Keith E. Norrington Curator of Steamboat Collections/Exhibits, River Ramblings Program Coordinator, “On Deck” at the Howard since 1968.
It is YOUR museum:
Recently I came across a mimeographed newsletter, written in January, 1958 by Capt. Alan L. Bates, who was the first president of the Howard National Steamboat Museum’s board of directors. Alan’s letter concluded with encouraging words that ring true these 50 years later and I’d like to share them once again.
Now that we are the proud owners of this mansion and its contents, may I urge each and every one of you to give your museum your enthusiastic support. It is absolutely essential to our cause that you do. No gift is too small, no art or skill is un-needed for the completion of this project. Much can be done without money, but that remains our greatest need at this time. Perhaps you know someone who is a philanthropist. Let your officers know about them. Maybe you have an idea for obtaining economical display cases. Let us hear from you. If you have a talent for ordinary housework, we NEED you. So rally ’round and lend a hand to YOUR museum, the finest on the river, and that means all the world.
While we are most grateful for all those dedicated people who give generously of their time, talents, efforts and money, this curator, who has been involved with the museum for four decades, is aware that we need more volunteers to help continue the dream of Capt. Jim and Loretta Howard to showcase the history of the steamboat era. If you, or someone you know, could donate a day, or perhaps only a few hours here and there, it means a great deal and is very much appreciated. Remember, it is YOUR museum and we fervently hope the museum will be here for generations yet unborn to enjoy and to learn of our fascinating river heritage.
Thank you very much!
Time, Like An Ever Rolling Stream
Four Decades on Deck
Time, like the river, rolls swiftly past and it hardly seems possible that 40 years have passed since I first began volunteering at the Howard Steamboat Museum in 1968 when I was 14 years old. I first visited the museum in the early 1960’s and instantly became enthralled with the mansion, the steamboat memorabilia and, most especially, by Mrs. Loretta Howard. She was a gracious hostess to all and I loved to hear her tell stories of the steamboats that were built over in the shipyard, and of how she often went along on the delivery trips, once serving as cook! In those days the museum was closed during the winter months from November until early April. I would sometimes call Mrs. Howard and we would have wonderful telephone chats. She always took the time to chat with this youngster who was afire with the “steamboat bug” and I reveled in our conversations. Mrs. Howard was a good friend of Miss Ruth Ferris, noted river historian of St. Louis, who was curator of the River Room at the Jefferson Memorial in St. Louis. By 1967 I had begun corresponding with Ruth, who was setting up a riverboat museum aboard the retired steamboat Becky Thatcher (formerly the steamer Mississippi) at the St. Louis waterfront. So, being under the influence and tutelage of these two grand river ladies whose enthusiasm was contagious, I had a fabulous introduction into river history!
In the late 1960’s, after suffering a broken hip, Mrs. Howard eventually left her third floor apartment at the museum and moved over to the original Howard home (now gone) across High Street. Mrs. Catherine B. Richardson, long a museum board member, became curator and our volunteer “staff” besides yours truly, mainly consisted of Kay Marshall Davis, Tom McCarty and Steve Byers. A Jeffersonville official once noted that, “The Howard Museum is being run by an elderly lady and four high school students!” On Sundays, Ruth Richter Heffern, Mrs. Howard’s granddaughter, joined us to give tours. Kay’s mother, Dorothy Marshall, also began helping out and has been a faithful weekly volunteer to this day. It was always a treat to take mail over to Mrs. Howard and I still cherish the memories of our visits. Between giving tours and other chores, I often escaped to the third floor (closed to visitors in those days) to read old issues of The Waterways Journal and to watch the passing river traffic.
After the devastating fire in March, 1971, and the museum’s future was in question, I started spending my summer vacations from high school and college working aboard the Belle of Louisville and Delta Queen, but I kept in close touch with the activities at the museum and helped out whenever I could as the resurrection from the ashes began. By the 1990’s, I served on the board of directors for a time. Because my main interest is in working with the steamboat artifacts and interpreting river history for our visitors, I was given the title of Volunteer Curator of Steamboat Collections and Exhibits.
When I think back of how we struggled along those decades ago, some days having no visitors at all and barely taking in enough money from admissions (50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children!) and the sale of post cards to pay the electric bill, it truly amazes me to see how the museum has evolved. I’ve heard it said more than a few times that the fire was a “blessing in disguise” for it awakened the community to a treasure that came very close to being lost forever.
As the museum celebrates its golden anniversary this year, it makes me feel “old” to think that the mansion had been a museum only a decade when I first became involved with it! The museum could not survive and function without the dedication of MANY people who give generously of their time and effort in so many areas. I often think of how pleased Mrs. Howard would be to see all the events and programs that take place at the museum, fifty years after she first opened the doors to the public, fulfilling her promise to Capt. Jim that the house would became a museum devoted to telling the story of the Howard Shipyards and the steamboat era.
It is both an honor and a privilege to be associated with the Howard Steamboat Museum & Mansion and those whose hard work has resulted in the museum reaching this terrific milestone. My heartfelt THANKS to all who strive to keep the doors open so that we can continue the dream of the Howard’s to showcase their fascinating story.
Here’s to the next 50 years!
Keep up steam! Keith