In 1976, the Bicentennial, there was an upsurge in interest in American history across the United States and Apalachicola was no exception. The Times ran a number of historical features and the following is one of them, which was reprinted from the Columbus Enquirer
Our Chasing Shadows question for the week is a tough one. What was the name of the pilot who was shot standing at the wheel of the Hyperiod? If you know, please contact the Times at 653-8868 or Lois Swoboda at email@example.com.
A cannon shot echoed through the fertile and forested Chattahoochee Valley on Jan. 26, 1828.
Scores of residents at the trading post of Columbus flocked to the river as a steady churning noise grew louder.
Then the steamboat appeared – the first to reach this area.
Historians differ in their versions of which was the first boat. One historian says it was the 88.41 “Fannie,” with John Jenkins as master. Others say it was the “Steubenville.” At any rate, the first boat arrived here several months before Columbus became a city and people who saw river traffic and the city grow called Chattahoochee the “Mother of Columbus.”
There were singing roustabouts on Columbus waterfront for years. It was a life filled with fun-loving crews who ate, slept, lived and sometimes died on the river.
Nearly 200 steamboats plied the Chattahoochee during the century in which the trade thrived.
Five boats were traveling the river during 1828.
Thousands of bales of cotton made their way to Apalachicola and other points during the period.
Boats going south would carry raw cotton, cotton products and iron manufactured products. They brought back naval stores, cypress lumber, oranges, fish, oysters and honey.
The packed boats ranged in size from 48 to nearly 300 tons and cost up to $175,000 though most were much less expensive.
Fires and snags took their toll of the wooden craft. The average life of a steamboat was seven years, according to Fred Wickham, Columbus insurance man, who is one of a handful of survivors from old riverboat days.
Steamer Georgia sinks
One of the first victims recorded was the steamer Georgia, which snagged and sank with a load of goods in December 1833. The two-year old boat was raised and was running again the next year.
The early steamboats were either too large or had too heavy a draught to make the trips throughout the year. The steamer season usually was from November to June.
During the hey-day of river traffic, the packet boats carried 900 bales of cotton downstream. Some had a capacity of as many as 1800 bales.
Their arrival was a big thing. It was announced by a booming cannon on the boat. The boats tied up at the wharf near where the Columbus Iron Works is now located.
Negro roustabouts shuttled their heavy cargo about with lusty shouts and singing.
“Why, they could handle a 500-pound rosin barrel like it was a toy,” recollects Mr.Wickham, a former purser.
By 1834 the treacherous river had begun to take its toll. In January, two vessels were lost. The Eloise went down with a load of cotton and furniture on its maiden voyage. The Versailles snagged and sank near FortGadsden, a short distance above Apalachicola, on its way from Columbus. The Van Buren was destroyed in December with a $45,000 loss. The passengers and crew swam ashore.
Fire and snags were not the only enemies that year. The pilot of the Hyperiod was shot dead at the wheel by hostile Creek Indians eight miles south of Columbus in May of that year. The engineer and two others were wounded. The boat drifted to the Georgia shore and the crew escaped.
The following month the Metamora moved along the same route with 150 soldiers aboard. They fought a running battle with the Creeks along the banks of the Chattahoochee. When the smoke had cleared, one soldier had been killed, two wounded and an estimated 14 Indians shot down.
Magnetic points of the river trade were Columbus, head of navigation and Apalachicola, the Gulf port. Boats were shuttled between Columbus and Albany, Ga. Reversing their course at where the Flint joins the Chattahoochee and traveling north on the Flint to the latter town. It often was easier to send mail and goods between the towns by the roundabout river route.
As late as 1845, the mail still was being carried by steamboat and stage coach. The same year was a rough one on river boats. The Siren burst a boiler and killed 10. The Lowell snagged and sank four miles below FortGaines. The Viola went down in the FlintRiver below Albany with a loss of 1,000 bales of cotton. The Charleston collapsed a boiler while crossing Yuchi Shoals 15 miles south of Columbus, injuring one.
Ships left high, dry
In January, 1860, the river fell rapidly overnight and left the Oswichee and Nunnerlyn high and dry. It took eight days to free the Oswichee and 23 to float the Nunnerlyn.
One of the worst years for fatalities was 1884. The “Rebecca Everingham,” a 292-ton beauty burst into flames at 4 a.m. on April 3 at Fitzgerald’s Landing 50milesbelow Columbus. When the fire burned itself out eight persons were dead. Eighteen died later in the year when the George W. Wylly ran into a pier of the FortGainesBridge and sank in the river’s worst tragedy.
Another business grew in connection with the shipping industry – shipbuilding. Henry T. Hall was a pioneer in the local field. He had his first boat built in Pittsburgh in 1843 – The Lowell.
Mr. Hall had his first boat built in Columbus in 1856. It was called the Wave and created quite a stir in the city. Transplanted from his home in Boston, Mr. Hall became one of the city’s leaders in steamboating, wholesaling and the cotton industry.
The Chattahoochee continued as one of the most traveled avenues during the War Between the States.
Dozens of boats shuttled back and forth between Columbus and Apalachicola during the struggle. Two gunboats were built for the Confederate Navy in 1864, but neither rendered efficient service. One sank and the other was burned by the enemy.
Steamer Bradley sinks
Other locally-built craft had different fates. The W. C. Bradley was built in Columbus and named for William C. Bradley, leading industrialist and river developer in the area. The Bradley sank in 1919 after drifting five miles down the river in a flood.
River traffic began to wane in the 1920s. The J. W. Callahan was one of the last packet boats to serve on the river. It stopped running in the early 1930s.
Credit for operating the longest on the river generally goes to the Naiad. The vessel went up in flames in 1906 in a disastrous fire at the Columbus wharf, which claimed the Naiad, C. D. Owens, Bay City and the Flint.
Columbus had occasional visits from steamers in the ‘30s. The Barbara Hunt came here as late as Feb. 26, 1939. It sank the following June in Chattahoochee.
The George W. Miller built in 1926 to serve as a ferry on the Mississippi, was the last boat here. It was brought here in 1939 by Thurston C. Crawford and operated as an excursion boat for a number of years, but was dismantled in the late 1940s. Its steel hull recently was sold as a barge and it was taken from its anchorage here in 1951.
The magic name of Mike Rose and his Italian orchestra still stirs up many a pleasant memory as it did a half century ago. His orchestra played for gay moonlight excursions down the river to FortGaines, past Eufaula, Wewahitchka, Owl Creek and Iola.
A trip to Apalachicola cost only $9, including the trip and meals. Freight rates for cotton to Apalachicola was $2.50 a bale.
Steamers usually were flat-bottomed stern-wheelers. They ranged from 28 to 38 feet in width and 135 to 165 feet in length.
The lower deck was for freight and there were usually two upper decks for passengers. Many of the boats had luxurious furnishings. They carried 30 or 40 passengers plus cargo. They had ornamental dining and lounging salons. Officers wore caps and braid.