Early September was typically the time when excursion boats began winding down the season. Undoubtedly, the most famous of firms that operated excursion vessels was Streckfus Steamers, of St. Louis and New Orleans.
Two of the Streckfus fleet’s most memorable riverboats were the Washington and J.S. This week’s Old Boat Column image is a rather sad view of the two stately steamboats at the end of their faithful careers, as they awaited dismantling.
Originally the Sidney, this sternwheeler was built in 1880; the wooden hull was constructed at Murraysville, W.Va., and the superstructure completed at Wheeling. The hull measured 221 feet in length by 35 feet in width. The engines had 17-inch cylinders with a 7.5-foot stroke.
The boat initially ran in the Wheeling–Cincinnati trade and was noted for being painted yellow with brightly colored trim. Sold to the Diamond Jo Line on the Upper Mississippi River to run in the St. Louis–St. Paul trade, the boat was later purchased by the Streckfus Steamboat Line to replace its sternwheeler J.S., which was tragically destroyed by fire in 1910.
With Capt. Roy Streckfus in command and 600 passengers aboard, the Sidney had the distinction of being the first commercial boat to enter the new lock at Keokuk (along with the G.W. Hill) in 1913.
The Sidney was taken to New Orleans during the winter months to run excursions. In 1921, the boat was completely rebuilt at Mound City, Ill., and renamed Washington. Operated on the Ohio River (with Capt. Fred Way as pilot), the steamer was based at Cincinnati and later Pittsburgh, managed by Capt. D.W. Wisherd.
The Washington ran for only a portion of the 1937 season and was taken to St. Louis for dismantling above the Eads Bridge. Artifacts from the riverboat, including the pilothouse and smokestacks, were sold at the levee to collectors.
Rebuilt from the packet Quincy, this sidewheeler was constructed at Dubuque in 1896 for the Diamond Jo Line. Built on a wooden hull measuring 264 feet in length by 42 feet in width, the steamer’s engines (23-inch cylinders with an 8-foot stroke) were recycled from the packet Gem City.
Capt. John Streckfus remodeled the Quincy into an excursion boat in 1919. Inasmuch as no extravagance was spared, the big boat was touted as the “J.S. De Luxe.” Based at St. Louis, the steamboat was noted for its speed, sometimes covering 100 miles per day.
When Streckfus debuted the all-steel steamer President in 1934, the J.S., with Capt. Verne Streckfus in command, tramped the Mississippi from St. Paul to New Orleans and the Ohio from Pittsburgh to Cairo. After a long and fruitful career, the J.S. was retired and tied up at the St. Louis levee in 1938.
River historian Ruth Ferris (1897-1993) recalled to this writer how the brightly colored name “De Luxe” on the sidewheel box proudly stood out against the ruins of the riverboat as it was scrapped. Rows of wooden jigsaw railing and gingerbread trim were piled high on the cobblestone wharf.
After all salvageable parts were removed, the remains of the J.S. were reportedly hauled to a junk yard.
Editor’s note: For questions or suggestions regarding the Old Boat Column, Keith Norrington may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail through the Howard Steamboat Museum at P.O. Box 606, Jeffersonville, Ind. 47131-0606.
Caption for photo: The retired Streckfus excursion steamboats Washington (left) and J.S., at the St. Louis levee in December 1938. (Keith Norrington collection)