The Saint John at Baton Rouge. (Keith Norrington collection)
Old Boat Column

The Saint John

Built by the Barmore yard at Jeffersonville, Ind., the sternwheeler Saint John began operating in 1878.

The wooden hull measured 176.6 feet in length by 36.2 feet in width, with a depth of 7.1 feet. The engines (18-inch cylinders with 6-foot stroke) were recycled from the previous steamboat of the same name, built at Madison, Ind., in 1869 and operating until dismantled in the early summer of 1878. Three boilers (26 feet long and 40 inches in diameter) supplied the steam. The sternwheel was 25 feet in diameter with bucket planks that were 25.5 feet in length. Gross tonnage for the vessel was listed as 382.33.

The new riverboat was owned by Capt. J.P. McElroy, who ran it in various cotton trades out of New Orleans. As an interesting aside, a packet named St. Johns was built in 1864 at Wheeling, W.Va. An 1872 freight bill lists W.R. Greathouse as master and James P. McElroy as clerk, thus raising the possibility that McElroy had the 1878 boat built out of the 1864 vessel.

According to annual reports for 1879–1899 of the New Orleans steamboat inspectors, the Saint John was involved in two incidents. On October 17, 1894, while the boat was laid up at New Orleans, a caulker listed only as Harry was assisting in rolling over the sternwheel when he fell overboard and drowned. On November 18, of the same year, while making a landing at Point Clear Plantation on the Mississippi River, the boat struck a submerged object, which caused a serious leak. Discharging a portion of the freight stopped the leak, and the landing was safely accomplished.

The Saint John was said to be noted for having exceedingly beautiful freight bills. On one bill for 1886, listed as “Trip No. 3, Upbound,” a barrel of potatoes was put off at a landing for A.P. Batchelor at a charge of 60 cents. On this particular trip, Capt. L.P. Delahoussaye was master, with J. Stonewall Hanna presiding in the clerk’s office.

By 1892, the boat was running in the New Orleans–Bayou La Fourche trade, operating in conjunction with the Alice Le Blanc, a wooden-hulled (129 feet by 24 feet) sternwheeler built in 1884 at Donaldsonville, La., as the Lackawanna. Sold and renamed when fairly new, the Le Blanc ran three trips per week, with Capt. F. Le Blanc as master.

The Saint John was sold at a U.S. Marshal’s sale in early 1895 to W.G. Wilmot & Company, New Orleans, for $3,200. The final record of an annual inspection for the riverboat is listed as being conducted at New Orleans on October 29, 1898. The boat was dismantled in August of 1899.

In this week’s Old Boat Column image, believed to have been taken at Baton Rouge, please note the “tightrope artist” between the two forward masts. Judging from the crowd assembled atop the cotton bales and those on the wharf, the performance appears to have effectively stopped all work for the time being.

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