STEAMBOAT STACKS LOWERED FOR THE WHEELING SUSPENSION BRIDGE by John Bowman

The River Coal or River Combine (R.C.) 1894 Coal Towboat Valiant down bound at Wheeling has just cleared the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, and the Steel Bridge with lowered stacks. 

Valiant Towboat at Wheeling with lowered stacks a 1900 W.C. Brown photo (#89) from the John Bowman collection

In this, a second photo, the River Combine (R.C.) 1880 Coal Towboat Iron Age down bound at Wheeling has just cleared the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, and the Steel Bridge with lowered stacks.

Iron Age Towboat at Wheeling with lowered stacks a 1900 W.C. Brown photo from the John Bowman collection

In this third photo, a 1912 Post Card titled “Tow Boat on Ohio River, Wheeling, W. Va.” we see the R.C. 1869 Coal Towboat Ironsides at Wheeling lowering her stacks as she approaches the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. 

1912 Post Card “Tow Boat on Ohio River, Wheeling, W. Va.” from the John Bowman collection

This was a period of “Tall Stacks”; a few boats with a total height of over 65 feet could strike the Suspension bridge’s west side. The 1,010 foot 1849 Wheeling Suspension Bridge average clearance is 92 feet at the east end and 62 feet at the west end, plenty of clearance for today’s Towboats.

R.C. River Coal or River Combine

The Combine was formed in 1899 as the Monongahela River Consolidated Coal & Coke Company, with headquarters at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The MRCC&C was a formation of eighty towboats, six thousand coal boats and barges, coal elevators, boat yards and marine ways.  The Combine acquired thirty-three thousand seventy-five acres of Pennsylvania coal lands and two thousand one hundred and nineteen acres of Kentucky coal lands.  The towboats in this fleet had the initials R.C., River Combine, or River Coal painted on the sides of their pilothouse.  Anyone seeing these familiar initials would refer to these towboats as Combine boats.  December of 1899 was its first month of operation, and during the first month’s operation, the Combine sent from Pittsburgh eight hundred seventy-six barges and five hundred twelve coal boats.  The Combine had at least eighty firms listed in its charter.  Just about every coal company on the river joined the Combine.  Source: Way’s Steam Towboat Directory, xvi, xvii, xviii

Combine boats were built to the low profile Rees design, and commonly called ‘Poolboats’.  These towboats were designed with their pilothouse built at the forward end of the boiler deck rather than on the hurricane deck or roof and her stacks were also hinged which allowed these towboats to easily navigate under the Monongahela River’s low bridges.  The LāBelle was built to the low profile Rees design, also known as the Poolboat style as many of her contemporaries were.  These low profile Poolboats didn’t really need to lower their stacks at Wheeling, however this was a common practice for all Combine Towboats.  They had to lower their stacks for the many low clearance bridges on the Monongahela River, and this practice they carried on at Wheeling.

Lā Belle under construction at the Elizabeth Ways Brownsville, Pa. photo from the Fred McCabe Liberty Marine collection

This photo shows the stern-wheel towboat Lā Belle under construction at the Elizabeth, Pennsylvania boat yard in 1921.  She was built for the Wheeling Steel Corporation.  The Lā Belle was built to the low profile Rees design, aka poolboat style as many of her contemporaries were.  In this photo, one can see how the ‘poolboat’ smoke stacks were designed, and hinged.  They were easily raised or lowered by one crewmember.  Lā Belle regularly towed coal from the Monongahela River coal yards to Wheeling Steel’s Follansbee, W. Va., and Steubenville and Mingo Jct., Ohio steel plants.

Steamboat strikes the Wheeling Suspension Bridge resulting in the “Wheeling Bridge Case”

In July of 1849, following a rise in the river caused by a summer cloudburst, Steubenville, Ohio attorney, Edwin M. Stanton chartered the steamboat Hibernia No. 2 with very high smoke-stacks for an excursion trip to Wheeling.  The pilot, Capt. C.W. Batchelor of Steubenville, a good friend of Stanton’s, steered the boat to the west side of the Suspension Bridge purposely striking the undercarriage of the bridge causing damage to Hibernia’s stacks.  Stanton had ordered the accident to produce a bona fide grievance.

In August of 1849, a suit was filed by the State of Pennsylvania on behalf of the steamboat interests of Pittsburgh against Charles Ellet, Jr., and the Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company, owners of the Wheeling Suspension bridge.  The suit alleged the bridge was an obstruction to the navigation of the Ohio River.  The counsel for the Pennsylvania complainants was Edwin M. Stanton.   

The U.S. Supreme Court decision rendered May 27, 1852 recommended that a draw in the bridge over the channel of the river be constructed to adequately eliminate any obstruction to navigation and that it be completed by February 1, 1853.  Ellet was ordered to pay the attorney’s fees of about $15,000, which Ellet paid to Stanton and his co-counsel, Charles Shaler.

In the end, Ellet successfully petitioned Congress to have the House Committee on Post Office and Post Roads designate the bridge a post and military road.  On August 31, 1852, President Millard Fillmore signed into law a bill that declared the bridge a portion of a Post Road and therefore not subject to the decree of the Court. 

In these photos, we see the American Queen at Wheeling lowering a stack, and the American Queen with both stacks lowered.

American Queen at Wheeling lowering a stack from the John Bowman collection
American Queen at Wheeling with lowered stacks from the John Bowman collection

This is one of the best, easy to read “Suspension Bridge History” that I have found on the internet. “The Disasters and Politics of the Wheeling Bridge” Abraham Reyes 1.011 May 15, 2003 web.mit.edu/1.011/www/finalppr/areyes-Wheeling_Bridge_

Bibliography

  1. Bowman, John, A Pictorial History of Wheeling and Ohio River Steamboats, Wheeling, WV, 2009
  2. Way, Frederick, Jr., with Joseph W. Rutter Way’s Steam Towboat Directory, Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, 1990
  3. Monroe, Elizabeth B., The Wheeling Bridge Case: Its Significance in American Law and Technology, Northeastern University Press, Chicago, 1992
  4. Charles Ellet, Jr., The Engineer as Individualist 1810-1862, Lewis Gene D. 1962,

Photos

  1. Valiant Towboat at Wheeling with lowered stacks a 1900 W.C. Brown photo (#89) from the John Bowman collection.
  2. Iron Age Towboat at Wheeling with lowered Stacks a 1900 W.C. Brown photo from the John Bowman collection.
  3. 1912 Post Card Tow Boat on Ohio River, Wheeling, W. Va. from the John Bowman collection Ironsides
  4. American Queen at Wheeling lowering a stack from the John Bowman collection
  5. American Queen at Wheeling with lowered stacks from the John Bowman collection
  6. Lā Belle under construction at Elizabeth Ways Brownsville, Pa. photo from the Fred McCabe Liberty Marine photo collection

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