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Lunch & Learn: Auntie Kadie Loves Steamboats

Presented by Kadie Engstrom, Education Coordinator at the Belle of Louisville and Mary M. Miller Riverboats

The 19th century history of New Albany is intimately tied to the Ohio River and its highpoint corresponds with the Steamboat Era. Major steamboat shipyards were located in New Albany and Jeffersonville, IN. New Albany was once Indiana’s most populous city (census data 1850) largely built upon the wealth generated from boat manufacturing and the lucrative trade with southern cities. With the advent of the steamboats, the upstream return voyage visiting southern cities became regularized.

The Manuscripts and Rare Books Division at Indiana State Library on “New Albany Steamboats” records the following information. The first steamboat to go down the Ohio River happened in the year 1811. New Albany, Indiana was founded by the Scribner Brothers in 1813 and by 1818; the first two steamboats were built along Silver Creek. Between the years 1818 to 1867 the steamboat construction business took off and more than 350 boats were built in the city. The last New Albany steamboat was constructed in the year 1867.

We can get a sense of how lively the river was during New Albany’s heyday through the art of George W. Morrison who worked in the city from the early 1840’s until his death in 1893. His only known print, a lithograph of “New Albany, Ind.” was commissioned by a local bookseller in 1849 shows several steamboats working the Ohio River. The shipyard is located in the lower right section of the print. A recently conserved Morrison double-portrait oil painting entitled, “George Lee & Pamela Maynard Williams Hosea” and dated 1848 shows the steamboat, the “Alex Scott” cruising down the river and can be seen through the open window of the couple’s farm house. This steamboat was built in southern Indiana in either New Albany or nearby Jeffersonville. This Morrison painting is currently on view at the Carnegie Center for Art and History.

The Carnegie Center is pleased to welcome steamboat expert and enthusiast Kadie Engstrom as the presenter for this program. Kadie’s presentation will include historic connections to the steamboat era, general information about the Ohio River and the steamboat industry. She will also speak about the history of the “Belle of Louisville”, the nation’s oldest stern wheel steamboat still in operation and her new sister boat, the “Mary M. Miller” which is named after the first female steamboat captain in the United States. Working on the river was a rough and physical environment and not considered suitable for a lady. Louisville native, Mary Millicent Miller became the first woman steamboat captain in 1884 and worked the Mississippi and Red Rivers.

Kadie Engstrom has worked with the historic steamboat, “Belle of Louisville” in several capacities since 1972 and has been Education Coordinator since 1992. She has written books, articles, brochures concerning community history, steamboats, Ohio River history, the Belle’s history, and the history of “Life-Saving Station #10. In addition, Kadie has developed and facilitated educational experiences for children and adults, community presentations and exhibits, classroom and on-board programs for students, workshops for teachers, and informational on-board narrations on both the “Belle of Louisville” and her sister boat, the “Mary M. Miller”.

Lunch and Learn is a free to the public program, however, registration is required. Email Delesha Thomas at dthomas@carnegiecenter.org or call 812-944-7336.