WHEELING WEST VIRGINIA’S FIRST MAJOR INDUSTRY BOAT BUILDING
Lewis and Clarke Corps of Discovery
Model by John Bowman
“Keelboats”, using sails, oars and pike poles were the only large riverboats that had the means of locomotion that could propel them up-stream against the current. These boats were also referred to as “Kentucky” boats.
This is an exact replica model of the keelboat Discovery built for Meriwether Lewis in 1803. She was 55 feet in length and 8 feet 4 inches wide. Her draft was 3 feet. She had a 32-foot single mast and a square sail. Per Lewis’s specifications, she was to be provided on her foredeck with a one-pounder swivel cannon. Her burthen was 12 tons plus a crew of 22. Lewis left Pittsburgh August 31st making his first stop in Wheeling, 8 days later September 8, 1803. Discovery’s final disposition is unknown.
Wheeling was noted for building high quality keelboats. With so many being turned out at Wheeling’s boat yards, you were assured of having one with the timber still having high moisture content. A boat that had been long built would have her timbers and planks shrunk and her caulking loose.
In Wheeling, Virginia, keelboats sold for about $60, and their average length was about forty feet. Always at the ready and for sale, a large flotilla of keelboats was tied up along the river at Beymer’s landing at the west end of Ninth Street.
The first river packet boats (a boat that hauled passengers and cargo) were Keelboats. At Wheeling, one could book passage and board an Ohio River packet boat (a large well-appointed keelboat) for a trip to Pittsburgh or Cincinnati.