|A Year of Indiana History - 2016|
Steamboats were an important part of the Nineteenth Century economy until the rise of the railroads in mid-century. Thus, the arrival of the first steam-powered riverboat in 1823 was an important event. On May 2, 1823, the Florence reached Vincennes on its voyage to Terra Haute, where it arrived on May 7.
The Wabash River
From its beginnings near a farm near Ft. Recovery, Ohio, the Wabash wends its way for 487 miles to join with the Ohio River. It is the Ohio River's largest tributary that enters its northern shore. The name Wabash derives from the French name, Ouabache, which in turn originated from the Miami Indian name, Wah-Bah-Shik-Ka. That name means "water over white stones," in reference to the white limestone riverbed visible through its clear water in the upper reaches of the river. The Wabash forms the boundary between Illinois and Indiana near Terre Haute, the largest city on the Wabash. Steamboats could ply the waters of the Wabash as far north as Logansport. It was navigable by steamboat for about nine months of the year. At other times, usually during the summer, the water levels dropped too low for them to navigate.
The Wabash had served as an important highway for navigation before the arrival of the steamboats. The French had located the city of Vincennes on its banks during their settlement period. Flatboats carried the produce of the growing state of Indiana to the Port of New Orleans to sell. River port towns like Terre Haute prospered during the steamboat era, as they became centers of transportation. Many connected also with the Wabash and Erie Canal, which connected Indiana towns to both New York and New Orleans. By the end of the Nineteenth Century, riverboats had declined in importance, supplanted by the railroads.
A Year of Indiana History - 2016
© Paul Wonning