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

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Meet the Boat Trips

Recollections by Louis DeCar

Meeting the Kentucky riverboat

We have always considered ourselves very fortunate here in Madison, due to our river location midway between Louisville and Cincinnati. There has always been so much river activity going on since the town’s inception, what with steamboats carrying passengers and freight in and out of port. However, one of the finest things ever to occur was the “Meet the Boat” trips. Though they originated around 1915, I didn’t get to be a part of them until the late 1920’s, having been born in 1923. My father was head florist at the Madison State Hospital, and my parents lived on the hospital grounds. Our home was on a point overlooking the bends in the Ohio River, southwesterly. My mother loved to watch the steamboats plying the Ohio, and riding the boats. She had been born at Markland, Indiana, so grew up on the river. Her family rode the “Hattie Brown” for many years to visit relatives in Madison. After my father passed away my mother brought my brother and me from the hilltop to downtown Madison where we located one block from the river. So the greatest recreation that I remember was on a Sunday, during warm weather months, of taking the “Meet the Boat” trips.

The AmericaThe “up-boat”, as we referred to it, left Louisville in the early morning hours, and arrived at Madison around noon. We would wait aboard our wharf boat (which met its demise in the 1937 flood) and watch for the boat to appear around the bend in the lower river section of Madison. What excitement when the first glimpse of the packet appeared “round the bend”-lots of hoopla and excitement. It seemed like it took forever for the boat to arrive at our wharf. It always put in on the river side of the wharf and placed the stage so passengers could board from the wharf to the steamboat. Once aboard, everyone scrambled to the upper decks to get a good deck chair to enjoy the trip up the river. Once everyone was aboard, the steamer started its up-river trip. The dance floor became a Mecca for dancers, as the boat always carried a hot Dixieland music band on board. The Two-step, the Black Bottom and the Charleston were the order of the day. Enjoying this music was a special treat. In later years as Madison became a big excursion stop, I learned to dance on those steamers. We loved the afternoon scenic ride, but most of all the moonlight’s. I tell people today, “you’ve never lived until you dance on a moonlight excursion”.

I don’t recall any meals being served while on board. We always had our meal at home before we boarded the boat, but they did have popcorn, candy bars and 6 ounce Coca-Cola for $.05 each. I loved Hershey Chocolate Bars and they were larger then for a nickel than they are today for more than ten times that.

We always hoped we would get a real long ride. We always hated to see the “down-boat” appear far ahead, knowing that our trip up river was about to come to an end. Sometimes we were fortunate enough to get almost to the Markland Locks (Dam 39) before we would transfer to the down-boat. We never did get to lock through at Markland.

Coney Island's Island Queen riverboatThe transfer to the down-boat was always exciting as the two steamers pulled along side of each other, laying the stage so you could cross over to the other boat. After the transfer was completed, we would arrive back in Madison about supper time, and after de-boarding, we watched the down-boat head on down river to Louisville. I imagine they did serve meals to those passengers aboard from Cincinnati, as they would have gotten pretty hungry before the trip ended.

We had two other special river trips each summer. One was to Louisville and return, and the other one to Rose Island (Fern Grove) at the mouth of 14-mile Creek, above Louisville. It was destroyed in the 1937 flood. We looked forward to these with happiness and excitement. Those were the days my friend – we thought they would never end – but they did. Now, memories are all we have left.

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