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Much depended upon transportation on the river, hence boat building was an important industry in the early days. The Indians, of course, had their canoes. The first white settlers built row boats and scows. Then came the pole boats, of which Richard Godfroy had built several before 1837. There were shipyards at a dozen points on the east bank of the river. The first steamboats for river traffic used hereabouts were built in Grand Rapids, and later the hulls for vessels on the Great Lakes and boats for the Illinois canal were launched here. Among the first ship carpenters were Jennings, Short, Corbin, Parish, McAllister and Meddler.
Steamboats began to run regularly on Grand river between Grand Haven and the rapids in 1837. The first steamboat, the Governor Mason, had been built here by James Short for Richard Godfroy and others, and she made her trial trip to Grandville July 4. She was named for the governor, Stephen T. Mason, who presented her with a stand of colors. She was fitted out with the engine of the Don Quixote, the vessel that had been wrecked in bringing to Grand Rapids the press for the Grand River Times. Her first commander was Captain William Stoddard, then Captain William Kanouse, and later Willard Sibley. The Governor Mason was driven ashore and wrecked in May, 1840, near the entrance to Muskegon harbor. She had never proved financially profitable for her owners.
In 1837 the river steamer Owashtanong was set afloat at Grand Haven. She was a flat bottomed boat used for freight, not very staunch and was known as the "Poorhouse." Captain Thomas W. White was commander.
The steamer Patronage was completed here in 1838, her engine having been made at Grandville. She continued in the river service several years. In the same summer a small steamer called the Joh Almy was built to run up the river. In 1842 the steamer Paragon was built by Howard Jennings. Willard Sibley was her master. She ran to Grand Haven regularly during two seasons. In 1842, also, the Enterprise was launched. In 1844 two flat boats came down the river from Jackson, laden with immigrants and merchandise.
In May, 1845, the Empire, built by Jasper Parish for Harvey P. Yale and Warren P. Mills, was launched. In August of that year five yoke of oxen drew through the streets a boiler for Daniel Ball's steamboat, the Great Western, built for up-river trade. And that same year the Spy, a flat boat, loaded with merchandise, household goods and several passengers, came down river from Jackson. The Paragon and the Mishawaka were on the Grand Haven route in 1845.
In August, 1847, a little steamer, the Humming Bird, built by Henry Steele at Lamont, came up the river. She was commanded by Captain Sibley. Her engine was one that had been used at the state salt works below the rapids. It was said she was built "on two canoes, with a single paddle wheel in the middle."
The Algoma made her appearance in 1848 and was run for several years under command of Alfred X. Cary and Harvey K. Rose. That year and the next the Algoma and the Empire were on the Grand Haven run and the Humming Bird ran up river to Ionia and Lyons. In 1849 the Champion made tri-weekly trips between Milwaukee and Grand Haven, connecting at the latter port with the river steamers. In 1852 the Porter, built at Mishawaka, was added to the up-river run. Byron D. Ball was her master. Traffic had increased so much that in 1853 the Empire, Michigan, Algom and Humming Bird were on the Grand Haven route.
In 1854 Robert S. Parks built, at a yard near the foot of Lyon street, five boats for the Illinois canal. On September 2 of that year the Humming Bird was wrecked by an explosion.
Traffic continuing to increase, the steamers Empire, Algoma, Michigan and Olive Branch were in service in 1855 below the rapids, and the Porter, Pontiac, Nawbeck and Kansas above.
The Forest Queen, built at Grand Rapids by Jacob Meddler for William T. Powers and others, was put on the up-river route. In March of that year the sloop H. R. Williams came up the river to dock in the city.
The first railroad reached Grand Rapids in July, 1858, and quickly thereafter the steamboat traffic began to decline. However, boats continued to run regularly for a number of years, and a few vessels were built in the yards here.
Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000