Once upon a time, the Mamie S. Barrett commanded a real presence on the rivers of the U.S. In fact, it was even home to President Franklin D. Roosevelt for a brief period. But now, almost a century after it first sailed its maiden voyage, the vessel that marked the beginning of the end of the steamboat era is a husk of its former self. Even as it gathers rust, though, its story is fascinating.
Back in the early 1800s the road networks dotted across the U.S. weren’t widespread or connected enough to prove viable for transport. Instead, people turned to the water to shift their goods, or even themselves. In many places, this was facilitated by the natural rivers that connected several of the nation’s early boomtowns.
Cities including Cincinnati, St. Louis, New Orleans and more were linked through a network that joined the Mississippi, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio rivers. Farmers and industrialists sent their cargo down these waterways, to be exported to the world. Indeed, in a time before highways and railroads, the U.S. economy was driven by water-borne commerce.