This book review appeared in Vol. 7, No. 2 of the Gulf Coast Historical Reivew - Spring 1992.
Edward A. Mueller. Perilous Journeys: A History of Steamboating on the Chattahoochee, Apalachicola, and Flint Rivers, 1828-1928. Eufala, AL: Historic Chattahoochee Commission, 1990, pp. 460. $27.95. ISBN 0-945477-09-0
Perilous Journeys takes the reader year by year from 1828 to 1928 and beyond, through the rise and fall of steamboat travel and commerce on this southeastern river system. The Chattahoochee rises in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northeastern Georgia and flows southwestward through Atlanta to Columbus, then southward to form half the boundary between Alabama and Georgia. The head of navigation for major steamboat traffic was Columbus, which became a primary outlet for shipping cotton to market. A lesser amount of steamboat traffic developed on the Flint, which rises near Atlanta and flows southward to join the Chattahoochee at the Florida state line. At that point the two converge to become the Apalachicola, draining into the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachicola Bay.
Mueller's book details the traffic on this river system, which began as a means of transporting plantation products to market, and of bringing needed goods to the rural population of the area. The growth and decline of steamboat traffic through the years are catalogued and enlivened with accounts of regional historical developments and the people involved. The events reported are not limited to steamboat news, but frequently include sidelights that illuminate the stories of the river towns, especially Columbus and Apalachicola. The text is not polished prose, but serves its encyclopedia reference purpose well.
Illustrations are in eight groups, 148 pages in all. They include maps, diagrams, portraits, and photographs of people, plus many drawings and prints of the steamboats that traveled this river system. While there are many special maps, a helpful addition would have been a frontispiece map pinpointing historical references in the text (e.g. the "Negro Fort" or its location, Prospect Bluff.
The volume is scarcely "bedtime reading," as it is similar in size and weight to Way's Packet Directory, 1848-1983, but its steamboat data for the Apalachicola system includes the twenty years preceding 1848, where Way's record begins. Its format differs from Way's in that it is not an amplified alphabetical listing of riverboats, but rather a chronological account of river history of the Apalachicola region. Perilous Journeys should prove to be a valuable reference, particularly for southeastern U.S. regional historians and river buffs. The print is large, on two-column pages, with boat names in caps, while the names of people are in standard type form. The index continues that distinction for easy reference.
The two opening chapters summarize the region's pre-1820 history. The Indian era carries over into Chapter 3, titled "The 1820s-The First Steamboats Arrive." The plan for chapters four through fifteen is to detail steamboat and related history of a half decade per chapter.
The sequence of steamboat history on the Apalachicola system is similar to that of the Ohio-Mississippi rivers, but follows in time by about two decades, with the exception of involvement in major events, such as wars. The Apalachicola's first steamboat was the Fanny (or Fannie), built in New York and brought to Florida in 1827 via the coastal waters. On January 28, 1828, she created a sensation as the first steam vessel to arrive at Columbus, Georgia. Soon schooners were calling at Apalachicola for overseas shipments of cotton brought downriver by steamboat, to supply mills in eastern American and European cities.
The Fanny and her contemporaries on the Apalachicola were designed along the fines successful on eastern rivers and had trouble navigating the shallow southern waterways. Soon the Apalachicola steamboats were replaced with craft that followed the design originated by Henry Miller Shreve in 1816 on the Ohio. These boats were usually equipped with stronger, high pressure engines and double- decked to accommodate cargo and passengers. Most of the Apalachicola system steamboats were, in fact, built by the Ohio River boatbuilders. The Hyperion, the very first of the steamboats designed and built at the famed Howard boatyards at Jeffersonville, Indiana, was a shallow-draft double-decked sidewheeler, constructed in 1834 for Captain Adam Leonard of Apalachicola, Florida. She was brought to Apalachicola via New Orleans.
Snags and other obstructions in the rivers created difficulties in navigation and losses of lives, cargo, and boats, just as on the Mississippi River system. Petitions to Congress for appropriations for river improvements by the United States Army Corps of Engineers took a long time to get results and often produced very small appropriations. It was not until long after navigational improvement had begun on the Mississippi and its tributaries, that the Corps undertook much needed work on the Apalachicola system. Hence, the "perilous" nature of travel on the rivers, even in times of peace.
The author, Edward A. Mueller, an engineer by education and profession, served for many years in transportation management positions in Florida. He had a special interest in steamboats that ran on Florida waters, resulting in the compilation of information for this book. His research was exhaustive, involving searches of old newspapers, marine and other government records, doctoral dissertations, and pertinent published books and articles. The result is a treasure trove of information on this segment of the inland waterways of the United States.