BOAT-BUILDING FLOURISHED HERE
By Peter Boyd
News-Register Staff Writer
The placid Ohio river, passing the city of Wheeling since pioneer days has been an avenue of
transportation. Historical records disclose that by the beginning of the 19th century boat building
was one of Wheeling's leading industries. Here was one of the centers of transfer from the east
to the flat boats and keel boats destined to float down the river, many never to return.
Large number of workers were employed here building the flat boats and keel boats, because
most of the boats were broken up at the end of the down-river journey and the wood, used to
build cabins, barns and other buildings. Regular boatmen traveled the river as a business,
floating their boats down to St. Louis, Memphis, Natchez and New Orleans, returning via foot
and horseback to Wheeling to have another boat constructed for their next trip. During the mid-
summer navigation on the Ohio was only possible as far north as Wheeling.
Records disclose that in 1811 the steamboar New Orleans, built in Pitsburgh, made the first
voyager down stream, under the power of steam-driven paddles, to the Mississippi.
An item in the Wheeling Repository, first newspaper published here in 1808 states that the
schooner, Nancy, of 100 tons burden was launched in Wheeling, at a ship-building yard on the
banks of the Oho, "which was launched with great eclat" on June 27 of that year.
In 1816 the first side-wheeler the "Washington" was built in this city and launched by Henry M.
Shreve, a prominent pioneer boat builder. It was the first boat of this type to negotiate up-stream
with a cargo.
As there was no engine manufacturing works in Wheeling at that time they were built in
Soon after the first successful steamboat was completed here the T.Sweeney and Sons foundry
entered the field of steam engine building and so it was that boats and engines were built here
for a number of years.
An idea of the volume of business done by the early boat yards is shown by a list of boats built in
Wheeling between 1815 and 1835. In 1815, of course, the Washington was the only one
The next came three years later when the Johnston was built in 1818. The year 1819 saw three
boats finished, the Wheeling Packet, Virginia and Expeditious. In 1822 the Congress was built,
after whih there was a lag in building until 1828 when a boom area must have hit the city for in
that year the Clinton, Madison, Traveler and La Grange were built.
The West Virginia was the only steamer completed in 1829 and the Bolivar the only one in 1831.
But in 1832 the Brave, Jefferson and Warsaw were completed. 1832 saw the Denmark and the
Lady Boone finished and 1835. Wheeling boat builders constructed the Anna Calhoun, Roanoke,
Monroe, Mt. Pleasant and Robert Emmett.
Records available disclose that most of these boats were built at either the Bell yard or the
Patton yard, while practically all the engines were made in the foundry operated by T. Sweeney
& Son, and later by A.J. Sweeney and Son their successors.
Subsequently the Sweeney Company took over the Bell Company, and moved the boat yard to
the Island just downstream from the Suspension bridge. The last boat built in Wheeling by
Sweeney & Co., was completed in 1892.
Many river packets operated from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati, St., Louis and even New Orleans.
The packets brought live stock and produce from the down-river towns to the markets in
Wheeling. Melons from Marietta, poultry and eggs from Clarington and Parkersburg, all found a
ready market in Wheeling. The old wharf boat at the Wheeling wharf was always loaded to
capacity with merchandise from Wheeling business houses shipped to down river ports. The old
Stamm House on Water st., south of Twelfth was the favorite stopping place for the packet
Until 1934 Ohio river packets were prominent on the Ohio river and the Wheeling wharf was a
beehive of activity. Up until that time regular packet service was maintained from Cincinnati to
The steamer Liberty, owned and operated by Captain Harry Donnally was one of the most widely
known steamers on the Ohio, being in operation approximately 30 years. The Gordon Greene of
the Greene line was a prominent Pittsburgh-Cincinnati packet of the large type. Large excursion
steamers also plied the Ohio of which the Goldenrod was one of the largest. Today the large
Diesel propelled towboats have taken the place of the packets and transport large cargoes of
steel, coal and other products to all cities along the inland waterways.
June 24, 1951
Part I Page 7
©Ogden Newspapers; reproduced with permission.
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