Launching Of "The Belle Lee" 132 Years Ago At Louisville

Account Gives Good View Of Importance Of Boats At The Time

From the Louisville Daily Journal - January 11, 1868

Lying gracefully in her native element, at the foot of Fourth Street, is the magnificent steamboat Belle Lee. Today, she will begin her career and will ply regularly between the port of Louisville and that of the Crescent City. From what follows our readers will learn that her accommodations are ample for passengers, freight, and livestock. She is the crowning triumph of our own mechanics, and her owners and builders are justly proud of her. Our city was, in days gone by, the great steamboat port of the Western streams, and our boat builders acknowledged no equals. This period seems to have returned to us again, and the pride of our artisans urged them on in the work on this boat; which will go out giving the challenge to all vessels for beauty and speed. The accommodations and facilities afforded for passengers and freight will undoubtedly secure an immense share of the trade of the lower Ohio and Mississippi.

Dimensions And Cabin

In length she is 300 feet out and out, with a breadth of 43 feet beam. Her breadth athwart ship is 80 feet, she thus being one of the broadest boats afloat. Her hold is 9 1/2 feet deep, and her capacity for freight is 1,800 tons. Her cabin is 265 feet in length, 17 1/2 feet in width, 13 feet in the clear; and is one of the most magnificently decorated halls that we have ever seen. The ornamentation is of the Elizabethan style and gives a solidity and beauty of finish unequaled. Standing at either end of this beautiful avenue, lined on either side by the tastefully ornamented doorways of the state rooms, gilded, mirrored, and tapestried, a person can hardly forbear imagining himself in the palace halls of some oriental monarch. In addition to its beauty, not an item that would conduce to comfort has been omitted, but the entire arrangement might all be summed up in the expression used by an old river traveler when looking at it, "Perfection." At night, the thousand lights from the beautiful chandeliers, caught and reflected by the gilt work and the tinted glass, will add to the enchantment and make the prospect more brilliantly weird than imagination can picture. Fourteen massive oval tables occupy the center of the cabin, covered with elegant tapestried covers.

At the rear of the cabin is the grand mirror, the finest piece of work ever done in this country, which is 8 1/2 feet by 12 feet in size, in a pure Gothic frame. The design is an entirely original one, gotten up expressly by J. V. Escott, Esq. It is a marvel of magnificence and beauty and elicits the admiration of all who see it. A heavy table forms part of the frame, as it were, and at once is a useful article and serves to protect the glass from any accidents. In this cabin are 50 state rooms, the largest and most neatly arranged of those of any boat that ever catered to the public. Thirty of these state rooms are in the ladies' cabin, and in them the builders of the boat have introduced a feature at once new and striking. Instead of the old and awkward berths, one over the other, there is a fine double bed, which, with the other accommodations of the room, make it as comfortable as a chamber in the best-arranged mansion.

Each room contains 108 square feet, which makes them one-third larger than the state rooms of any other boat afloat, the arrangements of all being of superior workmanship. The center table, bureau, chairs, mirror, wardrobe, toilet, and wash stand are all complete and of rosewood; elegantly gilded and ornamented. The bureaus and wash stands are marble topped. Every room in the ladies' cabin communicates, so that they can be opened into suites of rooms when desired by families or parties. The doors by which the communications if effected are amply provided with locks and bolts on each side so that it is perfectly secure and under control of the occupant of the chamber. In the gent's cabin every arrangement for comfort is perfect. The stateroom floors, as well as those of the main cabins, are covered with the richest Brussels carpets. One peculiarity of this boat above all others is the gentleman's clubroom; a very large and commodious saloon fitted up splendidly for the convenience of gentlemen and entirely separated from the cabin and ladies' saloon. In this room gentlemen can meet, chat, smoke, play a game of whist, read the newspapers, talk about business or the crops, and many other things. It is elegantly furnished and illuminated with a large chandelier at night.

Then, for the accommodation of the fair sex, there is a ladies' saloon, fitted up expressly to make the dears happy and afford them all opportunity of enjoying themselves. Instead of being in the rear of the cabin, as has usually been the case heretofore, this saloon now occupies all the forward part of the cabin. By this arrangement the ladies can enjoy a pleasure they have heretofore been in a measure debarred from that of viewing the river before the boat as it speeds onward; and also of being able to see who comes aboard and who gets off at every port or landing, as the stairways come up from the lower deck immediately in front of the windows. In this saloon will be magnificent mirrors, 9 by 4 1/2 feet, extending from the ceiling to the floor, in which people can admire themselves ad libitum. It will be not only elegantly furnished, but will be decorated by a gallery of over 50 fine pictures in magnificent oval frames, likenesses of the men who originated and built the boat, as fine a gallery of nature's noblemen as ever was collected.


This is in the rear of the boat and immediately below the rear of the cabin. It is excellently arranged, well ventilated, and commodious. It will be for the especial use of the children and female nurses and servants of passengers. It communicates with the ladies' cabin by stairways. The chambermaids' rooms, washrooms, wardrobes, and clothes presses are all adjacent, well arranged, and will be closely attended to.

Negro Cabin

This is below and forward of the nursery and entirely separated from it, no communications whatever existing between them. Negro travelers will find the "Freedmen's Bureau," as it is called on this boat, one of the best places they could get into.

Deck Room And Guards

The great feature of the boat, aside from its superior passenger qualifications, is the immense space set aside for the transportation of cotton and stock. Besides being one of the broadest boats afloat, it is one of the highest on the lower deck, and all the freight intrusted to Captain McGill can be safely considered to be well-taken care of, as every inch of the lower deck is placed under shelter in cold weather or during storms. On most of our riverboats the room for stock especially is limited, and the animals are cramped up, but on this boat there is no fear of crowding, and, therefore, the stock can be kept in good condition during transit.

The Machinery

One of the characteristics of the vessel is its almost unequaled machinery. The boasted Hudson River packets, or the staunch steamships that plow the Atlantic, and in whose construction, durability and smoothness are the great desiderata, cannot pride themselves on anything beyond that which embraces the equipment of this boat. There are several reasons for this: Louisville pride, the pride of Messrs. Davis and Co., as machinists; and that of every man in their shops as mechanics, urged them to do their work to perfection. The machinery consists of seven splendid engines, elaborately designed and finished. The main engines are balancing valves. The cylinders are 34 1/2 inches in diameter and the piston of nine feet stroke. The cylinders seem each nearly large enough to contain a small family in hard times. The water wheels are 37 feet in diameter, with buckets 16 1/2 feet in length, the longest on any boat afloat. This will give her an immense sweep at the water, and if the engines and these wheels do not move her along faster than any boat on the river, then the people of Louisville will be disappointed. The shafts are the largest ever cast for a western steamboat. They are each 20 inches in diameter and as smooth and pretty as a gimlet stem each weighing 22,000 pounds, exclusive of the cranks.

The "doctor" engine is a very powerful one and is a most beautiful piece of workmanship. The "donkey" or fire engine is of immense capacity, equaling a dozen of our Latta land engines and is capable of deluging the boat from stem to stern in a few minutes in case of fire. The "cargo" engine is also unusually large. In addition to the above are twin engines to drive the capstans, all of which are supplied with every recent improvement and convenience. Thus, the machinery of the boat is complete in all its details, and Messrs. Davis and Co., of the Washington Foundry, the designers and builders, can feel justly proud of their work. There are eight boilers in the main battery, each 30 feet in length and 40 inches in diameter, with two large flues in each; two 36-inch steam drums, two 18-inch mud drums, and two 18-inch supply drums. The "doctor" boiler is ten feet long and 36 inches in diameter, with two flues. The material in these boilers and drums was prepared expressly for the boat and rank as the best in the country, being made of a combination of Tennessee and Juniata iron. The furnace is constructed on an entirely new principle, Clark's patent, which has been proven to economize at least one-fourth of the usual amount of fuel. The chimneys are of magnificent proportions, being fully 70 feet in height above the cabin skylights and of 72 inches diameter each, with bold, unique tops. The boilers and drums were made by John Pearce, the sheet iron work by William Weir, and the copper piping by Bridgeford and Co. Every improvement in safety valves has been adopted and security of life and property will be, therefore, one great recommendation to travellers and shippers.


One feature of the success of a boat on the Western waters lies in the popularity of its officers, and the esteem in which they are held by merchants and the travelling public. If we were to predict from this as to the future of the beautiful packet we have just described, we would give her a career unequalled in the annals of steamboating. The captain, Auselm McGill, is known throughout the length of the Mississippi as an experienced steamboat man, and a courteous and affable gentleman. His experience on the streams that pour into the Gulf through the great "Father of Waters," and on that great thoroughfare itself, has been very extensive and has given him an acquaintance with nearly everyone who travels by boat, and who will always prefer a trip with him, when his boat is accessible. He is a Kentuckian born and bred, but a citizen of the southwestern states generally. That he should know something of Western trade we will give a slight sketch of his experience. First, he commanded the R. H. Winslow, from Cincinnati to New Orleans, in 1852 and 1853. Then he bought and commanded the David White, in the Louisville and New Orleans trade, in 1854, 1855, and 1856. He was captain of the Ben Franklin in the same trade in 1856, the H. D. Newcomb in 1857, and the splendid Pacific in 1858 and 1859.

Afterwards, in 1860, he built the beautiful and widely-known Atlantic and ran her from this port to New Orleans. While he was engaged in this trade our national troubles came on, and the United States Government compelled him to lay up the Atlantic at this port on May 6, 1861. He then built and sold the Ben Stickney, and finding but little opportunity for prosecuting steamboating further, while armies were gathering on the borders, he left the river and settled down to cotton planting in Madison Parish, Louisiana. He made two large crops, and this broke him, of course; so he returned to his old friends in the Falls City and now treads the deck of the Queen of Waters, built for him by the mechanics of our city, all of whom, whose names we give below, did their share towards the consummation of the great work.

The clerk is Adolphe Martin, Esq., a well-known steamboat clerk and gentleman of ability, who will give a great deal of aid towards putting the "Mechanics' Boat" in the foremost rank of popular passenger packets. He will have a corps of efficient and popular assistants, who will take pleasure in accommodating everybody. An excellent selection of officers has been made. The chief engineer, John B. Lent, is one of the most thorough in the country; a gentleman of ability and worth, in whose hands the splendid machinery must work to the best advantage. The pilots are well-known; Chris Damon and Reasor Jemison. The first mate is William Whitlow; and that well-known caterer, Henry Carnahan, is steward and will have charge of all the good things that tickle the palate.

The Name

The boat was named after Mrs. Belle Lee, wife of Colonel Phil. Lee, and daughter of James Bridgeford, Esq., one of the most charming and accomplished ladies of Kentucky. That it will do credit to the lady whose name it proudly bears, we feel fully assured.


The boat was put up by the following firms, all of whom did their work in an entirely satisfactory manner: The hull, a model of strength and beauty, was built by Messrs. Stewart and Barmore, of Jeffersonville, Indiana; who have, during the past year, turned out from their yard the Dexter, Belle Lee, Atlantic, and three barges, which, for beauty of model and finish, will compare favorably with any hulls built in the West. All they ask is an examination of their work in order to prove its perfection. The iron for the hull was furnished by the enterprising house of Nautz, Reamer, and Owens, who bid fair to rival or excel some of the oldest and best-established houses in the West in the extent of their business.

The iron work, or blacksmithing, was done by A. Baker and Co., who are famous for having done all, or very nearly all, the work in their line for steamers built here for the last 20 years. The magnificent cabin was built by the old established house of McClarran, Coggshell, and Bell. They have no superiors anywhere in their line and have done their best on this vessel. The painting was done by that perfect master of his art, John Briner, and is admirably executed. The mirrors and decorating are fine specimens of the taste and skill of the well-known house of Escott and Son, who excel in their business. The machinery was turned out from the Washington Foundry by John B. Davis and Co., one of the most enterprising firms in the West. The boilers are from the shops of John Pierce, who feels proud of his work and has placed his name upon them that all may know he is not ashamed of them. The sheet iron work was done by William Weir, who fairly eclipsed himself in his efforts.

The upholstery, consisting of beds; blankets; comforts; linens; spreads; and curtains, was furnished by Henry Wehmhoff, whose long experience has made it perfect, and who understands what is wanted. The chandeliers, queensware, and silverware are from the establishment of Walton Brothers; young in years, but veterans in skill, enterprise, and taste, who have furnished the finest articles that could be procured in the country. The furniture is from the house of Dickenson and Bennet. The ladies' cabin furniture is of rosewood. This enterprising house has furnished nearly all the boats built here during the past year. Carpets, table covers, and teacloths are from the new house of Hamilton and Anderson, who is fast acquiring a reputation for having the best goods in the city. The bells, whistles, wires, and small pipes are by Wm. Kaye and Co., who have cast one of the finest toned bells ever made in the city, a perfect model.

The blocks, trucks, and hull outfit by Daniel Richards, who has built many fine boats at the shipyard, opposite Two-Mile Island, are the very best. The rigging, such as lines, lamps, gutta percha buckets, axes, and mates' general outfit, is from Messrs. Duckwall and Fitch, of Portland. The brick work was done by Lampton and Co., whose excellent workmanship is well-known to all boat builders. The ice chests by McDonald and Son. The grand piano is from the extensive shop of Messrs. Peters and Webb. The life boats and tarpaulins by Bird Levi. The Photographic Gallery by Klsuber. The fancy glass for skylights and doors is by Blum and Co. The office safe is from the house of Helmer and Co. The copper work, stores, and general outfit come from the old and well-known house of Jas. Bridgeford and Co., which is sufficient guarantee of their being of the very best manufacture; the firm being specially noted for the excellence and superiority of their goods over any imported articles, and the durability of their work.


A complete set of colors was presented to the boat by Mr. Suit, of Wall Street, New York celebrity (the first man that ever sold gold at a premium on the street), supposed to be presented to the Belle Lee in consideration of the captain's former contributions to the gold market of that city. The captain has also been made the recipient of numerous fine pictures from both gentlemen and ladies, which he will treasure as precious remembrances and carry on the boat during its existence afloat. Among the presents he has received is the eagle, a bird worthy of mention on account of the history connected with it. When he bought the David White, this bird (which is three and a half feet long from tip to tip of its wings, five feet in length and nearly four feet high) was made for the boat, and when the captain disposed of it he presented the eagle to the "Citizen Guards" of Louisville, who kept it in their armory. The company went off to the Confederate Army, and the eagle was left here in the city. Since the Belle Lee has been building, John C. Nauts, Esq., obtained possession of the bird, has had it regilt, and has presented it to the boat. It will be perched on the pilot house, in the act of rising and winging its flight onward.

Presentation Of Pistols

Capt. McGill was presented with a fine case containing a pair of splendid dueling pistols. On opening the box he found the following note: "These pistols, used in a duel by the greatest of statesmen, are presented to Capt. A. McGill, the greatest of steamboatmen, by W. R. Kinney." The following is the reply of Capt. McGill:

Steamer Belle Lee, January 6, 1868

To Major W. R. Kinney:

Dear Sir: Although pursuing the paths of peace, and being a representative of the commerce of our great valley, I cannot but entertain the highest appreciation of the honor bestowed upon a humble individual like myself in becoming the recipient of these relics of times past. I retain them in memory of the great statesman who once held them in deadly strife, willing to sacrifice life in defense of honor and principle, and as a vivid reminder that true courtesy should be the rule of life between one and another; and although required to look upon everyone as a brother, I cannot help entertaining the very warmest feelings of regard for the distinguished donor of these terrible mementoes of the greatest statesman of the age.

Respectfully, A. McGill.

The Trial Trip

In accordance with the intention of the captain and builders, the boat made its trial trip on Wednesday morning up to Twelve-Mile Island. Starting from the foot of Sixth Street (where she had been lying) at 8:00 a. m., she moved proudly up the stream, trembling under the power of her enormous engines, rolling the waves in giant volumes in her wake. Her decks were crowded with her builders and passengers anxious to witness her performances, who took great delight in seeing how admirably she worked. The trip up to Twelve-Mile Island was a pleasant one, everyone on board enjoying themselves to the utmost. The people of Jeffersonville looked eagerly at the gallant vessel as it passed, for they, too, feel a great deal of interest in it, as the hull was built by them. When Twelve-Mile Island was reached the boat turned and started down stream.

The engines were put to working at ordinary speed, but the boat moved under them at a rapid rate. The six miles from the foot of Twelve-Mile Island to the foot of Six-Mile Island was run in 15 minutes, and not the least jarring or trembling was felt on board. Her builders were in ecstasies, and Captain McGill was overjoyed. Everybody predicted that the boat would make the fastest time ever yet run on the Ohio or Mississippi. Scudding along on her way down she soon got to Stuart and Barmore's shipyard at Jeffersonville, having made the run from Twelve-Mile Island to there, a distance of nearly ten miles in 26 minutes; everything working like a charm. This is considered the fastest time ever made by a new boat on its trial trip, and when we consider that the boat was not put to her full speed, we can hardly estimate how fast she will be able to go when let out to do her best. That she will be one of the fastest boats ever built we feel assured, as does every person who was on her on this trip, and some of the most sanguine asserted in the strongest terms and felt confident that the Belle Lee will be able to make quicker time than any boat that has yet been built. We only hope that she will fully meet or exceed the expectations of her builders, and that Capt. McGill will long have her to command.

To The Merchants

And now that we have spoken all that we need of this magnificent vessel we call the attention of the merchants of our city to this one fact: The Belle Lee, from top to bottom, is a boat of Louisville manufacture, the work of Louisville mechanics, and a testimonial of their skill. The money spent in her construction was spent in this city, and if the boat had no other recommendation to public favor this should be a strong one and should encourage merchants to patronize her in preference to boats built, owned, and run by parties of other cities above us, who have no claims upon our trade whatever. The mechanics of Louisville rely on the merchants to support their boat, and we feel fully satisfied that they will do so.

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