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

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Louis A. Sherley

The Louisville and Cincinnati Mail Line Company contracted with the Madison Marine Railways in early April of 1876 for the building of a boat. It was to be a light draft stern wheel steamer for low water trade and to be completed by the 4th of July. The early specifications were: The hull to be 210 feet long, 34 foot beam and 4 ½ feet depth of hold. It was to have two engines. The cylinders of the engines were to be 16 ½ inches in diameter with 6 feet length of stroke. The two boilers were to be of steel each 44 inches in diameter, 26 feet long and containing 6 lap-welded flues, each 10 inches in diameter. The Marine Railways immediately went to work on the steamboat.

By the middle of May the cylinders for the engine were cast and the new steamer was nearly all planked. While the work was progressing as predicted, there was one change to be made. The original name chosen for the boat was the “Specie” but on June 20th it was announced she would bear the name “ Louis A. Sherley” after a son of Z. M. Sherley who had died in Louisville two years earlier. By this time the boat was nearing completion. It was predicted to be as fast and beautiful as any made anywhere. “The boys at the yard have taken a great deal of pains to make her as perfect a steamboat as ever ran the Ohio”.

On July 5th it was announced the new mail steamer, “Louis A. Sherley” got up steam and made a run of a few miles with the intention of testing her machinery. Everything seemed to be satisfactory. It can be surmised that she endured a bit more fine tuning and then on July 22nd the Madison Courier published the following article:

“The Mail Company’s new steamer Louis A. Sherley raised steam this morning and took her departure for Cincinnati to receive her cabin furniture and elegance, and another monument to the skill of Capt. Dan Morton and Madison mechanics as boat builders. The Mail Company contracted for the boat complete, and after a trial trip and a thorough examination are well pleased with the Sherley in every particular as regards draft and speed. Every article that enters into the composition of a steamboat is of the best material, and the workmanship cannot be surpassed. The boat is 220 feet long, 34 feet beam, with 4 ½ feet hold. She is furnished with a full length cabin and an unusually large hall; 38 large, airy state rooms. Her machinery consists of two 47 inch boilers 26 feet long, with six 10 in lap welded flues. In each; two 16 ½ inch cylinders with 6 feet stroke to drive an 18 feet wheel, with 25 feet of bucket; a doctor engine to supply the boilers and force the water to all portions of the boat.—The machinery was built by Messrs. Welch & Halfenberger, of the Indiana foundry, and reflects credit upon the young and energetic firm.. They are plain but work with the precision of the machinery of a lever watch, and so substantial that they will wear out half a dozen boats. Messrs. Hoffstadt & Sons of this city furnish the carpets and curtains, which speak volumes in their favor when we reflect that they had to compete with all the carpet houses in Cincinnati. The Sherley will certainly be one of the fastest and lightest-draft boats on the river, and necessarily must prove a success as a low water boat. She is supplied with all the modern conveniences as a freight boat, and when not needed for the low-water season in the passenger trade between Cincinnati and Louisville can be advantageously run in larger trades as a freighter.”

For the trip to Cincinnati her captain was Dan Morton, her pilot Henry Thomas and her engineer Charles Marshall. She was to be delivered over to the mail company and it was noted, tongue in cheek, that Captain Morton was to make the presentation speech; he carried the manuscript in his coat pocket, for it was seen sticking out—with a cork in it.

On August 7th it was noted that Captain Samuel F. Hildreth, of the Ben Franklin, will be in command of the Sherley and James Browinski in charge of the office. It had been noted a few days earlier in the local newspaper that: “Captain Sam Hildreth, of the steamer Ben Franklin, is a veteran in the boat business. Thirty years ago he was the commander of a steamer called the “Industry” running to Pittsburg, and during a high stage of water with a strong current while running close to shore, an ox team traveling along the road that wound along the river bank, came up and bantered the Captain for a race. The Captain accepted, and the Industry put to the top of her speed, but with all she could do, the ox team passed the boat inside of a mile.” Perhaps the oxen taught Captain Hildreth a lesson because the “Sherley” became well known for her performance on the river, running over 700 trips by December of 1878, missing only five trips.

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