This week, the Old Boat Column presents a photo of the Falls City.
Built in 1898 at Cincinnati for the Louisville & Kentucky River Packet Company, the sternwheeler ran between Louisville, Frankfort, High Bridge and Valley View. After the vessel departed Louisville, a typical trip to Frankfort, with various stops at landings, took a day and a half, with an additional day to reach Valley View.
Constructed on a wooden hull that measured 132 feet in length by 32.6 feet in width, the riverboat had guards that actually made the main deck 38 feet wide, which, with the addition of the wooden fenders hanging from the bulkheads, permitted precious little maneuvering room in the small lock chambers on the Kentucky River. Two coal-burning boilers supplied steam to engines having 12-inch cylinders with a 4.5 foot stroke.
While running in the Kentucky River trade, the steamboat had quite a number of mishaps. Shortly after its debut, it collided with the towboat Mary Lacy and its barges on May 23, 1898, causing an estimated $250 in damages. On December 18 of that year, James Hughes, the chief engineer, allowed the water in the boilers to fall below the prescribed limit, prompting the inspectors of the United States Steamboat Inspection Service to revoke his license. On October 28, 1900, while laid up at Louisville, the boat caught fire, sustaining $7,000 in damages, but with no loss of life.
Problems continued to plague the paddlewheeler, especially around the Kentucky River locks. While passing through Lock No. 6 on January 7, 1902, deckhand Henry Bartlett fell from the lockwall and drowned. On February 19, 1907, while entering Lock No. 1, the steamer was caught by strong wind and cross currents, throwing it against the lock wall; the guards were damaged and deckhand Charley Waters was injured. On August 7, 1907, the sternwheeler struck a submerged log while approaching Lock No. 9, causing estimated damages of $125 to the hull on the port side. In the early morning hours of November 6, 1907, deckhand Alf Barry stepped off the lockwall at Lock No. 9 and drowned. Earlier that same year, on February 19, deckhand Jack Allen fell overboard and drowned below Carrollton, Ky.
The run of bad luck throughout 1907 also included an engineroom incident when, on June 6, the piston rod of the port engine broke, knocking out and cracking the cylinder head, doing $250 in damages but causing no injuries.
The Falls City was purchased by Capt. Tom Morrissey, of Vicksburg, Miss., in 1908. Morrissey bought the boat to replace his small packet Rosalie M, which was lost after sinking 20 miles above Vicksburg earlier that year. A large “M” was placed between the smokestacks, a Morrissey insignia. The texas deck was lengthened and the pilothouse placed amidships.
Apparently the boat had better luck running in southern waters, for no records of accidents could be located.
The Falls City continued operating out of Vicksburg until 1915 when it was laid up and dismantled.
Editor’s note: For questions or suggestions regarding the Old Boat Column, Keith Norrington may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com, or by mail through the Howard Steamboat Museum at P.O. Box 606, Jeffersonville, Ind. 47131-0606.
Caption for photo: The Falls City at a Lower Mississippi River landing, circa 1908. (Keith Norrington collection)