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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Steamboats begin to take over the Oconee River
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Roger Allen

Note: The following is part of a series of columns exploring use of rivers in the early history of Georgia and Bulloch County.

The Altamaha, Ocmulgee and Oconee Steamboat Company was formed by Col. J. Rivers and his associates in 1867. Shortly thereafter, Col. J.M. Stubbs, W.H. Tillery and W. Burch formed the Oconee River Steamboat Company in 1879.

Soon, this company had two steamboats running the river: the Colville and the Laurens. They also operated two smaller boats, the Gypsy and the Rover, which had been built by the Forest and Stream Club.

In December 1883, the Darien Timber Gazette reported that the Oconee River Steamboat Company was sold to businessman John Swain of Darien.

The Hawkinsville Dispatch in January 1884 reported that the steamboat Colville was sold to R.V. Bowen.

In 1883, newspaper editor, attorney and school teacher R.L. Hicks launched his own steamboat, which he named the William M. Wadley after the Central of Georgia Railroad's president.

"The Annual Reports of the War Department" (1885) included the report of Capt. R.L. Hoxie, which listed the steamers currently operating on the Oconee as the Laurens, the Wadley, the Ida, the Mary Cooper and the North State.

These boats carried "4,400 barrels turpentine, 17 barrels rosin, and about 6,000 tons cotton, merchandise, provisions, etc, besides which about 20,000,000 feet of lumber have been rafted down the river."

The Americus, Preston and Lumpkin Railroad began operating five steamboats once its tracks had reached the river town of Abbeville. This railroad shortly thereafter became the Savannah, Americus and Montgomery Railroad.

One of the longest-running steamboats on the Georgia coast and rivers was the City of Hawkinsville. This 141-foot-long wooden-hulled sternwheeler was built in Abbeville, Georgia, in 1886.

The City of Hawkinsville and the Little William were owned by the "protective steamboat organization" of Hawkinsville Deep Water Boat Company, whose president was J.J. Whitfield.

The Louisa Steamboat Company was incorporated in 1891 by J.D. and M.E. Robeson and their investors. Another enterprise was the Gem City Steamboat Company. The Altamaha River Steamboat Company came into being at this time.


The end of the steamboat era on the Oconee

"The Annual Report of the Secretary of War" (1893) included the report of Capt. O.M. Carter, the officer in charge of the Corps of Engineers, which listed the steamboats operating on the Oconee River.

They were "the Lumber City, running from Little Oakey Bluff ... to Ocmulgee Station; the steamer Louisa, running from Dublin ... to Red Bluff; the steamers R.C. Henry, Gypsie, and Mary Elizabeth, running above and below Dublin; and the steamer Swan, running irregularly from Little Oakey Bluff to Brunswick."

Carter's report continued, "These boats carry annually 23,500 tons of freight, valued at $935,250. The freights consist of iron, spirits of turpentine, cotton, guano. ... There are annually drifted down the river 40,320,000 feet, or 72,000 tons of timber, valued at $362.880."

"The Annual Report of the Secretary of War" (1896) included another report of Carter, which listed the steamers working the Oconee River in 1895-96.

It stated the Annie Gorbult, the John L. Day, the Lumber City and the Harry G. Day were all stationed at "the Ocmulgee Depot," while the Gypsy, the R.C. Henry and the Mary Elizabeth were stationed at "the Dublin Depot."

In 1906, the Oconee River Association was formed to promote increased commercial traffic on the river. Then, in 1906, a number of Dublin's citizens formed the Dublin Navigation Company.

The Altamaha Navigation Company allowed the Dublin Navigation Company use their boat, the Nan Elizabeth, until their own boat, the New Dublin, was ready for service.

In the mid-1910s, two companies operated private boats on the river: the Simmons Lumber Company (later the Southland Company) with its boat, the Southland; and the Southern Cotton Oil Company with its boat, the Dorothy T.


Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at rwasr1953@gmail.com.

 

 

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