Steamboats on the Indian River
We have Robert Fulton to thank for the advent of the steamboats. He adapted the steam engine he invented into the hull of a boat and named it the North River Steamboat in 1807. From those beginnings a revolution in transportation took place. No longer did man have to rely on gravity, his own strength, an animal's strength or wind to propel his boats and rafts up and down the many waterways across this nation.
As early as 1829 steamboats started traveling on the many rivers in Florida. The St Johns River was used for steamboat service to Titusville at Salt Lake Landing and further south to Rockledge with a dock on Rockledge Creek just east of Lake Florence.
For many years, until 1885, the great drawback of Brevard County and the Indian River had been its lack of quick transportation. In order to reach this gorgeous place, it was necessary for travelers to follow the intricate windings of the upper St Johns River until they neared the Indian River and then cross the last few miles overland with horse and wagons and later on with mule drawn trains.
Isolation had delayed the development of the lands along the Indian River. There were three routes to the area: traveling overland by horse, wagon, or foot; sailing down the east coast of Florida into Mosquito Lagoon and through the often impassable Haulover Canal into the Indian River; and steaming up the St. Johns River from Jacksonville to Enterprise. Every family had some kind of boat, for there were no roads and only the broad shallow Indian River to link the residents of the region together.
The Indian River is a misnomer. It is not a river at all but rather a salt water lagoon that stretches from the north end of the Indian River, just beyond Haulover Canal, 140 miles south to Jupiter on the south and has three natural inlets through barrier islands to the Atlantic Ocean.
In the early days of steamboat travel up the St Johns River system from Jacksonville southward, the steamboats were afforded deep and wide water all the way to Sanford. There were landings at Sanford and at Enterprise where the St Johns left Lake Monroe and continued southward. Captain Jacob Brock not only commanded his steamboats between Jacksonville and the Sanford/Enterprise landings he decided to build a hotel at Enterprise. The river south of Enterprise became narrower and shallower with turns in
Captain Jacob Brock
The Brock House at Enterprise, FL
the river that were hard to navigate. The steamboats had to be less than 85 feet long in order to maneuver around short bends without getting grounded, consequently, they were slow and small. These steamboats were not only a blessing, but an absolute necessity. The very lifeline of Brevard County and the pioneer settlers depended on the arrival of these boats.
Steamboat Route from Sanford to Titusville and Rockledge Landings
These smaller steamboats were put into service from Sanford and Enterprise to Titusville Landing and Rockledge Landing and even further south with the last navigable part of the river being at Lake Washington.
Overland transportation was instituted by a 7 mile railroad with mule drawn cars from the Salt Lake Landing on the St Johns River to the Indian River at Titusville. Rockledge had a short 3 mile overland transportation system instituted to deliver passengers and goods between Rockledge Landing and the Indian River at Rockledge. Colonel Henry Titus even had a 12 mile crude wagon road overland transportation service from Lake Harney to Titusville at one time. His service became very important in times of low water in the St Johns River when even the smaller steamboats could not find enough water to navigate.
Upon reaching the Indian River the passengers and cargo were dropped off at Lund's hotel The Lund House in Titusville and several hotels in Rockledge like the Indian River Hotel and the Rockledge Hotel. Upon arrival in Titusville and Rockledge, passengers found themselves stranded because of a lack of downriver transportation. Sailboats were the mode of transportation of that period. It was for this reason that Captain Lund transferred his steamer Pioneer from the St Johns to the Indian River.
Indian River Hotel
Enter the Railroads
In 1885 the first railroad into Titusville was completed. On 27 Dec 1885 the first train entered Brevard County. It went from Enterprise to Titusville and connected with the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railroad. The railroad continued all the way to the Indian River Steamboat Pier at the end of Broad St. in Titusville. The Steamboat Pier extended 1500 feet into the Indian River to allow enough depth for the steamboats. The Indian River is naturally shallow and the steamboats needed more depth than was found at the shoreline.
Needless to say the pioneer settlers were very excited about this new way out of town, but at the same time it spelled the end of the tiny riverboats that brought hundreds of pioneers into Brevard County via the Upper St Johns River.
The railroad meant better and faster facilities for the transportation and it meant an easier and more comfortable mode of transportation in and out of the area. It meant the opportunity to order and receive goods and supplies to make pioneer living more comfortable and luxurious, In fact it meant the end of pioneer living.
On 1 Sep 1886, the local newspaper noted that "the steamboats don't come up the St Johns River to Titusville or Rockledge anymore. Thus ending one of the most colorful eras in Brevard County history and the end of the county's first transportation system.
With the arrival of the railroad in Dec 1885, steamboating on the upper St Johns River quickly came to a close, but steamboating on the Indian River increased.
Not only have many beautiful localities been brought within the reach of the tourist by the constant building of railroads, but steamboat navigation as well has been increased, and one of the most beautiful steamboat voyages in down the Indian River.
The Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railroad Company established a steamboat that connected with their trains at Titusville that rivals in luxuriance of the cuisine and comfort the famed floating palaces of the Hudson.
Groves and winter villas, coquina cliffs, palm trees and white beaches line the banks, while steamers and sail boats float on their blue waters.
One trip to the Upper St Johns River, through the swamps is too much for most people, and they seldom make the return trip, but they can sail up and down the Indian River forever and never grow tired."
Steamboat Pier at Titusville
INDIVIDUAL STEAMBOATS PLYING ON THE INDIAN RIVER
About 1876, Captain Thomas W. Lund brought his smaller steamer the Pioneer, owned by the Lund's Pioneer Steamboat Company, to the Indian River. She was put on a route between New Smyrna and Sand Point (Titusville) by way of Haulover Canal and a Tuesday and Saturday Titusville-Sebastian schedule. Pioneer lasted only a short time on the Indian River.
Below is the story of the demise of the Pioneer by M.A. Bridges in the Jacksonville Daily Times-Union, April 19, 1877:
"During the night preceding our departure from Titusville, we were all aroused by the awful cry of "Fire!" and looking out on the river, we saw a grand sight. The Pioneer was one mass of fire. Flames and smoke were belching up from her black hold; the smokestack was a bright red glowing pipe against the sky, while out it came the beautiful curling steam. Below, the red hot iron framework of the wheel and as sparks flew continuously from it, born by a strong breeze, and the feathery smoke from the pipe above, there was an appearance of action about the boat, as if the poor roasting creature was laboring with her last breath to fly from herself. The whole river was on fire, distant shores were lighted up, skiffs passed to and from to aid the poor doomed boat. Captain Lund's form stood out boldly as standing on the fiery creature he poured water into her hold. Neighbors from all parts of the adjoining county came to assist, but to no avail, her hour had come, and the Pioneer must make way for the newcomer, whoever or whatever she may be. By daylight all was ended and save for a bent smokestack and part of a hull resting on the bottom of the river there was nothing remaining of the brave Pioneer."
Not far from this spot lie the burned out remains of the Steamboat Pioneer, the first commercial passenger steamboat on the Indian River. The Pioneer was the flagship of Captain T.J. Lund's Pioneer Steamboat Company, formed in the 1870s to transport passengers along the St. John's River.
I could not find a picture of the Pioneer.
The Jacksonville Union, issue of 21 Jun 1882 noted: "We learn on perfectly reliable authority, that Colonel Hart of Palatka, and Captain Joe Smith will place a nice steamer, capable of accommodating fifty passengers, on the Indian River in time for the next season's business.
They have been running the steamer Marion the past winter from Sanford to Rockledge Landing on Lake Poinsett, on the Rockledge Route.
They will put another steamer (the Cinderella) to run in conjunction with the Marion from Sanford to Lake Poinsett, which is but three miles from Rockledge, on the Indian River. This will give almost a daily boat.
The Indian River boat (Cinderella) will run from Rockledge north to Titusville, Dummitt's Grove, and to the south to Ft. Pierce, Jupiter and the Indian River inlets, and to within five miles of Lake Worth.
This will be a great improvement on the present, and we look for a rush of homesteaders and tourists to invade the Indian River territory next winter."
Cinderella was a luxurious steamboat that arrived in Titusville on 17 Sep 1882. She was a fast, light draft, steel-hull steamer that was 115 feet long and propelled by two 45 horsepower engines that gave her a speed of ten knots over the water. The boat had a 25 foot beam and a draft of 32 inches. She was built in Bordertown, New Jersey. The deck was furnished with seats all around and a raised awning completely covered it.
The Cinderella proved to be too heavy for the shallow Indian River. On her initial entry into the Indian River, she went aground in the "Narrows" north of Hobe Sound and required 25 days to reach Titusville. She couldn't squeeze through the Haulover Canal.
After a year on the Indian River, Captain W. A. L. Ostrander took her to the deeper St Johns to begin service there.
I could not find a picture of the Cinderella.
Steamboats Indian River and Haulover
After the Cinderella left the Indian River, the steamboats Indian River and Haulover came on the scene. They were more suited for the shallow waters because of their 12 foot beam and 60 foot length. At first, the Haulover would haul freight and passengers down the Halifax River and through the Haulover Canal. The Indian River would then take the passengers and freight on to Titusville and all points south. After the US Government dug the new deeper, wider Haulover Canal in 1884, both boats could be used for the entire run.
The Indian River and the Haulover were both owned by the Fischer family of Titusville who operated the boats for around five years. When the Jacksonville, Tampa & Key West Railroad came to Titusville, the boats served as the railroads southernmost link. This railroad was to acquire the Indian River Steamboat Company in Jun 1889 and put an end to the operation of the Indian River and Haulover.
I could not find a picture of either the Indian River or the Haulover.
Steamboat Border City
Not much is known about the Border City except she arrived with her first load of passengers on 8 Nov 1877, after making the run from Jacksonville to New Smyrna. The vessel had accommodations for 36 passengers, and the fare from Jacksonville to New Smyrna was $6. The Border City also made two or three trips to Titusville each year.
I could not find a picture of the Border City.
In those days, Jupiter was a small village that had a lighthouse, a hospital, and a few houses. There was no place for overnight stays except for the steamboat Chattahoochee that was anchored there as a floating hotel. The Chattahoochee was owned by the Indian River Steamboat Company.
Steamboat Alice Howard
The steamer Alice Howard was withdrawn from ferry line between Sanford and Enterprise as she had not made money since the coming of the railroad. They attempted to put her on the Indian River, but her draft of four feet was too much for the treacherous Indian River shallow channel.
I could not find a picture of the Alice Howard.
At 47 years old, Captain Richard P. Paddison came to Titusville from North Carolina with his family in 1886. Paddison was captain of the steamer Rockledge, which he owned and brought to Florida to link up with the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railroad as the flagship of the Indian River Steamboat Line.
The Rockledge was built on the Cape Fear River between Wilmington and Fayetteville, North Carolina. She was 136 feet long with an iron hull. The boat was a side-wheel steamer with independent engines that kept her going at 8 mph no matter whether the wind was with it or against it. She was known as the Governor Worth while on the Jacksonville to Sanford route. She was refurbished and renamed the Rockledge. The Rockledge arrived on the Indian River on 28 Jul 1886. She was known as the "Queen of the River" by the residents on the region and was their favorite.
In Feb 1888, President Grover Cleveland visited the Indian River region and the Rockledge was used to transport him and his party on a tour of the area.
After the affair with President Cleveland, the Rockledge was sold to Captain E. E. Vaill of City Point and became a freighter.
Sometime in 1889 Captain Vaill was informed by his chief engineer that the Rockledge needed a new boiler and a complete overhaul. Captain Vaill didn't want to invest the money, so the Rockledge was towed to the extreme end of the Indian River and turned into a floating hotel. The vessel was renamed the Lake Worth Hotel and her career was as a steamboat was over.
President Grover Cleveland and company on the Rockledge
Captain Richard Paddison and his wife
Steamboat S.V. White
After the Rockledge was sold to Captain Vaill, the steamboat S.V. White was purchased by the Indian River Steamboat Company and put on the entire river route. The S.V. White was named after a wealthy Wall Street financier. She was a small boat only 75 feet long and 18 feet wide, but she had a draft of only 30 inches, making her able to steam through the Indian River narrows at full speed. Her master was Captain Charles Fischer, the son of Captain Herman Fischer who was a famous river man. Later the S.V. White would serve as a mail boat and a tow boat, and she continued to work the lagoon after the Indian River Steamboat Company was out of business.
I could not find a picture of the S.V. White.
Steamboat St Lucie
Sometime in 1889 a new queen began her reign on the Indian River under the Indian River Steamboat Company banner. She was the St Lucie. The vessel was built in Wilmington, Delaware, for a cost of $30,000, and sailed under the commands of Captain William Lee and Captain Steve A. Bravo. She had fourteen staterooms and a large hurricane deck, and she could travel 10.5 knots over the water. The vessel drew only 35 inches of water and was able to travel almost anywhere in the Indian River Lagoon. St Lucie was 122 feet long and had a beam of 24 feet.
On 12 Jan 1889, the Jacksonville Times-Union gave a glowing and detailed description of the St, Lucie: "She is built on the same plan of many Ohio River steamers, having three decks. She is a stern wheel vessel propelled by two high pressure engines situated aft on the main deck. The forward part of this deck is occupied by the boiler and freight is stowed between.
By a flight of stairs the saloon is reached; the cabin extending almost the length of the boat. The forward and after parts of the cabin are pleasant sitting rooms, comfortably fitted with easy chairs and settees of rattan, and antique oak card tables. On either side of the central portion of the saloons are the staterooms, the space between being used as a dining hall and promenade. The wood work of this saloon is painted white and trimmed with gilt. The staterooms are 6 x 6 and very comfortably fitted up. Each contains two berths, with woven wire springs and soft, comfortable mattresses and pillows. The ceilings of the decks are lined with life preservers. For the daylight hours passengers could take advantage of the hurricane deck which is more spacious than is customary for steamers for northern waters, and offers a pleasant promenade. Here are located deck chairs and tables to make the passengers comfortable and in addition, bright colored awnings are hung around this deck, which offer protection from rain and other elements."
Steamboat St. Augustine
The St Lucie was such a success that she was quickly joined by two new sister ships: the St. Augustine and the St. Sebastian. All of the boats on the Indian River Steamboat Company line were named after Indian River towns.
The St. Augustine was a steel-hull vessel of 110 feet length with a 24 foot beam, and she turned out to be one of the fastest on the river. Even though there were no steamboat races on the river, the crews kept meticulous records of how fast each
steamer negotiated the routes. The St. Augustine continuously bettered her records. Although she wasn't the handsomest steamer, she was the speediest.
Steamboat St. Sebastian
The St. Sebastian was 20 feet longer than the St. Augustine and a favorite of the Jacksonville Times-Union newspaper. The Times-Union dubbed her the "handsomest steamboat ever seen in Florida waters" although she was slower than some of the others. An attempt to increase her speed began by removing some of the inside woodwork and strengthening the paddle wheels. The lighter weight did make the boat a bit faster.
I could not find a picture of the St. Sebastian
Steamboat Loxahatchee and Picolata
The "Ugly Duckling" of the Indian River was the Loxahatchee. She was also the largest and most unusual boat ever to ply the waters of the area. The Loxahatchee was built by the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railroad to transport railroad equipment from Titusville to Jupiter. She was also used as a barge to service the other boats owned by the railroad. The Loxahatchee was built in Titusville from machinery that was taken from the steamboat Picolata. She had a crane and pile driver aboard that were used to build piers and docks along the river.
I could not find a picture of the Loxahatchee.
Steamboat Santa Lucia
The Santa Lucia was one of the best known freighters of the late nineteenth century. She was 200 feet long by 30 feet wide and had three decks and two smokestacks. Captain Richard P. Paddison purchased the steamer from a company in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, when he was superintendent of the Indian River Steamboat Company. He completed a 2200 mile voyage when he brought the boat from the Ohio River through the Gulf of Mexico and finally to Ft. Pierce, Florida.
The Santa Lucia was purchased by the Florida East Coast Railroad when Flagler's railroad came to that part of Florida. Flagler used the boat to transport railroad supplies and building materials from Eau Gallie to Lake Worth to build two hotels at Palm Beach. In 1895, the Santa Lucia and the Sweeney were transferred from the Indian River to Lake Worth for transporting building materials to the new town of West Palm Beach.
I could not find a picture of the Santa Lucia.
The Sweeney was built in Abbeville, Georgia, in 1888, and used by her first owner to haul cotton. She came to the Indian River on 28 Oct 1890, to carry passengers and freight.
The Sweeney was 134 feet long with a 34 foot beam and a draft of only 22 inches. She could run a steady twelve knots and had a commodious salon, beautiful staterooms, large decks with awnings, and a large dance floor for the passengers.
Her first run almost ended in disaster. It was on 18 Nov 1890, with thirty passengers aboard that she left the wharf at Titusville on her way to Rockledge. On the return trip she encountered stiff north winds. When she attempted to reach the dock, she went aground at the east end. The boat stayed there all evening, but in the morning, Captain Paddison rocked the boat back and forth until she came free of the mud.
When the freight was delivered in Titusville, Captain Paddison started home to New Smyrna. While maneuvering in the shoals between the wharf and the channel, a hidden obstacle severed on of the chains to the boat's rudder and the crew made emergency repairs. It took three hours before the steamer could continue to New Smyrna. The next morning Captain Paddison encountered another problem. There was not enough wood for the return trip to Titusville. After a long delay he was finally able to get underway.
Henry Flagler bought the Sweeney and changed her name to the Courtney.
I could not find a picture of the Sweeney.
One of the ole steamboats plying the waters of what was then called the Florida East Coast Canal, the Courtney carried mostly passengers on short trips along the Florida east coast in the 1890s. Henry Flagler, then president of the Florida Canal Company, cruised into Miami on the Courtney. Just before he arrived in Miami in one of his FEC Railway cars on 13 Apr 1896, upon completion of the railway, Flagler liquidated his holdings in the Florida Canal Company and resigned as president. Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway would compete for passengers and freight in providing transportation down the east coast of Florida, and both companies would compete for settlers buying the millions of acres of state land the Florida Legislature promised these two companies for extending transportation into the southern tip of the Florida peninsula.
I could not find a picture of the Courtney.
The Sweeney had a sister ship named the Denny, but the Denny was the less desirable vessel because of her 36 inch draft which increased her likelihood of going aground in the lagoon on a run.
I could not find a picture of the Denny
The Indian River Steamboat Company brought in a 140 foot steamer with a beam of 30 feet. She was the Progress, under the command of Captain Steve Bravo. This boat was designed as a freighter and registered at 700 tons capacity. Crews assigned to the Progress were considered to be less skilled than the crewmen of the passenger boats. Their pay was less and the crew members frequently came and went.
The operation of the Progress was profitable for the Indian River Steamboat Company until they went broke in 1896.
I could not find a picture of the Progress.
Not much is known about the steamer except that she was employed to deliver mail between Melbourne and Jupiter Monday through Saturday. She would leave Melbourne at 9 AM in the morning and make stops at each little town along the river all the way to Jupiter. Sailing time between the towns being about 15 to 20 minutes in length. She would arrive at Jupiter between 4 and 5 PM that same day. She would leave Jupiter the next morning at 9 AM the next morning and repeat the stops in reverse order arriving back in Melbourne about 4 or 5 PM.
I could not find a picture of the Ibis
Steamboat Ancient City
These are all the steamboats I knew about or found during my research. I don't, by any means, intend to leave any boats out, I just don't know about them. I can imagine there are more out there that plyed the waters of the Indian River than I know about, so if anyone knows of any more boats, I would love to know about them.
Bass, Bob. "When Steamboats Reigned In Florida." University Press of Florida. 2008 Bass, Bob. "St Johns River Steamboats." University Press of Florida. 1938
Hopwood, Fred A. "The Rockledge, Florida Steamboat Line." Published by the Author. 1992
Mueller, Edward. "Florida Steamboating 1831-1861." Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 30. January 1962
"Steamboating on the St. Johns." Kellersberger Fund of the South Brevard Historical Society, Melbourne, Florida. 1984
"The Golden Era of Steamboating on the Indian River 1877-1900." Florida Historical Press. Cocoa, Florida. 1998
"Victorian Florida - America's Last Frontier." Peachtree Publishers Press, Atlanta, Georgia. 1986
This article is by long-time resident Michael Knight. Michael is Sam Knight's grandson (so Michael the author is 3rd generation Titusville). This article is on our facebook page [https://www.facebook.com/NorthBrevardHistoricalMuseum ] as well. The Museum will have a complete booklet on display that will include this article as well as photographs of the Steamboats mentioned.