Just a Little History
by Gloria Miller in the Suwannee Connection
Belle of Suwannee at Ellaville, Florida 1880 circa
We go through our every day lives walking on ground that has been walked a thousand times and more before. Only to find we soon become history and someone else is walking our paths. Time goes on and others will leave their mark on society for still others to inherit and pass on their wealth or poverty, fame or misfortune, peace or war, to the next generation. And the chain continues to link our past with our future. Of what chain of the past were you linked with? This was a question I asked myself while going through some ancient history of the Suwannee River.
Did you know that during and before Civil War time "steamboats" or paddle wheelers frequently ran the Suwannee River with supplies and passengers? Some trips were made from as far away as New Orleans and St. Marks, and others as close as Cedar Key. Steamers that delivered mail up and down the Suwannee in addition to travelers from various places were quite common place on our now quiet and less commercialized waterway. One steamboat, named the Madison, would go as far north as White Springs, deliver and pick up supplies stopping at various settlements along the way, staying at each area as long as people wanted to trade. They would alert the local folks that the shipments were arriving by blowing their ship's horn which could be heard ten miles away. It seems the Suwannee River of that time was a bustling thoroughfare.
Belle of Suwannee was another steamboat, probably the most recognized name for paddlewheel travel of that time. One reason for the fame of this vessel was the bridal chambers aboard. Suwannee River honeymoons were the highlight of the 1890s.
Belle of Suwannee moorage by the river bank - Branford, Florida 1889 circa
Her captains were the best of the day, but even more popular was the pilot Dan McQueen. He was a slave born in July 1860 around Old Town. At the age of eleven he started his career as a dishwasher aboard a steamer called the wawenoock and later went on to the David Yule, learning the steamboat business for six years under Sam Reddick. In 1889 he was a teacher at a black school in Old Town, then in August of 1889 went to Branford and helped the owner, Captain Robert Abaslom Ivey, build the Belle. He served many years as her pilot.
The City of Hawkinsonville was one of the largest vessels to ever run the Suwannee. She served the pencil factories around Cedar Key and did her last voyage in 1914.
Three steamboats still remain at the bottom of the Suwannee River today, the City of Hawkinsonville, the David Yule, and the Madison. Their history remains, the archives of people and times gone by. The link to the past still thrives, however, for many of the descendants of that day are carrying yet another link into the future. I wonder if they are the ones in speed boats and jet skis we see so often on the Suwannee River these days?