Boat Clubs on the Ohio River [1906]

The Ohio River has ever been popular as a resort for sportsmen from the days when the spirit of adventure led the early French Voyageurs to embark in their clumsy batteaux at Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh, Pa.) and brave the unknown dangers to be encountered in following its sinuous course. It was the great pathway to the West and it was contended for by the French and British troops until finally the defeat of the French gave the British control. Shortly after the American colonies obtained their independence, the flood of immigration to the westward began and the Ohio was the natural and easiest route to be followed. Embarking at Redstone, (Brownsville, Pa.) in their rough "keelboats," resembling more the Noah's Arks of our nursery days than boats, the immigrants floated down the waters of the Monongahela River until its junction with the Ohio at Pittsburgh. Thence their progress was down the Ohio between hills of the most picturesque beauty. It is little wonder that this stream has always been referred to as the La Belle Riviere, a title most appropriate.

When the gasolene launch came into existence, it at once found a welcome along the banks of this stream and rapidly increased in number, and at this time, numerous prosperous boat clubs line the shores at the larger cities. The U.S. Government has been slow to realize the possibilities of this magnificent stream and the appropriations made by Congress have been niggardly in the extreme. Of late years more interest has been shown and larger appropriations made until finally a number of docks and removable or "folding" dams have been constructed in the upper river below Pittsburgh. These dams are set up when the stage of water is low and make fine deep water the year through. There are a great many launches at Pittsburgh and numerous boat houses and boat clubs. Some of the launches are very fast. The tributary streams, the Allegheny and Monongahela, are both navigable and many pleasure cruises may be taken at all seasons of the year. A busy place is Pittsburgh, with its enormous iron and steel furnaces and mills, all the surrounding hills are pierced with coal mines and the combined product is shipped by water to the Southward. Passing down the river, we fins a succession of busy manufacturing towns at each one of which is a more or less pretentious fleet of power boats. Marietta, the seat of the first Territorial government of Ohio, lies at the mouth of the Muskingum River. The Muskingum has a series of locks and dams and is navigable to Lisbon, Ohio, where a canal (too small at present for power boats) connects with Lake Erie.

The next energetic power boat center is Cincinnati, at which city there are probably two hundred launches of various kinds. So great has become the interest of this sport that the river is fairly alive with water craft during the pleasant days of Summer. Three large boat clubs are in a most prosperous condition, not to mention a number of smaller ones.

The oldest club, The Cincinnati Gymnasium Boat Club, owns a fine lot of skiffs, racing shells, barges, etc., and annually gives several regattas, clam bakes and fish frys.

The Ohio Boat Club is located further up the river and owns a home of nearly the size of the Gym. Boat Club. it is likewise a good deal of a rowing club, but has a number of launches enrolled in the club. So rapid was the increase in the number of launches that a few years ago some of the most enthusiastic launch owners got together and decided to organize a club for power boats only. In due time a modest boat house was constructed; an anchorage was secured on the Ohio side of the river and thus was the beginning of the Ohio River Launch Club. So successful has this club been that the small boat has given way to a large commodious houseboat about the size of the Cincinnati Gymnasium Boat Club. Particular attention is given to the proper care of power boats. Work-benches and tools are provided, and supplies are carried for the conveniences of the members.

It is the intention to ultimately construct a marine railway for hauling out launches for repairs and painting. The membership at present is nearly two hundred.

Louisville, one hundred and forty miles below Cincinnati, is another power boat center. it does not boast of a power boat club, but has two fine boat clubs, the Louisville B.C. and the Pastime B.C. These two clubs own a nice lot of skiffs, racing shells and other craft and have a large membership.

Among the navigable tributaries of the Ohio may well be mentioned the Kentucky River. The river has practically slack water navigation for two hundred miles due to an excellent system of locks and dams. These being under the control of the U.S. Government are free and no charge is made for locking through. No power boat enthusiast should miss the trip up the river if the opportunity offers.

Evansville, Ind., is the next city of consequence as a power boat center. There are two boat houses here, each one of which boasts a goodly number of power boats. Just above the city of Evansville is the mouth of the Green River, which rises in the Kentucky Mountains. The stream is navigable for two hundred miles thanks to a free lock and dam system. Power-boat men may be interested to know that lock No. 6 was finished this Winter and the river is now navigable to the historic Mammoth Cave. Below Evansville is Henderson, Ky, a thriving city and a short distance further along is Paducah, Ky.

Power boats chiefly of the stern-wheel variety are in evidence at all these places. The Ohio River boating fraternity have wakened up the possibilities of the power boat and sufficient evidence of this fact will be seen in a trip from Pittsburgh to Cairo, at which latter city this magnificent stream pours its volume of water into the Mississippi — "The Father of Waters."

(Transcribed from Power Boat News, Feb. 17, 1906, pp. 901-904. )

[Thanks to Greg Calkins for help in preparing this page. — LF]