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Action on the River
by Charlene Hoeflich
choeflich@civitasmedia.com

POMEROY — While some may prefer to “stand on the corner and watch the girls go,” many of us prefer perching on the parking lot wall and watching the boats go by.

Just taking in the action on the Ohio River makes life interesting, not only for first-time visitors to Meigs County, but long-time residents.

The attraction to the river and the boats that pass by just never get old. The big boats pushing barges, many loaded with coal, up and down the river, the excursion boats traveling from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh and back, the cabin cruisers and small pleasure boats present a changing scene for onlookers.

Since the 1800s, Meigs County has been closely tied to things happening on the river. Over the years use of river transportation greatly contributed to economic growth. It has been referred to as the “glorious days of the steamboats.” But history tells us that in those early days sometimes it was not all so “glorious.”

The Ohio River seemed always to pose problems as it wound its way around the border of the county. A round trip, Pittsburgh to Cincinnati, took four weeks unless ice, low water, high water, planters (logs stuck in the mud of the river bed), sawyers (floating logs), changing channels, or cross currents slowed one down. Travel on the river was not so great.

In 1807, there were flatboats, canoes, pirogues, dugouts, arks, skiffs, rafts, keel boats, barges, galley boats, and even sea going vessels traveling downstream after construction at Marietta.

The year 1811 was the start of the steamboat era on the Ohio River with the “New Orleans” passing down river, the first steamboat west of the mountains, but the New Orleans’ did not have the power to come back upstream.

In 1816, a steamboat described as “of odd construction” passed down from Wheeling, with no masts for sails, a shallower hull, two smokestacks, two decks and the engine on deck. The “George Washington” looked much different from earlier boats and after being further equipped a year later became the first steamboat to have the power to come back upstream. Just three years later, 40 boats of the same type were plying the river.

In 1836, Pomeroy resident Valentine B. Horton changed the future of river boating when he ordered the building of the “Condor” at a Cincinnati boat yard. The Condor put an end to wood-boats because it was the first boat in the world to successfully use coal for fuel rather than wood.

While the Condor was under construction, Horton invented coal barges for the new boat to pull, this ushering in the modem tow boat. The Condor could, however, pull no more than eight barges, four to a side, tied end to end and fastened to the bow of the boat by long lines. All these accomplishments were major break-throughs.

River traffic grew rapidly in the Meigs County area with no alternative form of transportation acting as competition. It was many years before a railroad opened up the area.

Steamboat traffic was so heavy that in 1845 Valentine B. Horton established the county’s first boat yard at the mouth of Naylor’s Run. In 1854 the first ferry between Pomeroy and Mason powered by a horse went into operation, and in 1857 Pomeroy received its first steam ferry.

Today it is the Ohio River commercial traffic coupled with recreational watercraft that makes life along the river so interesting for both first-time visitors and long-time residents.

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