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On May 15th, 1876, the Evening Courier quoted from the Cincinnati Sunday commercial that, “J. H. Stratton, of the Julia No. 2 has returned from Madison where he went to lay out the office of the new “Virgie Lee. He is more pleased than ever with the new boat, which he is satisfied will be faster than the Julia.”
The 27th of July saw that Captain Houghton, a United States steamboat inspector, was in Madison to inspect the boilers of the “Virgie Lee”. The inspection must have been a success because the next day it was reported, “The new steamer Virgie Lee left the shipyard yesterday to take her place in the Cincinnati and Kanawha river trade, being fully completed in every respect, and her machinery working like a charm. Her owners expressed themselves as well pleased with the boat throughout, and she goes forth as another card in favor of the Madison Marine Ways and the skill and ingenuity of Madison mechanics.” On September 8 in was reported that, “The Virgie Lee arrived from Cincinnati this morning with a big trip. She will leave for Cincinnati tomorrow morning-R. H. Morrow, master.”
It has been speculated the “Virgie lee” was originally built to replace the “Julia No. 2” which according to newspaper reports was at the Marine Ways at the same time the “Virgie Lee” was being built. For example, on April 19, 1876 the paper noted, “Inspectors Devine and Fisher, of Cincinnati, visited the Marine Ways today, and complimented the yard highly on the fine appearance and superior workmanship of the new steamers St. James and Julia.” And further on that same date, “Captains Honshell and Reynolds of the new steamers St. James and Julia No. 2, were in the city yesterday inspecting their new boats now building at the Marine Ways. Both gentlemen are highly pleased with the progress made and the workmanship displayed by the Madison builders.” On April 26, 1876 the Evening Courier stated, “The Julia No. 2 was successfully launched from the Marine Ways yesterday evening. She sits upon the water like a swan.” The “Julia No. 2” is not listed in the list of boats built by the Marine Ways so this could be an overhaul job. We don’t know the history of the “Julia No. 2” from the time she was launched but on August 15, 1877.. The newspaper reported that a corps of workmen was busy dismantling the “Julia No. 2” at the foot of West Street. Then on September 26 it was noted, “The hull of the Julia is being fitted up in first class style for a wharf-boat by Williams & Barton, and will be ready for business soon.”
The “Virgie Lee” became a familiar sight at the Madison docks shuffling from Madison to Cincinnati from the time of her launching, and on October 24th the People Packet Line bought the “Virgie Lee” for the sum of $17,000. She became a regular out of Madison and this notice ran in the paper on November 30, 1877, “NOTICE TO SHIPPERS: Having purchased the splendid steamer Virgie Lee and placed her in the packet trade between this city and Cincinnati she will hereafter make regular tri-weekly trips, leaving this city every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at 6 o’clock AM. Returning, will leave Cincinnati on the alternate days at 3 PM. Promising fair dealing with the traveling public and shippers, we respectfully solicit a fair share of business. W. H. Kirby has been placed in command and Andy Harrigan in the office, who will make it their especial business to look after interest of shippers and passengers. PACKET COMPANY”
On November 18, 1878 the “Virgie Lee” was withdrawn from the Cincinnati and Madison trade and began the run between Evansville and Cincinnati, in charge of Captain F. H. Humphreys of Evansville with Captain Kirby in charge of the office.