Monday, November 19, 2007

Howard Steamboat Museum in Jeffersonville, IN

Jeffersonville, IN

The Howard Steamboat Museum at 1101 East Market Street in Jeffersonville, IN was our destination for Friday morning. Before we found it we walked the riverfront area along the Ohio River beside the original bridge that spanned the river leading from Jeffersonville, IN to Louisville, KY. The approaches are removed, but the bridge stands next to the new interstate bridge.

Jeffersonville is located in a plot of land that was given to Thomas Jefferson after the War of Independence. Everyone that served in the army were given land. He plotted the town with streets and a park area around each block of houses. He felt that the separation would help control the diseases he had seen become epidemics in populous areas.

As we drove down to the waterfront we passed through an opening in tall, thick concrete walls with metal flood gates built to protect the town from flood waters. We learned that in January of 1937 it rained for 14 days straight. The rain turned to sleet and snow. The flood stage for the Ohio was 48 feet at Louisville and Jeffersonville had 24 feet of water flowing through it at the height of the flood. Buildings were turned over and there was 2 feet of mud in the streets and 4 feet of mud in basements that had to be cleaned up afterwards. People moved what possessions they could to the top floors of their houses. Some even stayed in the upper floors during the flood. Some moved into tents while they cleaned up after the flood waters receded.

Restaurant Review

On Spring Street are many small shops and restaurants. We ate lunch at Ann's. It is a cafeteria. The deep fried cod was crisp. The corn bread was tasty, made in the shape of a thick pancake. We did not try the barbecue ribs or roast turkey. Salad was crispy. Portions were generous and reasonably priced. Side dishes were mediocre. Would give them a 2 spoon rating!


Jeffboat manufacturing plant is located along the Ohio River. It is 1 1/4 miles, covering 68 acres of specialized cranes, buildings and open air assembly used to manufacture barges and special order ships/boats. It is the largest American inland boat manufacturers. They give tours on a limited basis. We could see the welders working as we drove by.

One of the Human Resource employees told us that they have about 1200 employees. Some of the jobs are very specialized. A launch of a new barge/boat is very impressive. Originally the Howard Family started the boat building manufacturing in 1834. When there were no more sons or brothers to keep it going they sold it to the Navy in 1941. They built LST ships. The TANK LANDING SHIP (LST) proved to be much more rugged and versatile than her planners ever dreamed of producing. They were used for the transport of tanks , general cargo, locomotives, casualties, railroad cars, prisoners and numerous other purposes during World War II. The sailors said the LST stood for Large Slow Target! Jeffboat purchased the shipyards from the Navy.

Howard Steamboat Museum

This 22 room Romanesque Revival Style Mansion is built across the road from the shipyards. James Howard built it in 1892 using the craftsman he had hired at the shipyards. It looks like a brick castle. One corner has a three-story rounded tower covered with a metal cone shaped roof. You will see gingerbread woodwork, a grand staircase similar to what was on the riverboats, many different kinds of wood with intricate carving, a large collection of photographs showing how the early boats were manufactured, a collection of ship building tools, documents and blueprints, and full ship models from the Steamboat era.

The brass chandeliers in each room were lighted with both electricity and gas. Mr. Howard had a generator that he would run in the evenings. The 19 fireplaces were all gas logs and each unique. They each exhibited a feature from a steamboat, like smokestack shapes carved on the sides. The stained glass windows all pictured something from steamboating, also. One had an example of every know that a sailor knew how to tie in the border around the window! The enamel sinks had been painted with flowers and fired like ceramics, then set into a marble counter. One canopy bed was made from bronze with elaborate cut-work around the canopy, head & foot board. This was a design that was used in the steamboats, also.

This house had withstood three major floods, a cyclone and one fire over the years. There was still evidence in some of the rooms of the fire, but most of the damage was cleaned up. The oak floors were all set at a diagonal for strength. One of the ends of the huge hand rail going up the main staircase had to be redone because of fire damage. For such a large home the family had only one maid. We've toured many historic homes, but this is my favorite so far. It has a lot of wood, but many large windows to keep it light.

The steamboats that were manufactured by the Howards had an 18 inch draft to make them able to navigate the rivers. He was asked to go to Alaska and built boats during the Gold Rush. Since he really did not want to do that he gave them a bid that was 20 times what he usually received for a boat, thinking they would not accept it. But they did! He went and built several boats used to move people in and out of the gold fields.

It was interesting to see a model of a wooden flatboat that was used before the steam boats to move produce down the rivers to southern ports. It would float and they had long-handled oars to guide it. Since it had no motor it could not be taken back upriver. They would dismantle it and sell the wood. The wood used in the building of the steamboats was tree trunks floated down the river.

S & D Reflector

Before we left we were given a back copy of the S & D Reflector. This magazine was established in 1964 as the official publication of the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen. It contains stories and events that happened on the rivers as they were related by Rivermen and passed on to their families.

Our Reflections

We were awed by the way these people could make so many items with the hand tools. We think we are so intelligent and knowledgeable because we have so many power-driven and computer run tools that do the work for us. Again, Solomon was right, "there is nothing new under the sun". We just adapt!

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