|The City of Hawkinsonville Steamboat|
Historic Wreck in the Suwannee
If you spend any time at all roaming along Florida's famed Suwannee River, it does not take long to begin hearing stories of the City of Hawkinsville. The boat's wreck lies in the middle of the river just above the U.S. 90 Bridge in Dixie County.
Some say the City of Hawkinsville was a Union gunboat that invaded the Suwannee River only to be sunk by Confederate fire from old Fort Fanning at Fanning Springs. Other say that she was a Confederate blockade runner, destroyed by her own captain to keep her from being captured by the U.S. Navy.
The latter story appears to confuse the boat with another wreck downstream, but the gunboat tale is nothing more than legend.
In fact, the City of Hawkinsville was a paddlewheel steamboat abandoned by her captain in 1922 during the dying days of the riverboat era in Florida. Built in 1886, the 141-foot long, 30-foot wide sternwheeler had served a remarkably long career (38 years) for a steamboat. Few could boast of service anywhere near that long and the earliest ones to ply Florida's rivers and creeks rarely lasted longer than four or five years.
Originally built for the Hawkinsville Deepwater Boat Lines in Georgia, hence her name, the paddlewheel boat was sold to Tampa's Gulf Transportation Company in 1900. For the next 22 years, she moved commerce along Florida's coast and was a familiar sight on the Suwannee River, where she carried cargoes of lumber, naval stores and other products.
It is reported that the City of Hawkinsville provided vital assistance in building the railroad bridge or trestle across the river at Old Town, greatly expanding railroad commerce in the area and essentially ending the usefulness of the last of the Suwannee River steamboats, of which she was one.
The river had been bridged at the now vanished town of Columbus (Suwannee River State Park) before the Civil War, but that crossing was so far upstream that the boats remained important means of transportation on the river. The completion of the Old Town bridge, however, opened the lower river valley and coastal areas for railroad transportation.
His boat aging and no longer commercially viable, the captain of the City of Hawkinsville abandoned her in the middle of the Suwannee River just 100 yards below the Old Town railroad bridge. The wreck of the steamboat is still there today, now preserved as a Florida Under-water Archaeological Preserve. The wreck lies on a steep slope, with her port side only three feet down from surface when the river is at normal levels. The starboard side is under 20 feet of water. Much of the hull of the vessel is still intact and even the planks of her deck can still be seen. A bronze plaque has been placed in the remains of the boiler room.
The wreck can only be reached by boat, but divers are allowed to explore the wreck. For safety reasons, no one is allowed into the hull and please remember that it is illegal to remove artifacts.
In 1991 the sunken steamboat was mapped by state archaeologists. Hawkinsville became Florida's third Underwater Archaeological Preserve in 1992 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
|Take an underwater tour of the wreck|
|History of the City of Hawkinsonville Steamboat|
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