Let me make some brief notes to myself here so that I may flesh them out later.
I have suggested elsewhere on this site that Elizabethtown, NC would be a good place for a “Steamboat Museum.” Some might say, “He’s gone to meddling,” and they might be right, since I have no ties to the community. However, I got hooked on the stories of the paddlewheel steamboats, their captains and crew, and the many events both pleasant and unpleasant that occurred during the Cape Fear River Steamboat Era. The Era lasted for about 121 years, from approximately 1818 until the last boat, the THELMA, was tied up at her wharf at Elizabethtown in 1939 and left to rot there… until this very day.
The remains of the THELMA lie rotting just a few feet away from the State Boat Ramp, beneath the bridges that cross the Cape Fear at Elizabethtown. Built 100 years ago, this year, and began to run on the Cape Fear in December 1913.
Dr. Heman Harwood Robinson, of Elizabeth, and a Wilmington, NC businessman, A. H. VanBokkelen, went in together (the Bladen Steam Boat Co.) to purchase the steamer SPRAY from a company in Wilmington, Delaware in 1853. The SPRAY was the second vessel built (and of an unusual design) by Pusey, Jones & Company who went on to build hundreds (if not thousands) of other steamers for the US and abroad.
In the 1980s, the remains of the SPRAY were found, researched and some even recovered. Some of these items are on display at the Fayetteville Transportation Museum (NC) and one of her steam engines is outside the headquarters of the NC Underwater Archaeological Branch near Fort Fisher.
Capt. Irvin Robinson, a son of Dr. H. H. Robinson, probably fell in love with steamboat life from his contact with and travels aboard the SPRAY. Born in 1842, Irving Robinson would have been about 11 years old when he first saw the SPRAY. Years later, in January of 1895, Capt. Robinson was the master of the steamer CAPE FEAR when she was stranded high on the river bank at Fayetteville, with another vessel, the A.P. HURT. The Cape Fear had flooded to almost 60 feet above normal. Although the CAPE FEAR was a much younger vessel than the A.P. HURT, her hull was made of wood, and the HURT’s hull was steel. As a result, when the water receeded, and the boats were stranded upon the bank, the weight of the CAPE FEAR caused her to disintegrate and her boiler to roll down into the river. The A.P. HURT remained in tact, and was shortly returned to plying the river.
Capt. Irvin Robinson is buried, with his wife, in Elizabethtown, NC.
Andy and Nan Marie, two Georgia youth, after visiting relatives in Fayetteville for a time in 1879, made two trips down the Cape Fear from Fayetteville to Wilmington, NC, about a month apart. Their final trip is taken aboard the steamer D. MURCHISON (another vessel which had been built in Wilmington, Delaware by Pusey, Jones & Company.) and the events of the trip, including a stop and visit to Elizabeth, Tory Hole and an extremely large grape vine, with Capt. Garrison are recorded by the well-read Nan Marie.
In January of 1853, Capt. James A. Wilkinson, while aboard his boat, SOUTHERNER, slipped upon ice on the deck and fell into the cold Cape Fear. The SOUTHERNER was just a couple of miles above Elizabeth when the captain had his accident, and his body , remarkably well preserved for it’s time in the water, found about 10 miles below the town two months later.
The story of “Capt. Wilkinson’s Young Widow” is a melancholy tale. That James Wilkinson was only 24 years old at the time of his death… that his bride, Emily, had just celebrated her 18th birthday, six days before his accident… that they had only been married 5 weeks when he died, does not cover the bleak events leading up to his death. His older brother had died about 7 months prior, and when the two brothers were just infants, their father had been kicked by a horse and died.
In February of 1858, the boiler of the steamer MAGNOLIA exploded killing Capt. Stedman and many other persons. The accident occurred early in the morning at White Hall Landing a short distance below Elizabeth(town).