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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Louisville Levee: 1905

Louisville Levee: 1905

The Ohio River circa 1905. "The levee -- Louisville, Kentucky. Sternwheeler Georgia Lee." 8x10 glass negative, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.

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Those are Fink trusses

The bridge in the background is the 14th Street bridge, although the single-track deck was replaced in 1916-1919 because of heavier rail equipment and traffic. (300+ trains a day in the early 1900's!) The stone piers remain the same to this day. The bridge was actually built by the Louisville & Nashville Railroad and only a few years later was this line sold to the Pennsylvania as their only foray into Kentucky with this Indianapolis to Louisville line. Albert Fink, German inventor of this style truss bridge, was employed by the L&N at the time of its construction.

The Bridge

I was curious about the bridge in the background - almost certainly it was a railroad bridge. So did a little checking and I think it may be the bridge built in 1868 for the Pennsylvania Railroad. If so, it is now called the Fourteenth Street Bridge and is still in service (according to Wikipedia).

Gothic Cathedrals on the river

I plain love the pictures of those old steamboats.

You can see the structural design at work. Specifically the hogging chains (or cables or rods as they might have been by 1905) which were necessary to keep those flat wooden hulls from braking in two. You can see where the loads and stresses go, just like on a Gothic ribbed vault.

Steel hulls don't need them. Much stronger material and totally different way of handling loads and stresses.

By the way, hogging chains (et al) are the thingies which come up through the front end of the superstructure, are fixed on pillars amidships and go back down at the stern. By the way, No. 2., all ships hog. But those sternwheelers hog real bad with the boilers at one end and the engine at the other.

Loungin' on the Levee

What we 21st century sophisticates might not realize is that in the 19th and into the 20th century, in river towns, when the stern and paddle wheelers came in, this was a connection with the outside world! Besides those boats carrying goods and merchandise from far away places -- and taking on goods from that particular city and its surroundings to be shipped and sold -- they also were a means of carrying passengers. In many cases, mail was carried from city to city by river boats. In the picture, look on the upper deck and you'll see a group of men, women and children in their best traveling clothes taking in the sites of the port of Louisville. This was a big deal for those who traveled on these boats. I agree with DepotHack that those on the shore are most likely passengers who got off for a stretch and a smoke and to get the latest scoop on the levee at Louisville or were waiting for someone to disembark who was coming to visit or had business in the city. In those days, the activity that took place down around the levee in river towns and cities was equivalent to that at a train station or -- in years to come -- an airport. These days -- and it was just on the news a couple of days ago -- the folks along the Mississippi and the Missouri and other rivers are singing the blues about low water levels and how that will limit the amount of river traffic. Alot of us forget (or just don't realize anymore) that a majority of our produce and goods here in the good ole USA are still shipped up and down our rivers.

Bridge Trusses

In the background, we get a good view of the design of the trusses used in the bridge across the Ohio River. The central span appears to be a Pratt truss, which allows clearance for riverboats to pass beneath it. The other trusses appear to be Fink trusses.


Actually, I think most of those well dressed fellows are "through-passengers" waiting for the loading to be completed and have nothing else to do. Their womenfolk are no doubt still comfortably aboard, having tea in the salon or napping in staterooms. I think the tip-off here is the fact that there is fire in the boilers and steam escaping. The two guys near the rail aft are no doubt part of the crew tending fires and boilers, etc. I don't think they would burning fuel if the voyage was originating here; I think this is just a "stopoff" to partially unload and add the freight that's stockpiled on the riverbank.

Only made it to 20.

Built in 1898 for $18,000, at the Howard shipyards of Jeffersonville, Indiana, for the Lee Line of Memphis, Tennessee. She was 210' x 43'. Destroyed by ice in 1918 at Memphis.

Capn_Jack, that framework is known as hogchains, and it ties the ribbing in the hull together with the upper decks. Common on most wood hulled steamboats.


Louisville in that time period must have been very boring. Otherwise, why should so many well-dressed men (and one boy on a bicycle) have come to the levee to watch the steamer load? Why, it's barely more exciting than watching grass grow! Maybe it happened during lunch hour for white collar workers? Why are there no, or hardly any, women in the audience?

Interesting to modern shipspotters is the network of rods or cables above the weather deck -- possibly a framework for awnings.

Go down to the levee!

Hard lookers enjoying the efforts of a few hard workers. How much easier in the future with some modern equipment. I can see lumber, barbed wire, axle grease and cotton for sure. Are the large cylinder shaped containers tobacco?

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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