The Steamer ELLA

03 Dec




The Ella Arrives From New York and

Will Ply Between Wilmington

And Fort Caswell – Replaces

The Madeleine


The steamer Ella, purchased by Capt. John W. Harper, proprietor of the Harper Steamer Lines, to replace the Madeleine, which was lost off this coast in a storm last Fall, steamed gracefully into port from New York Wednesday morning, and is now lying at anchor at the foot of Nun street, awaiting a few finishing touches before entering active service on the Cape Fear.

Pure white in color and graceful in her lines as any swann, the Ella is one of the handsomest steamers ever seen in this port and she will make an excellent running mate for Captain Harper’s well-known steamer, the Wilmington, without a doubt the best known boat on the Cape Fear. The Ella, which was named by Capt. Harper in honor of Mrs. Harper, is 77 feet in length, 17 1-2 feet beam and is equipped with a 12 and a 24-horsepower engine, with 14-inch stroke. The neat little craft maintained an average speed of 10 miles an hour all the way down the coast from New York city.

The Ella is brand new and is particularly arranged for handling both freight and passengers. She will ply regularly between Wilmington and Fort Caswell. The vessel has a steel hull and is fitted to go to sea, being a staunch and safe craft. She has accommodations for about 200 passengers. Captain Adkins will probably be in command of the Ella, as Captain Harper will continue to operate his first love, the Wilmington.

As she now stands the Ella is all complete except for one cabin which will be added and the finishing painting. This work will be completed as soon as possible and the pretty little steamer will soon be making her daily runs up and down the river. Captain Harper is justly proud of his handsome new boat and she is a credit to his line as well as to the port of Wilmington.

(Wilmington Star – July 5, 1912)



Capt. Harper Announces Pleasant

Trip for Sunday This Week.

Although passenger receipts do not always justify the expenditure for operation, Capt. John W. Harper for the past 30 years or more has been plying the majestic Cape Fear, in season and out of season, always with due regard to the convenience of the public, and he has just announced that on Sunday, in spite of the fact that the steamer Wilmington is laid up for her annual overhauling, for the convenience of those who desire to go down the river, he will operate the steamer Ella for a special trip, leaving Wilmington at 9:30 A. M., and returning about 6 P. M.  The fare for the round trip will be only 50 cents and the steamer will touch both at Southport and Fort Caswell.

[Wilmington Morning Star —  October 31, 1913]




Steamer Ella Harper Line Steamer

Which Is On Marine Railway.

Captain J. W. Harper, owner and commander of the steamer Wilmington has taken the Wilmington from the Southport run for a few days to give her the annual spring overhauling. The steamer was hauled out on the marine railway today and will be painted from stem to stern. While the Wilmington is undergoing repairs the steamer Ella, of which Capt. Harper is owner, will make the regular trips between Wilmington and the town at the mouth of the Cape Fear river.

(Wilmington Dispatch – April 3, 1916)




The Ella Sold to Captain Bailey, Agent
Wednesday Afternoon.

After being on the market for more than a year, the river steamer Ella, owned by Capt. John W. Harper, and formerly plying between Wilmington and Southport, was sold to Capt. E. P. Bailey, agent, Wednesday afternoon. The purchase price is said to have been between $8,000 and $10,000.

The boat was built for Captain Harper a few years ago and was at first used as a freight and passenger boat on the Harper Line between Wilmington and Southport but when double service was discontinued, the Ella was moored off Eagle’s Island and offered for sale. Immediately following its change of owners the Ella was towed to the plant of the Wilmington Iron Works. No announcement was made as to what use it will be put in the future.

(Wilmington Star – December 8, 1916)





Ella Will be Used As Mail

Steamer at the Island of



Mr. Dupont, a representative of a firm of the chief seaport of the Island of Martinique, on of the French West Indian groups of islands in the Gulf of Mexico, which has purchased the river steamer Ella from Capt. J. W. Harper, was in the city yesterday and arranged to have extensive alterations made to the vessel before it steamed for its new port early in January.

Mr. Dupont is one of several men who have purchased several small steamers to be used in the freight, passenger and mail service in the French West Indies. He left last night for New York City, where he will attend to other business matters.

The steamer Ella, at the shipyard of the Wilmington Iron Works, has been stripped of all deck houses, which will be rebuilt to suit conditions in the islands where it will operate. Instead of the heavy wood superstructure, light frames will be constructed so that canvass awning might be hung and thus prevent having the cabins wrecked by some of the fierce storms which are frequent in the French West Indies. If the vessel is caught in a gale of wind the canvass will be carried away, but the vessel will be left intact.

Alterations on the Ella are expected to be completed early in January and the steamer will then leave for its new home port. The improvements that are being made to the steamer will cost several thousand dollars. The vessel was sold by Captain Harper for approximately $10,000.

(Wilmington Dispatch – December 15, 1916)


Excerpts from:

The Steamer Wilmington by James H. McKoy
(pp.  144-151 Eastern North Carolina Digital Library, East Carolina University – online)

DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN the Steamer Wilmington ran to Carolina Beach and Southport? The main contact between Wilmington and Southport as well as Fort Caswell and intermediary settlements used to be chiefly by water route. A daily schedule was maintained for passengers, freight and mail. The names of some of these river steamers come to mind, that operated about a quarter of a century ago. The Southport, the Ella, The Wilmington, all of these belonged to Captain John W. Harper of this city. The Southport was used primarily for freight and for emergency runs when the Wilmington or the Ella were out of service. There was little space for comfort of the passengers aboard the Southport, and she was far from being capable of handling the crowds that came for excursions…

… Many stories have been told of the faithful old boat’s fate, a boat that brought much happiness to Wilmington people and was the only connection with the outside world to the several stops and plantations along the river. Some say that she is now hanging her proud bow in disgrace, being converted into a lowly freighter in Tampa Bay. I do not know what became of the Southport, but I believe that if you stroll along Water Street in the year 1955, you will find between Dock and Orange a dilapidated old boat’s cabin, rotting away with both the piling and the wharf and a big “Keep Out” sign. There I think you will find the last remains of the once proud Ella.

*I suppose that the remains of the Ella that are referenced above would have been the wooden superstructure removed from her during her remodeling, prior to being taken to Martinique.

NOTES: Ella Chitty Harper, Capt. Harper’s daughter, was born in 1905.  Capt. Harper, age 61, died 16 days after his 12 year old daughter, Ella, died, in September of 1917. His son, John W. Harper, Jr. died a year later of Influenza and Pneumonia, at the age of 21.

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