Ohio River Historian Charles ‘Chuck’ Parrish Remembered
The Louisville Engineer District and surrounding community lost a wealth of river knowledge with the passing of Charles “Chuck” Parrish, 78, on December 21.
Parrish was a retired historian with the district and worked on numerous local Corps and Ohio River history projects for nearly 40 years. He authored numerous articles on navigation
development in the Ohio Valley. He was also a frequent presenter on navigation history aboard various Ohio River excursion boats. In addition, he was a long-time member of the Howard Steamboat Museum’s board of directors and a volunteer for the museum who gave speeches and helped generate interest in it.
Travis Vasconcelos, director and curator of the museum in Jeffersonville, Ind., recalled meeting Parrish for the first time.
“I met Chuck aboard the Belle of Louisville back in August of 1982 when he was aboard for a most unusual charter trip to the actual dam of the McAlpine Lock and Dam system,” he said. “We actually tied the boat up on the physical concrete dam! He, along with many of the members of the Corps, were using this trip for educational purposes. He was at the microphone explaining the intricacies of the system to those who were from other districts and had no knowledge of the system developed to bypass the Falls of the Ohio. I sure learned a lot on that cruise! Much of it fell into my own narration on subsequent cruises on the Belle. He was always willing to share his historical work with others. He wasn’t one to use conjecture in his documentation of history. He always relied on solid fact, a true historian’s historian.”
Parrish was editor of the book “Heroes at the Falls: Louisville’s Lifesavers,” the only book to chronicle the historic Life Saving Station at Louisville, the only such federal installation on the inland rivers.
“His research and knowledge of the story of those brave public servants was something he was rightfully proud of, for he continued to tell their forgotten story and kept their hard work alive,” Vasconcelos said.
Kadie Engstrom, the education coordinator for the Belle of Louisville, also talked about Parrish’s research into Life Saving Station No. 10 in Louisville.
“In the early 2000s, Chuck was asked to serve on a long-term planning committee committed to the future of LSS 10 and how we could help the public understand more about her history,” she said. “He served faithfully on that committee during its full term. Following that, he continued to serve as one of the LSS 10 local historians, again on a small planning committee, that worked with the Coast Guard to recognize the history of the boat and of the original life savers. As a speaker and participant, Chuck was involved with a conference of the United States Life Saving Service Heritage Association, which took place in Louisville in 2016 because of the close location of LSS 10. That association culminated in the placement of plaques on the gravestones of several of the original life savers buried locally, the installment of a gravestone for the original commander of the first station built in 1881 (which also included recognition plaques), the installment of a historic marker at the Falls of the Ohio regarding the heroes at the Falls, the inscription of the name of one of the life savers on the Patriot’s Peace Memorial near downtown Louisville, a wreath-laying ceremony with the Coast Guard for the only life saver that lost his life on duty at the Louisville station, and his personal involvement in a community-wide festival, Life on the River, which gave him the opportunity to bring out the impressive history of the only inland Life-Saving Station ever built on the inland waterways.”
Beyond those efforts, Vasconcelos called Parrish a very knowledgeable man who loved the inland rivers and had a memory for remembering facts, dates and the stories of the district and rivers that was simply amazing. Beyond that, he said, Parrish had the rare talent of connecting well with his audience.
“I have had the pleasure of hosting him as a guest speaker on the Delta Queen and American Queen,” Vasconcelos said. “His ability to speak to the passengers in ways they could understand, all the while keeping the information entertaining was phenomenal. He had a gift for public speaking that was coupled with his excitement for the subject. This drew you in and made his information accessible for all. While I will miss his friendship and river fellowship, he isn’t totally gone. He will always be on the river he loved so much … for now his is a permanent part of its story.”