|A Year of Indiana History - 2016|
The key to a city's growth and prosperity is ease of transportation. The newly established city of Indianapolis was no different. In 1820, when Indianapolis became the state capitol, the railroads had not yet been developed. The canals were still in the future and roads poor and uncertain. The city needed a navigable river. But the city had a problem. The White River that bounded the city was not navigable. At least in reality, not in law. In 1820, the legislature passed a law that deemed it navigable. This is just one other example of law that is not reality.
The State of the River
The White River is too shallow, has too many low hanging branches and sand bars for a steamboat to traverse its waters. Only the smallest of watercraft could navigate the river from the Wabash to central Indiana.
Inducements to River Boats
The legislature commissioned surveyor Alexander Ralston to study the river to see if it was navigable. Ralston surveyed the river and returned with his report. For $1500 per year, the state could make it navigable. But boats could only use it for about three months out of the year. As inducement, Noah Noble, future Indiana Governor from 1831 - 1837, offered inducements to riverboat captains to make the journey. In 1830, he pledged a $200 reward to any captain that could bring a riverboat to Indianapolis via the White River. Rumors circulated from time to time that some boat nearly made it.
Success and Then...
Finally, on April 11, 1831 Robert Hanna arrived in Indianapolis from Cincinnati via the Ohio, Wabash and White Rivers. In addition to the load of stone he carried in the boat, he had a tethered, loaded keelboat behind it. Upon his arrival, the citizens of the city went into a frenzy of celebration. The citizens arranged a banquet to Hanna and his crew to celebrate. Hanna, in a hurry to get back down the river while the water was still high enough to navigate the river, declined. His hopes were dashed when the boat ran aground on a sand bar, where it remained stuck for six weeks. As far as anyone knows, no other attempts were made.
A Year of Indiana History - 2016
© Paul Wonning