The Rise and Fall of River and Rail transportation in Madison, Indiana.

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Capt. William H. Keyt of the Nanny Byers

William Henry Keyt was born in Westfield, New Jersey in 1811. As a young man he ventured west to the state of Ohio. We don’t know what endeavors he attempted while residing there, but we do know it was there he married and it was there where his only child, a daughter named Laura, was born in 1839.

By 1850 we find Mr. Keyt and his family are settled in Madison, Indiana and he is involved in commerce. He and his partner, Samuel Strader, are commission merchants, dealing mostly in wholesale groceries and dry goods. They owned, or more likely, leased a large warehouse, no doubt a ramshackle affair as was the trend of the day, at the foot of West Street. Elegant or not, it was a choice location situated just across from the wharf and no doubt it was a busy and profitable arrangement.

In 1859, his daughter, Laura, married Thomas Clelland Cunningham. The Cunningham family was deep into commerce and business in Madison and soon Captain Keyt and Thomas went into partnership and opened a starch manufactory. Evidently, the business did well and both families seem to have been prosperous. William ran the business while Thomas served in the Union Army.
On the 1860 census, William Keyt is listed as a steamboat captain. Just when and how he became a captain is unknown. It could be surmised that his varied businesses were doing well enough to warrant owning a boat to import goods for his wholesale business and to export starch from his mill. We no not know what boat or boats Keyt is associated with during this time.
In 1863, however, Captain Keyt contracted with the Madison Dry Docks Company to build for him the boat “Nannie Byers”. (see) Almost surely the Byers was used to transport cargo for his business but it also seemed to be a popular boat for passengers, making the trip to Cincinnati and also up the Kentucky River. A tragic accident in February of 1866, however, put the “Nannie Byers” out of business and, evidently, ended Kyte’s career as a riverboat captain. Though Kyte was not in charge of the boat during the incident, the great loss of life may have convinced him that the hazardous life of a riverboat captain was not for him.
His son-in-law died in 1875 and two years later his wife, Ann, was gone. William returned to Ohio and ran a sugar and molasses factory for awhile.
As he grew older, and no doubt as his health began to falter, he looked about for a place to spend his waning years. His daughter had relocated in California and his grandson, James Clelland Cunningham, had settled in Oregon in 1883 where he owned a large farm and was in the process of rearing a large family. No doubt the thought of a serene life, surrounded by his great-grandchildren, appealed to Keyt and he joined James in the far west. There, in Douglas County, Oregon, Captain William Henry Kyte, entrepreneur, businessman, steamboat captain, and factory owner, died in 1902 at the age of 92.

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