The G.W. Hill at an Upper Mississippi River landing.
Old Boat Column

The G.W. Hill

Named for Granderson Winfrey Hill, of Alexandria, Mo., this handsome sternwheeler was constructed in 1909 by the Howard Shipyard at Jeffersonville, Ind.; the contract cost was $28,850.

Built on a wooden hull measuring 190 feet in length by 36 feet in width, the new riverboat was operated as a packet on the Upper Mississippi River in the St. Louis–Calhoun County trade. Three boilers provided steam to engines having 16-inch cylinders with a 7-foot stroke.

The Hill was converted into an excursion boat in the spring of 1912 under the ownership of Capt. D.W. Wisherd and Sam Gregory. Tramping trips were made to New Orleans, Pittsburgh and other river cities until 1923, when the vessel was purchased by the Coney Island Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, and renamed Island Maid.

The steam towboat Duffy with the excursion steamer Island Maid at the Howard Shipyard on June 12, 1929.
The steam towboat Duffy with the excursion steamer Island Maid at the Howard Shipyard on June 12, 1929. (Keith Norrington collection)

The boat caught fire in early 1929, and much of the upper works was destroyed. Taken to the Howard Shipyard for repairs, it was noted in Capt. Jim Howard’s daily log book that the damaged boat was received at the yard on May 6, with the contract specifying that the work be completed in 40 days. Howard proudly notated that this project was undoubtedly the fastest rebuilding job ever turned out by the Howard yards, with the work being completed in 36 days at a cost of $40,000.

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After the extensive renovations, the Island Maid lasted only three years before being destroyed by another fire. In 1932, while it was high and dry on the marine ways at Madison, Ind., it is believed that a blaze began in the engineroom of the excursion boat, which was alongside the towboat Fred Hall. A strong west wind fanned the flames, which quickly engulfed the Island Maid and rapidly spread to the towboat.

Four fire companies responded to the alarm, but were greatly hampered by the wind and the fact that an adequate water supply was too distant from the marine ways. The spectacular conflagration drew hundreds of spectators to watch the doomed steamboats consumed by the flames. Both vessels were declared total losses and reportedly were covered by insurance for only two-thirds of their actual value.

The towboat Crown Hill, owned by Capt. J.W. Menke and used to tow his Goldenrod Showboat, was moored near the foot of the ways and escaped the fire due to the direction of the wind. The sturdy steel landing stage of the Island Maid was transferred to the excursion steamer Idlewild and continued in use throughout the boat’s career as the Avalon and later the Belle of Louisville. The stage was replaced with a lighter-weight version in 1965, with the old one relegated to use for the wharfboat Renown into the early 1970s.

The Duffy

Seen in our second image, the steam towboat Duffy was built by Howard in 1921. Owned by the Ohio River Sand Company at Louisville, the sternwheeler is seen at the shipyard on one of its daily assignments, which included catching boats and barges at launchings. The Duffy was dismantled at Cincinnati in 1946 by Capt. John Beatty. The steamboat’s roof bell today is exhibited at the Howard Steamboat Museum.