Steamboat People: John Hartford


Ralph DuPae kindly put me in touch with John Hartford who signed his name with vintage style on this photo of himself steering the Julie Belle Swain (scroll to the right to see autograph in uppler right hand corner).


John Hartford in the Julia Belle Swain pilothouse. Jim Hale took the photo on a fall foliage cruise on the Tennessee River out of Chattanooga, November 1974. Go to Jim Hale's page to see a photo John Hartford took of him the same day in the Julia Belle Swain pilothouse - click here.


John Hartford's Front Porch!

Came across this online . . . comfly cozy front porch of John Hartford's home on the Cumberland River. What an ideal setting!
(From Brandon Ray Kirk's site)

This site is dedicated to the collection, preservation, and promotion of history and culture in my section of Appalachia.

Brandon Ray Kirk

Brandon Ray Kirk, author of Blood in West Virginia: Brumfield v. McCoy (Pelican, 2014) and a descendent of feudists from Lincoln County, West Virginia, is an enthusiast of Appalachian feuds, Southern violence, timber history, and traditional Appalachian music. An assistant professor of American history at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, Kirk gives daily lectures about Appalachian history.

In addition to having written scores of Appalachian-themed articles for regional newspapers and books, including the West Virginia Encyclopedia, The Kentucky Explorer, and Goldenseal magazine, Kirk has contributed to the PBS series West Virginia and offered expertise for participants in the History Channel series Hatfields and McCoys. He has also lectured for the Scarborough Art and Lecture Series, the Lunch with Books program at the Ohio County Public Library, and the West Virginia State Archives &History Library.

His diverse career has included working as a university library assistant at Marshall University's Morrow Library Special Collections Department, writing for the Lincoln (WV) Independent and Lincoln (WV) Journal, researching and writing for Hartford Music, Inc., writing for the Logan (WV) Banner, and teaching advanced placement history courses for Lincoln and Logan County Schools. He has worked extensively with Representative Ken Hechler's Congressional papers, partnered with West Virginia Hillbilly editor Jim Comstock, and archived the papers of CBS executive Bob Tamplin.

A close associate of the late John Hartford, Kirk co-authored the Ed Haley biography and assisted with the Grammy Award-winning soundtrack O Brother, Where Art Thou? He is a Blake-Hulse Scholar and a past member of Kappa Delta Pi and Phi Alpha Theta honor societies.

More recently, Kirk has appeared in Smithsonian magazine and The New Yorker magazine as well as on The Friendly Neighbor Radio Show and the TV program Chapters. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin appointed him to serve on the West Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission.

He also contributed to an upcoming John Hartford documentary. In 2015, The State Journal chose him as one of "55 Good Things About West Virginia."

Kirk is a graduate of Marshall University where he earned a M.A. in history, specializing in Appalachian history. A dedicated Appalachian scholar, he spends his time collecting and compiling oral histories, researching at courthouses and archives, collecting old photographs, restoring and mapping cemeteries, and conducting field recordings of traditional Appalachian music. When he is not traveling through the American South promoting his book or visiting old homes, museums, battlefields, antique stores, and music festivals, Kirk collects, preserves, and promotes the culture and history of his section of

Appalachia from his home in Harts, West Virginia.

Brandon Ray Kirk - Our Overmountain Men
Guest Presenter Brandon Ray Kirk providing a lecture on "Our Overmountain Men" at the November 18, 2017 meeting of the Daniel Boone Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution


Here's a poster for one of Hartford's live appearances in Hannibal, Missouri, by the Hannibal Arts Council. The poster must refer to Saturday, November 7, 1981. The same artwork was used for an album cover.

A documentary on John Hartford

Trailer for a documentary on John Hartford which I gather was made by his son. Since this dates from 2011 I hope the movie has been completed by now. Miss Ferris is mentioned of course. I was fortunate to meet her. When I showed her my portfolio she assumed that I intended that she could keep it and she said "I will treasure it always." We were able to straighten out that misunderstanding without hurting her feelings. I have to remember to always have back-ups of all my efforts to share with out-of-towners when I visit them. I did give Cindy Lovell of the Hannibal Clemens Museum and the Mark TwainHouse in Hartford, a special extra edition my portfolio of 36 composites on Clemens and Hannibal as well a composites devoted to later periods of his life.

John Hartford Documentary Trailer Youtube

Aereotwang1 Published on Jun 22, 2011 This is the first documentary trailer for the film being made about the life and music of John Hartford, the editing of which is still in progress. More information about the documentary and about the Aereotwang Musical Preservation Project can be found at

Hartford - sings his MISS FERRIS song

Link below to a live performance by Hartford of his song dedicated to Ruth Ferris. John was in his youthful healthy prime here, full of energy and enjoying the audience.

I saw Hartford out here when he opened for blind folk singer/Bluegrass musician Doc Watson at Royce Hall, UCLA during the 1980's. I met John at Marietta at an S & D gathering in 1990. He was a courtly gentleman who nodded in such a way that seemed like royalty bowing when he acknowledged me. My friend Ralph DuPae asked John to autograph the photo of him that was taken at the pilot wheel of the JULIA BELLE that you have on our page dedicated to him.

John Hartford - Ramblin - 05 - Miss Ferris


Published on Feb 6, 2008
John Hartford footage from a rare & out of print VHS.
Please see my other videos to enjoy the rest of this wonderful concert.

Hartford's Video General Jackson Opryland

John Hartford and the General Jackson: Banjoes, Fiddles & Riverboats (1991)
43:27 (Overall length)
Published on Oct 21, 2016
River history, authentic footage and stills, along with music and narration by John Hartford from the original 1991 Opryland Attractions, Inc. release:

Banjoes, Fiddles & Riverboats: John Hartford and the General Jackson.



John Hartford in the Gasoline Alley comic strip 1961

In May of 1961 the GASOLINE ALLEY comic strip devoted 10 days to a John Hartford steamboat fantasy adventure, beginning on Tuesday, May 16th and running through Thursday, May 25th. Was able to assemble nine panels here, designated as A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H and I, while the fifth panel which would have appeared on Saturday, May 20th (unless for some reason the strip wasn't run on that day). It was absent from the available online newspaper back issues available and if it indeed was published, hopefully it will turn up.

The premise of the Hartford story includes favorite associations of John's:

Banjo playing, Piloting, the JULIA BELLE SWAIN, the Cumberland River, the GENERAL JACKSON (nicknamed PVT. JAXON here) and the stranding of the steamer VIRGINIA in the "Steamboat in a Cornfield" accident of 1910 which in this story is assigned to the PVT. JAXON.

GASOLINE ALLEY was created by Frank King in 1918 who carried on the strip until 1959. Four years before Frank retired, Dick Moores began to take over the writing and drawing of the strip and was in charge of it by 1959. Dick Moores wrote and drew these Hartford panels.

Writer-artist chronology of GASOLINE ALLEY:

Frank King (1918-1959)

Bill Perry (Sunday strips only, 1951-1975)

Dick Moores (1956-1986)

Jim Scancarelli (1986-present)

Link to John's memorial website:

Link to John Hartford's music and photos of John Hartford by Bill Muster (at this site).


With the exception of images credited to public institutions,
everything on this page is from a private collection.
Please contact for permission for commercial use.*

All captions provided by Dave Thomson, primary contributor and historian.