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

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Maggie Harper

In July of 1877 Captain Henry C. Harper contracted with the NAVY YARD for a new light draft steamboat to run between Madison and the upper locks of the Kentucky River. Alfred Knowles, Ben Temple and Isaac Thacker began immediately working on construction of the boat. She would be called the “Maggie Harper”, a namesake of the captain’s oldest daughter. The contract for building the cabin was let to Oscar Trigg and William Brydon, joiners. Walch and Halfenburger of the Indiana Foundry of Madison began rebuilding the machinery of the old steamer ”Dove” for use on the “Maggie Harper”.

By September 4th, the local newspaper noted that the “Maggie Harper” would soon be launched and invited people to attend the event. On the 11th of that month the boat was “skidded” to the river’s edge to await an anticipated rise in the river which soon came and she was towed to Johnson’s levee to receive her machinery.

On September 29th the Madison Evening Courier printed a detailed description of the “Maggie Harper” as follows:

HONOR TO WHOM HONOR IS DUE-Capt. Henry C. Harper, who as everybody knows has been untiring in his efforts to please the citizens of Madison and other towns between Carrollton and Louisville, has just finished another new boat, the Maggie Harper, named very appropriately after his daughter. The hull and upper works are by Isaac Thacker & Co. Length 133 feet by 32 feet beam, 4 feet 7 inches depth of hold. Two boilers 24 feet long by 38 inches in diameter, of best quality of steel and bear a test of 276 pounds, allowing her 186 pounds steam pressure. Captain Houghton says he never had a more satisfactory or higher test in all of his experience. Walsh and Halfenberger put up the engines, which are 13 1/4 inches cylinder by four feet in stroke. Her cook house has one of Bridgeford & Son’s cooking ranges in it, and John Adams furnished the kitchen furniture. The pantry ware was furnished by Mr. Frank J. Prenatt, of the city, and is very complete and handsome. Her cabin contains 26 state-rooms, two of them being double. The mattresses, pillows and bedding, also the furniture are from Dickenson & Co., Louisville, Ky., and all are of the best manufacture. Messrs. J. Hoffstadt & Sons, of this city, furnished and fitted up the carpets, which are of a light color and a fine texture of Brussels. The marble fixtures of the barber shop and wash room by James H. Crozier & Co. are of the usual fine quality turned out by that firm. Taking altogether the new steamer is a thing of beauty and grace. Persons should bear in mind that she leaves to-morrow at one o’clock, with Capt. Bob King on the roof, J. Mike Giltner in the office and jolly Chris Bader as the chief of the commissariat. In conclusion we will add that the Maggie Harper is complete in every respect, having steam capstans, swing stages, &c.”

The “Maggie Harper” served long and well mostly running between Carrollton, Kentucky and Louisville, Kentucky, but in 1879 she was brought to the Madison Marine Ways for an overhaul. The Madison Courier announced:

“The steamer Maggie Harper comes off the Marine Ways looking like a young girl in love, all smiles and blushes. While she has been out her hull has been strengthened with new timbers and plankings, her texas lengthened and the pilot-house put on top. Her chimneys have an addition of two rings; also a full coat of paint inside and out. She is drawing about fifteen inches of water now, which is a little less (about four inches) than when taken out. She will come up to the city on Thursday and resume her place in the trade Friday, leaving here at 12 o’clock, noon, for Louisville.”

In late October, 1881 the boat had a near miss when she had sixteen timbers broken at Were’s Landing. The wind blew the vessel back upon a log just as she was leaving the shore and she again entered the Marine Ways for work. Upon completion of repairs she returned to work as usual.

The “Maggie Harper” met stiff competition from newer boats in the mid 1880’s and she was taken out of local service after many long years on the Ohio.

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