Apr. 19, 2018

Minutes of the April 19, 2018 Meeting
The Rotary Club of Mobile
Call to Order: The meeting was called to order by John Dukes at 12:15 PM. Wayne Miller offered the invocation. Tommy Blankenship led the club in song and the Pledge of Allegiance. Jeff Zoghby welcomed members’ guests and visiting Rotarians.
• John Dukes announced that the Board meeting is to be held today in the Ashland Suite
• John Dukes thanked Garrett Williamson for organizing the dine out at El Papi April 17 We had a good turnout and everyone enjoyed themselves. Another dine out is being scheduled for May. Details to follow
• John Dukes reminded everyone of the District Conference June 7-10 at the Beau Rivage. The club will pay for a limited number of registrations.
Program: Tom McGehee presented The Era of Riverboats in Alabama
John Dukes introduced the speaker.
Before steamboats, goods were floated down the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers on keel boats or barges poled by hand and powered by the river’s current. Each held up to 100 bales of cotton.
The first steamboat to be built in Alabama in 1818 by the St. Stephens Steamboat Company at St. Stephens followed by the Steamboat Company of Alabama in 1820 and the Mobile Steamboat Company in 1821.
The only competition for the steamboats was to travel over land. In 1850 a stagecoach ride to Mobile from Selma took at least 3 days and cost $8 or about $250 in today’s dollars. In comparison if all went well a riverboat trip would be 2 hours shorter and cost $10 or about $315 in today’s dollars.
The size and design of the riverboats changed over time. The main thing to remember is that the majority of these vessels were designed for economy, efficiency and speed. They were largely “no nonsense” vessels with no gingerbread.
Early vessels were side wheelers averaging 200 feet in length and 30 – 40 feet in width.
The decks of the vessels got wider from top to bottom.
By the late 1850’s a total of 233 steamboats were operating in Alabama. Each of these vessels was capable of carrying 1,000 bales each. There were some 300 landings along the Tombigbee and 200 on the Alabama River.
The transportation of cotton to Mobile was all important. Not all river voyages went smoothly. Boats often ran aground on sandbars, especially when the river levels were lower. During the 1830’s an increasing number of boilers on the new riverboats exploded. By 1838 the federal government was so concerned that congress passed the Steamboat Act.
As the nineteenth century drew to a close, riverboats were still the main source of transportation up and down the rivers but their domination was eroding thanks to an ever-expanding network of railroads across the south. Next passengers began choosing the railroads for their speed and comfort.
John Dukes thanked Tom for sharing Alabama riverboat history with the club and noted that in his honor a donation has been made to the Rotary Children’s Foundation
The meeting adjourned at 12:58 PM.
Rob Diehl