How did people get around on the coast before roads and rail networks? By water and inland steamboats.
The term ‘steamboat’ refers to smaller, steam-powered boats that often worked the lakes and rivers. River steamboats had flat bottoms and rear engines, and were particularly effective in still waters.
Larger ocean-going steam powered boats were called steamships, stearnwheelers, or propeller boats. These larger ships were also used for larger rivers like the Columbia.
Bays and Rivers
Many coastal towns have relatively shallow protected bays with access to rivers. These bays were perfect for small steamboat services such as delivering mail, parcels, products, and people.
Smaller ships were quite numerous in many communities and often referred to as the “mosquito fleet.”
For instance, in mid 1800s R.D. Hume, a pioneering businessman, established a fish cannery and several other businesses in southern Oregon. In 1881, he built a stem schooner, the Mary D. Hume, to support his business endeavors and conducted steamboat operations on the Rogue River as late as 1939.
Hume continued his interest in steamboats and built more during his lifetime. In 1908, he commissioned two small gasoline-powered schooners, the Enterprise and Osprey which were built on the Coquille River.
In 1938, the Mary D. Hume was still operating on the Rogue River. She was considered to be the oldest commercial vessel still in service at that time.
Many communities thrived with the steamboat trade, labor requirements, building, and maintenance. The Coquille River was a major trade route between Bandon and the town of Coquille and supported a number of sawmills, canneries, a woolen mill, and match factory. Other products often transported included coal and milk.
Once the two jetties built at the mouth of the Coquille River were complete, the City of Bandon bustled economically. These jetties facilitated ocean-going ships to dock at Bandon. From 1905 to 1910, Bandon expanded to have five sawmills, two shipyards, and a population of 1,800.
Coos Bay had a similar story. In 1869, mule-hauled portages were created at Coos Bay (on the southern arm) and at the Beaver Slough (north-extending branch of the Coquille River) to support the steamboat traffic.
In 1873, two steamboat captains began steamboat operations on Coos Bay. These two captains had previously worked on the Columbia River and understood the difficulties of river bar crossings.
The mule-portages were replaced in 1874 with a steam portage railroad and railroad services grew. These connections created a convenient link between steamboat and rail operations in Coos Bay and Coquille.
Mosquito fleet operations on the Coquille and Coos Bay continued up to the 1930s. A small gasoline-propeller ship, Welcome, built in 1919 continued running up the Marshfield to Allegany until 1948.
Gardiner, near Reedsport built several river steamers and continues that key role today. In 1870, Gardiner merchants were eager to demonstrate the navigability of the Umpqua River.
Steamboat operations on the Umpqua were pursued by Captain Godfrey Seymore who developed a small fleet of ships including one named ‘Swan.’ The Swan was a unique ship and the only steamboat to travel the Umpqua to Roseburg.
It took the Swan 11 days to get to Roseburg which is 85 miles from the mouth of the Umpqua River. No other steamboat ever made this trip. The trip was not in vain. It helped persuade Congress to allocate monies to clear the Umpqua channel and set the stage for a greater future.
By 1849 there was a dramatic transition in boat building and use. Builders moved from wood to metal, from small to large, from slow to fast, to take advantage of ocean trade routes and tourism.
As steamboat services came to a close, several ships were beached along the coast, rivers and towns. The Mary D. Hume lies on the shore at Gold Beach and is on the National Register of Historic Places. At least three steamers were beached near Bandon, and the steam ferry Roosevelt was photographed abandoned near Marshfield in 1941.
There are many stories about steamboats on the Oregon Coast. To learn more about them, visit this list of references and check their references for more stories, lists of vessels, and history.
–Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Steamboats of the Oregon Coast (…Steamboats_of_the_Oregon_Coast), Steamboats of Coquille River (…Steamboats_of_the_Coquille_River), Columbia River (…Columbia_River)
–Wikipedia, Steamboats (https://en.wikipedia.org/steamboats)