Steamboat Photo Postcards


The ELOISE on the upper Mississippi River 1908

One of my favorite real photo postcards. Postmarked Dallas City, Illinois - 12 August 1908

Sternwheel: Packet
Way's Packet Directory Number 1795;
Built in 1889 at Harmar, Ohio
Formerly the towboat ELIZA H.
After she was purchased by Captain Peel and others, she ran Keokuk-Burlington.
One season she sank in shallow water at Pontoosuc, Illinois and was afire once at Keokuk.
Sold to Captain Walter Blair in October 1907 and after some alterations was renamed WENONA.


"Arthur and I went down the Miss(issippi) River from St. Paul on this boat-Aug 7th 1908. I knew the Captain's Mother when she was married in 1854 when I was 14. - Mrs E.M. Abell."


This is a brand new real photo postcard which scanned up pretty well. John Hartford wrote an illustrated book about this incident called STEAMBOAT IN A CORNFIELD and probably a song by the same title as well. and in this photo the lookie-loos/curiosity seekers found the stranded steamer to be an irresistable tourist attraction. Imagine there were concessions selling beverages and popcorn etc. and postcards like this one must have been big sellers as well.

Here is the VIRGINIA's biography from Fred Way with detail on how she became stranded in the cornfield and eventually returned to the river.

Excerpted from

Way's Packet Directory Number

Sternwheel Packet boat

Built Cincinnati, Ohio 1895 235 x 40 x 7 Compound condensing engines, 15's, 33 s- 7 ft. Four boilers, each 42" by 20 ft. six flues each. Built by Cincinnati Marine Railway Co. Machinery by Griffith & Wedge, Zanesville, Ohio. Built for the Pittsburgh & Cincinnati Packet Line, construction superintended by Capt. J. Frank Ellison. Came out new on New Year's Day 1896.

She was noticed as being exceptionally quiet in operation, and we have heard Capt.William D Kimble remark that those in the office did not know whether she was in motion until they looked out the window.

She had 50 staterooms in the cabin and 10 more in the texas. Her cabin was done in white with elegant panels of a material known as Lincrusta Walton.

Also she was one of the first on the Upper Ohio to have a carbon arc searchlight contained in a glass fronted case with a reflector, called a White Squadron light imported from the Atlantic seaboard.

Paddlewheel 23 1/2 ft. diameter working 30 ft., buckets, staggered.

Had distinctive arch hogchains, an innovation later used on the QUEEN CITY KANAWHA, and others.

She had good water all 1896 and is said to have paid for herself that first season.

She struck a submerged bridge pier at Steubenville, Oh. on March 3, 1904, rupturing the hull, but prompt assistance from the local fire department and from towboats RAYMOND HORNER and IRONSIDES prevented her sinking.

She was the first packet to pass under the completed Wabash Railroad bridge, Pittsburgh, 1904 Her original fancy-topped stacks were replaced with plain 'towboat' stacks prior to April 1909 when she sank at the lower landing, Wellsville, Oh., on the 13th of that month.

The towboat RIVAL was sent down from Pittsburgh to assist but arrived too late.


The celebrated event of this boat's career came when she quit the river on the night of Mar 6, 1910 and was turned into a cornfield decoration. Captain Charles W Knox was master and Billy Anderson was pilot on watch. The river was in flood, and a landing was made at Willow Grove, West Virginia below Ravenswood to put off a passenger.

In departing, she sidled down over Williamson's submerged field and stuck.

In another week she was the Ark on Arrarat, high and dry, the river a half mile away steamboat excursions were run from St. Marys, Marietta, and Gallipolis with sightseers, and the B & O Railroad ran excursions to accommodate the curious.

The Pittsburgh contracting firm, John Eichleay Jr Co. was called in to move her back to the river, which was done, but she could not be launched because of the sandy riverbank soil.

A fortunate rise came in the Ohio River and lifted the boat back to its bosom.

The story of this epic is recounted with many photographs in the S&D Reflector issue March 1966.

Another feature story on VIRGINIA appears in the same publication s March 1973 issue, copiously illustrated.

She struck an overhead cable at the construction site of Dam 26, Ohio River Dec. 18, 1911, upbound, and knocked down her stacks and tore up the pilothouse.

After temporary repairs she continued to Pittsburgh and then returned to Pt. Pleasant, W Va., for repairs. At this time she was renamed STEEL CITY.

Shanty boat girls in men's clothing

This is an undated photo postcard that I won in an eBay auction. On the back is penciled "From Mary Vanpattan (to) Miss Irma Carpenter Sandford, Ind." Above these girls dressed in men's clothing Mary wrote their names in pencil. Mary herself is on the right and the one in the middle is Ethel Hay. The name of the one on the left is more difficult. There's an indecipherable squiggle in front of what seems to be the last name "Broeff" This was advertised as being 3 "boys" on eBay, the seller didn't look very closely. The first thing I noticed was the high heeled shoes, then the rolled up trouser legs and outsized coats. Very cute old picture taken aboard a house boat or "shanty" boat. Must date from the early 1900's. Know this isn't steamboaty although that must be a barge right alongside there.


J.S. 1910 real photo postcard. Lots going on at the landing.

ALTON r.p.c

Attached scan of a real photo postcard that I plumbed and cropped for you. Self captioned by the photographer H.H. Bregstone of St. Louis.

The following information I edited from a profile provided on the Howard Museum site.

The ALTON was an excursion boat with a wood hull (241.1 ft. x 38 ft. x 7.3 ft.), that was built at the Howard Boatyards in Jeffersonville, Indiana in 1906.

She was owned by the Eagle Packet Company in St. Louis, MO and operated on the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Alton, Illinois.

She had an octagonal pilothouse and was famous for her speed, once traveling from the Eads Bridge in St. Lous to Alton, Illinois (about 33 miles) in one hour and forty-four minutes.

In October 1907, ALTON carried fourteen State governors from Keokuk to Memphis in the "Roosevelt Parade" which accompanied President Teddy Roosevelt down the Mississippi.

The ALTON was lost in the ice at Paducah, Kentucky on January 29, 1918.


Another original cyanotype (blue "proof print") postcard from my collection (the other one was of Miss Margaret E. Johnston aboard the HENRY M. STANLEY). This showboat card was post marked 22 April, 1910. I converted both these "blue" cards to gray scale to make them easier on the eye.

Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print. The process uses two chemicals: ammonium iron(III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide.

To find more photos and information about the New Sensation, visit the Showboat photo page - click here.


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.