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Boat Building in Midland
By Gladys L Hoover
Milestones Vol 23 No 2 Summer 1998

In the 1970's, Gladys Hoover, founder of the BCHR&LF, wrote a series of historical articles for the Beaver County Times and other publications. We are pleased to reprint some of these articles in Milestones.

We are indebted to Captain Frederick Way, Jr. of Sewickley for the following information. Not too well known is the fact that Midland, as well as other towns in Beaver County, has a significant history in boat building. In the Midland boat yards was built the hull of the Cincinnati, "the largest overnight passenger steamboat built for service on the Mississippi system in the twentieth century. She had 152 staterooms, two suites and one parlor room for passengers and other staterooms for the crew." The year was 1923.

The authority for this is no other than Captain Frederick Way, Jr. of Sewickley who goes on to say "She had 152 staterooms, two suites and one parlor room for handling paid passengers and had other staterooms for the crew. The actual number of beds and berths available for passengers totaled around 325."

Captain Way is editor of the S,& D Reflector, a magazine published by sons and daughters of Pioneer Rivermen. A little leeway is given to persons interested in river matters even though they cannot claim riverboat ancestry. Thus it has been my good fortune to be an S & D member for several years.

Captain Way, Jr. explains the origin of the Cincinnati. "A splendid blending of two unique personalities brought on the brainstorm which built the Cincinnati in 1923. John W. Hubbard, a Pittsburgh philanthropist, and Captain William E. Roe, whose secret soul was a tumult of ambition, got themselves on Cloud Nine. The Ohio River locks and dams between Cincinnati and Louisville had been completed. That meant 131 miles of year-around 9-foot water. Roe painted a rosy word picture to Hubbard (dazzling undoubtedly) so vivid that both were carried away on the torrent. They decided to build not one but two steel 285 foot sidewheelers for the CincinnatiLouisville trade. Marine architect Tom Dunbar was retained to draw the plans and superintend the construction.

"Me contract for these two boats was let to the Midland Barge Company along the right shore of the Ohio River at Midland, PA. During the term of this construction, your editor (Captain Way) was a clerk on the General Crowder and oftentimes we would land there at Midland Barge to deliver kegs of bolts, rivets and the like. Usually it was in the night when we landed there, with the floodlights at the yard revealing the shaping of these two enormous hulls. To say that I was impressed by what I saw there is to conceal my astonishment. All of the packets of that era were on a choice of bread pudding or prune whip dessert, and these two new sidewheelers were to be packets ... The General Crowder, where I was working owed $1,900 in back wages to the crew and owed me $250:'

As it turned out, a little later the Cincinnati was designed into a double decker. "Mr. Dunbar and family were living in Edgeworth, PA in the Shannon residence most of 1923 when the hulls were under construction in Midland. As soon as the Cincinnati hull was launched, by which time the double cabin had been decided upon, Dunbar gathered up his family and drawing instruments and removed to Cincinnati. The new hull was towed down there and the work of putting up the cabin structure was started at once."

Captain Roe was anxious to get the packet completed before the 1924 Mardi Gras. "In a crash program of something like six months, the new Cincinnati was lying at the L & C wharfboat, foot of Main Street, Cincinnati, steam up, passengers coming aboard and the workmen still running here and yon with Stillsons and pieces of pipe.

"The Cincinnati was a more expensive investment than she was first planned to be. Captain Martin F. Noll, secretary-treasurer of L & C., related to us that her cost at the time of that first 1924 Mardi Gras was $417,000.00, an unprecedented figure ... Anyhow they cleared something like $40,000 on that initial voyage, not to be sneezed at, and vindication that Capt. W. E. Roe was right in piling her two decks high with staterooms.

"Jesse P. Hughes was one of the pilots usually selected when the Cincinnati went to Pittsburgh. His partner more often than not was the celebrated Jim Rowley who lived at Vanceburg, KY. Jim was not very big physically but when on the watch in a pilot house he was monarch of his realm. . . "

Captain Way gives the following example of a pilot's prestige: "Your writer was seated on the lazy bench. The Cincinnati was approaching the Ernsworth Dam with Cap'n Jim at the wheel. Who should pop his head up but John W. Hubbard, financial mentor and president of L & C.

"'Sony,' said Jim, 'passengers are not allowed up here.'

"Mr. Hubbard blinked owlishly. 'I am John W. Hubbard,' he said.

"Jim leaned easily on the pilot-wheel and kept his cool. 'Hm-m' he decided to say. "I own this boat and my money pays for the crew:'

After an interchange of words slowly and with dry meaning, the two men, according to Captain Way, settled down like a couple of Siamese cats swearing at each other and enjoying it.

Thus we have certain facts: the building of the steel hull of the Cincinnati at the Midland Barge Company; the elaborateness of her two decks structure; something of river lore, including the importance of the pilot, a hint of the business that has increased daily on the Ohio River.