In 1834, nineteen-year-old James Howard started a shipyard on the banks of the Ohio in Jeffersonville, Indiana and built his first boat, the Hyperion. Over three-generations and 107-years, the Howard Shipyard would put over 1,100 vessels into the Ohio River and establish the largest inland shipyard in America. The story of the hard-working Howards is preserved and presented today by the Howard Steamboat Museum housed in the century-old Howard mansion.
The 22-room Romanesque Revival mansion was built adjacent to the Howard Shipyard in 1894. The shipyard craftsmen assisted by utilizing their wood working talents to create intricate details not commonly found in this style of home. There are 15 types of locally sourced lumber used in the construction of the home and each is polished to perfection. As a visitor, one is inclined to become fascinated with the artistic talents the shipyard workers have left behind. Together with the collection of 90% original family furnishings you will be come immersed in the lifestyle of the Victorian era. Don’t forget, there is still one of the best collections of river steamboat memorabilia to see! All put together this facade envelops you in a world from years past. For in this special mansion you can walk in the steps of the Howard’s and truly experience their story.
The Howard Steamboat Museum is unique as it is the only steamboat museum in America. While there are museums to particular vessels and specific rivers, we are the only actual steamboat museum in the nation. You will see items from the legendary Robert E. Lee, the the famous Alice Dean, and the palatial Howard-built J. M. White. The largest single artifact on campus is the original 22-ton forged steel paddlewheel shaft of the historic Delta Queen. The museum has a collection of several hundred photographs, displays of shipbuilding tools, numerous original paintings (including several works by Harlan Hubbard), steam whistles, signaling bells, along with a collection of several intricately detailed steamboat models from the steamboat era.
When James passed in 1876 his son, Edmonds became the second-generation operator of the yard which already had a reputation for the finest steamboats on the inland waters. Because of this reputation, Edmonds had to turn down contracts or bid ludicrously high. When the Alaska Commercial Company wanted three packets and a towboat for the booming Klondike gold trade, Edmonds made an outrageously high bid only to find it accepted! During his tenure Edmonds would complete construction of the famous J. M. White (1878), one of the most expensive and palatial cotton packets to ply the inland rivers. He also built the famous City of Louisville (1894). She still holds the speed record for the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Louisville (8 hours and 54 minutes).
Upon Edmonds passing in 1916 his sons Clyde and James (named for his grandfather) would assume control of the yard. By 1923, Clyde retired to Louisville and Capt. Jim would continue the operation. Jim would sell the yard in 1941 to the US Navy for WWII construction of Landing Ship Tanks or LSTs, sub chasers and other ocean-going vessels. The yard would be sold after the war and become a subsidiary of The American Commercial Line Barge Service known as Jeffersonville Boat Works or more commonly Jeffboat. The yard was closed in April of 2018, ending a 184-year tradition of boat building at this historic site.
Loretta Howard (the wife of Capt. Jim) would honor his deathbed wish to make the mansion a museum of the family and steamboat history. In spring of 1958 Loretta opened the doors of the storied mansion and with her hard, tenacious work his wish came true. She would operate the museum until her health would not allow her to in 1970. A fire in 1971 almost destroyed the mansion. Having the mansion built as a super dreadnaught to survive flooding paid off, as it survived the fire as well. The community rallied around the museum and were able to reopen in less than a year. Despite their daunting task, their success insures the mansion, it’s historic furnishings, and the fascinating Howard story live on.
Today the Howard Steamboat Museum is a 501(c3) non-profit organization operated by a 24-person Board of Directors and a small staff of mostly volunteers. We are proud to be a mostly self supporting organization which takes no regularly scheduled funding from any federal, state, or local entity. We survive on the generosity of our guests, members, fund raising events, and rentals of our repurposed historic Carriage House.