I’m not sure that there is any interest to develop a “Steamboat Museum” at Elizabethtown, NC, but it would be an excellent location, because most of the Cape Fear River paddlewheel steamboats that travelled between Fayetteville, Wilmington and even as far as Smithville (South Port) and the Carolina Beaches, either went past or stopped at “Elizabeth”town landing on their journeys. In fact, the remains of the “last paddlewheel steamboat”, the THELMA, lie rotting along the river bank near the State Boat Ramp beneath the bridges that cross the Cape Fear at Elizabethtown. The THELMA started running on the Cape Fear in December of 1913, and was finally tied up at her dock at Elizabethtown, NC in 1939. Her last captain, Capt. Henry Hunt, died at Fayetteville, in 1941, and was buried in Atkinson, NC.
Why a steamboat museum? Well, the era of the paddlewheel steamboat on the Cape Fear, and tributaries, ran approximately from 1818 until 1939. During that time, these vessels transported many passengers, much freight, goods & mail, and offered many romantic travels along the river and even to several Carolina beaches. The many captains, both young and old, were cast as romantic figures aboard their vessels, and were much lauded and beloved. Cotton might head either up or down river, and rosin & turpentine normally headed down to Wilmington to be distilled or sold. A band and dance might be provided for a boat tour. Groups might head to South Port for the 4th of July celebration. Once, a steamer even towed a schooner, loaded with oysters for sale, up as far as Fayetteville. A couple of Fayetteville businessmen boarded a steamer with their hunting rifles, and a horse and buggy. They planned to be put off down river, do some hunting, and return by buggy to Fayetteville later.
Why Elizabethtown? Well, I think the remains of the THELMA, or at least a part of her, should be removed from her current resting place and put in a safe environment where they can be viewed and her story told for future generations. It wouldn’t have to be a brand new, multi-million dollar facility such as those recently built at Tryon Palace (New Bern) or Fort Macon (Morehead City), but perhaps a currently unused building. Maybe an old structure would provide the proper ambiance.
In 1899 the first, perhaps only, paddlewheel steamboat that was built entirely on the Cape Fear River, was sold to a Georgetown, South Carolina businessman, Marks Moses, to run on the Santee River. The “South Carolina Maritime Museum” in Georgetown, SC
currently has the following picture displayed, which includes the hurricane deck of the SESSOMS.
“A Busy Waterfront”
Here is another view of the FRANK SESSOMS at her Georgetown, SC dock. Note that her pilot house has been moved from the hurricane deck down to her second level..
The FRANK SESSOMS was built for Capt. D. J. Black to run on the Cape Fear and Black rivers to Point Caswell and Clear Run. Many other vessels had been built at various points and times on the Cape Fear, but their boilers and other machinery were built elsewhere and brought down to be installed on the boats. By 1894 the foundry of the “Wilmington Iron Works” in Wilmington, NC was able to build the boiler and machinery for the steamer FRANK SESSOMS.
Here is an excellent picture of the FRANK SESSOMS while she was still in North Carolina. The picture is labeled ‘River Steamer, “Sessoms” 1890’ which I suppose is Circa 1890.