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Monongahela: 1910

Monongahela: 1910

Pittsburgh circa 1910. "Monongahela River levee from Smithfield Street Bridge." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.



I ride across this bridge at least twice a week. It's amazing how much changes in such a short amount of time. Looking west from the the Smithfield Street Bridge: Northern bank of the Monongahela River at Pittsburgh.

Click to enlarge.

Tar Buckets

Hot tar and oakum were used to fill the various gaps in the boat's hull. Steamboat hulls were quite flexible in order to go over sandbars, weir dams, and other shallow obstacles.

Tar Buckets?

Packet Columbia: Built 1902 in Brownsville, Pa. Originally owned by Pittsburgh and Brownsville Packet Company.

In 1903 she was reported to have burned at wharf in Pittsburgh (January 16, 1903)."The cause of the fire is unknown but it is presumed to be the result of boiling tar catching fire." (Marine Engineering, Vol 8). She was rebuilt and burned again in 1910 (kudos Jimmy Longshanks).

So forgive my ignorance of steamboat mechanics but what is boiling tar used for? I note in the photo numerous pieces of deck furniture including what appear to be saw-horses holding buckets of something (tar?). Any Shorpy experts to enlighten us on the day-to-day mechanical operations of a 1900s Appalachian packet steamboat? Was the tar used for keeping the hull water tight or did it have some purpose in the propulsion system as well?

Columbia and Sunshine

Built in 1902, the Columbia was the largest Monongahela River packet ever. She was 172 feet long and had 75 staterooms. Records show she burned in February of 1910.

The Sunshine was built in 1888 as a ferry and excursion boat that operated in the Louisville area until 1907. Moved to Pittsburgh and altered to run on the Monongahela River. Eventually sold again and burned at Jeffersonville in 1928.

The "Safety of Life at Sea" conventions were first adopted in 1914 in response to the Titanic sinking. SOLAS standardized many safety practices on merchant vessels.


I believe the lower deck was for freight and passengers would not have been walking about in that area. I read the sign to mean the births were for the overnight run starting at 3 pm. Though I guess one could make the excursion extra special. A striking thing in this photo is the lightness of the bridges. What a remarkable change in the previous 50 years. After 1852 all steamboats had to have a flotation device for each passenger. Probably there are bunch stowed overhead on the promenade deck and elsewhere.

A safer boat

If I had toddlers in tow I would have to choose the "Sunshine" over the "Columbia." The former has railings all the way around on the lower deck where the latter does not.

12 hours, 100 miles!

12 hours on a riverboat, berth included for naps (or romance?) for a dollar sounds like a dreamy vacation! Wonder what it would cost today, if even possible. I wanna go!

Women and children first

The "Columbia" and "Sunshine" both seem to be under-equipped when it comes to lifeboats. Maybe four on each vessel.

Is this reflective of the pre-"Titanic" school of maritime safety?

More of the Row Remains

It seems as if much of that row of buildings is still there. The seven story building is on the right of the Google street view. 7 or 8 other buildings are still recognizable from 100 years ago.

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Pittsburgh & Morgantown Packet Co.

The Official railway guide:
North American freight service edition,

Pittsburgh & Morgantown Packet Co.

Operating Steamers: I.C. Woodward, Edgard Cherry, Admiral Dewey, Columbia, Rose Hite

To all Points on the Monongahela River between Pittsburgh, Pa., and Morgantown W.Va.

Steamers leave Pittsburgth daily except Sunday, 3:00 p.m. Sunday 8:30 a.m., for McKeesport, Monongahela City, Webster, Lock No. R, Charleroi, Bellevernon, Fayette City, Coal Centre, California, Brownsville, Fredericktown, Millsboro, Rice's Landing, Geneva, Point Marion and Morgantown.

Returning, leaves Morgantown daily, 8:00 am.

Also steamer leaves Pittsburgh at 4:00 p.m. daily, except Sunday, to all points as far as Brownsville, after June 1st.

These steamers are all first class built expressly for the trade, with superior accommodations, rendering a trip on the picturesque Monongahela a delightful one.

Freight received until the hour of departure.

General offices on Wharfboat, Pittsburgh Pa.


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