the top of the stack on the second boat from the right has been removed. Date unknown.