In 1914, a beautiful sternwheel packet boat was launched at the Howard Shipyard in Jeffersonville, Indiana: the HOMER SMITH. Built for the Security Steamboat Co. for use on the Ohio River in the Louisville-Cincinnati packet trade, she measured 235’x40’x5.9′ and had five boilers powering her state-of-the-art compound steam engines. HOMER SMITH was also used as an overnight excursion boat during the warm Summer months, taking passengers on holiday trips that could last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Two notable excursions made by HOMER SMITH took place in 1916, when she made round trips from Pittsburgh to New Orleans and back for Mardi Gras and Easter. Within a few years of her launch, HOMER SMITH was running exclusively as an excursion and overnight boat.
HOMER SMITH’s Texas cabin being fitted out at the Howard Shipyards in Jeffersonville, Indiana. The Big Four Bridge can be seen in the distance (ca. 1914)
HOMER SMITH’s main cabin during her fitting out (ca. 1914)
In 1928, HOMER SMITH was sold to Pittsburgh Amusement Co. where she was re-named GREATER PITTSBURGH. She spent the next three years of her career running excursions on the Ohio River out of Pittsburgh, and in 1929 had the distinction of carrying dignitaries down the whole length of the river to Cairo, Illinois to celebrate the completion of the river’s system of locks and dams. In April of 1931, the old steamboat burned under mysterious circumstances while at her moorings on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Although her watchman was jailed for arson, nothing could be proven, and he was later released.
HOMER SMITH at the Howard Shipyards in Jeffersonville, Indiana (ca. 1914)
The main cabin/ball room (ca. 1920’s)
HOMER SMITH was one of the first (possibly the first) river steamboats to have her decks outlined in electric lights, much as the steamer BELLE OF LOUISVILLE appears today. Interestingly, the similarities between the two steamboats don’t end there. Both HOMER SMITH and the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE were launched in 1914, and both boats spent much of their respective careers as Ohio River excursion boats. They both also have close ties to Pittsburgh, with the BELLE OF LOUISVILLE being built there and HOMER SMITH being based out of the city for most of her existence.
HOMER SMITH lit up at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (ca. 1930)
HOMER SMITH represents an interesting transitional period in steamboat history. Although the golden age of the Steamboat Era was over by the time of her launching in 1914 (railroads were by that time firmly established as the country’s dominant form of transportation), steamboats still played important, if diminished, roles in the river packet trade, the industry for which HOMER SMITH was originally built. However, the rise of the automobile in the 1920’s signaled the final end of the river packet trade, and steamboats were largely relegated to roles as towboats and, in the case of many former packet steamers, excursion and overnight boats. As one of the boats that made this transition from trade to entertainment, HOMER SMITH helped begin a period of river history that would be continued throughout the 20th Century and into the present day by boats like the DELTA QUEEN, JULIA BELLE SWAIN, NATCHEZ, and BELLE OF LOUISVILLE.
Fishbaugh, Charles Preston. From Paddlewheels to Propellers. Indiana Historical Society: Indianapolis. 1970.
Way Jr., Frederick. Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1983. Ohio University: Athens. 1983.