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

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The steamer Richmond

Steamboat building was a very competitive business. There was only a limited amount of business to go around and the newspapers often remarked on builders scurrying about trying to drum up business. Each new contract was considered a triumph over fellow builders.

In Madison especially, boat building was one of her major industries, employing hundreds of men, and the satellite industries of boat building employed hundreds more. Boat building wasn’t taken lightly and it would seem bragging rights were closely guarded, also. A case in point took place on April 5, 1867 when The Daily Courier published the following article concerning the building of its latest boat:


Charles H. Clarke, river editor of the Louisville Courier, has written a long and very elaborate description of the Steamer Richmond, but, with apparent intent, he has totally ignored her birth-place, the mechanics who built her, and the country that supplied the material. In fact the whole tenor of his article, which might properly be styled “a cunningly devised fable,” is evidently designed to lead the reader to believe the Richmond is a Louisville built steamer; whereas everybody ought to know she is anything else—that she is Madison (Ind) built, from stem to stern, from hull to texas deck. Mr. Clarke speaks in the highest terms of the architectural skill of the mechanics who fashioned this modern floating palace from the monarchs of the forest, but studiously avoids mentioning their names. He is particularly eloquent in his description of the conveniences and comforts of the cabin and state rooms, but fails to state that for the enjoyment of their things the traveling public are indebted to Mr. J. C. Crosley, builder and designer, of Madison. Mr. Crosley, however, can afford to look over this effort of Mr. Clarke to magnify Louisville mechanics, as his reputation as a steamboat cabin builder is not confined to a single steamboat. Specimens of his handiwork and taste can be seen on all of the Western rivers. The manner in which his work is and has always been appreciated can be illustrated by the fact that during the war the headquarters of the commanders of the flotillas that passed down the river, the flag-ships, we mean—were Madison built steamers, and their splendid cabins were designed and constructed by him. Not a plank or line was drawn on the Richmond’s cabin but by Mr. Crosley himself. We feel highly flattered by the following glowing description of her cabin, which is literally true, and a fitting tribute to the ingenuity and skill of Mr. Crosley and the master-workmen of Madison:

The ladies’ and gentlemen’s cabins inclusive, or as denominated, the main cabin, has an extreme length of three hundred and four feet, the longest, and, we may add, the most comfortably constructed of any boat that has ever been built on the Western waters. It is thirteen and one half feet in length, and lighted by an elevated sky-light, which extends the full length on either side, and can be thrown open in summer or warm weather, imparting a good draft, free circulation of air, or perfect ventilation.

The cabin is painted a decorated in most exquisite taste, the moldings and fret work are brought into relief by the skilful pencil of the artist, while the golden etchings along the elaborately carved ceiling, and the sketches of scenery and incidents interspersed at points calculated to catch the eye, as well as the happy blending of colors and shades throughout the whole vast space of this gorgeous hall, with the long array of tables of highly polished mahogany, the rich table covers, all of the most beautiful pattern and color, the genuine Moquette, imported directly from the celebrated manufactory in Prussia, and the rosewood state-room doors, all in unison, make the cabin of the Richmond complete.

The state rooms of the Richmond are the greatest attraction of the boat, being the largest and most comfortably arranged of any craft that has ever been built for the accommodation of passengers in the West. They are, in fact, parlor state-rooms, being twice the size of the rooms usually constructed on passenger steamers, as owners have generally planned their cabins and rooms, not for comfort or convenience, but almost solely for the purpose of crowding the greatest number of room intothe smallest amount of space. Now the Richmond, although the longest steamer on the water, with the largest cabin ever built, has no more state-rooms than boats half her size. She has but thirty five rooms on a side, or seventy in all; but each room is twelve feet long and nine feet wide—a perfect little parlor home—with a comfortable bed in one corner, tastefully dressed and made up of the best materials, as well as the richest, and draped with silk damask and Brussels lace, making it a perfect bijou of a palace. The front of the room is occupied by a center table, a bureau, chairs, mirror, wardrobe, toilet and washstand all complete, with space enough to serve a breakfast, or lunch, or supper, for a party of two or four to each room. In addition to this, the rooms are connected with each other by means of folding or sliding doors, so that two or four state-rooms can be thrown into one. In fact, all the rooms on either side are connected with each other by means of the inner or sliding door, on either side of which is an exquisitely contrived patent spring lock, which is under the exclusive control of the occupant of the room, a perfect burglar-defying lock.

“Mr. Clarke, afraid that the publication of his article in the columns of the paper alone would not accomplish his intention—to make believe that the Richmond is a Falls City built boat—has re-produced the same in pamphlet form, with a highly illuminated title page, for gratuitous distribution. The pamphlet, however, does greater credit to the printer than its contents do to the author, if we are correct in our conclusion as to what he wishes to convey to the minds of his readers.

The reputation of Madison as a boat building point is world-wide; and so long as she can boast such mechanics as Messrs. Vance and Armstrong, the builders of the hull of the steamer Richmond, ad Mr. Crosley, the designer and builder of her cabin, we have nothing to fear from such unfair attacks upon their well-earned laurels.

The Richmond will leave Louisville for New Orleans to-morrow, commanded by Captain J. Stut Neal, with our fellow-citizen Robert P. Lodge in the Clerk’s office.”

On April 9, 1867 the local paper offered more proof of the Richmond’s origin—“THE RICHMOND’S CABIN—_The New Albany Ledger_ pays Mr. Crosley, of this city, the following compliment: The cabin of the steamer Richmond was built by Mr. J. C. Crosley, at Madison, Indiana. In every regard the work of the cabin of the Richmond is superior to that of the Great Republic. There are no open seams, no scarifications of the plane, no axe and saw tooth marks upon it as upon the wood work of the Republic’s cabin. In point of mechanism the job is far ahead of the Pittsburg boat, and is highly creditable to the mechanics of Madison.”

One would think enough accolades had been strewn about to convince anyone, but the paper offered one more small bit of evidence from, of all places, the Dumfriesshire, Scotland Herald and Register, to-wit: “The Herald and Register, of March 22nd, publishes a full description of the great Madison-built steamer Richmond, written by its own correspondent. Unlike the river editor of the Louisville Courier , he renders ‘honor to whom honor is due’, giving all praise to the mechanics of Madison; and the Herald awards to Madison, Indiana, the credit of building the finest boat in the world. A full description of the Richmond is also published in the London Times.

If you would like more information on the “Richmond”, we refer you to WAY’S PACKET DIRECTORY. There you will find more interesting facts about a boat that probably never needed the aggressive defense she received from her “hometown” newspaper.

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