Source: North Manchester
May 13, 2009
STEAMBOAT ON THE EEL
Bill Eberly, NM Historical Society
An excursion steamboat on the Eel River? At North
Manchester? You gotta be kidding!
No, there was really a steamboat that carried passengers on
pleasure voyages on the Eel River around North Manchester.
Granted, the steamboat was sort of small, and the Eel River
then was much larger and deeper than now. But this is
still a very interesting (but short) chapter from our
First, the condition of the river. When the dam
southwest of North Manchester was built about 1839, the
river above the dam was backed up often far beyond the
covered bridge. At times it was as much as 130 feet
wide and ten to fifteen feet deep. The
photograph shows an early view of the dam. Notice, at
the left are some men and horses standing below the dam.
They so not reach half way to the top of the dam. So
it is not hard to imagine a stretch of the river around
North Manchester quite suitable for steamboat travel.
Now, the boat. In June of 1891, David Hamilton
and his son, Schuyler C. Hamilton, bought a steam launch at
Marion and had it shipped to North Manchester. It was,
as the paper said then, a “good sized boat, being about
forty feet long and ten feet wide at the center”. It
could carry about twenty or more passengers. The home
base for the boat was at Ulrey’s mill, on South Mill Street,
near what is now the Thrift Shop (earlier the Farm Bureau
The younger Hamilton (then 27 years old) was the pilot and
captain of the boat operation. We need to remember
that the country was entering a great recession (the Panic
of 1893) and people were trying all sorts of things to pick
up a little money. Captain Hamilton had tried a
variety of jobs, helping his father in the family owned
saloon, doing some construction work, even some effort at
acting in a vaudeville team. Most recently, he had
enrolled in medical school at Indianapolis.
Besides that, he was married and expecting his second child.
He had married Miss Izona Arthur, daughter of James W.
Arthur, a prominent attorney at North Manchester.
Their first child, a son named Cyril Dean, was born April 6,
1889, but died just a few months later. The second
child, a son named Arthur V. Hamilton, was born in late
The steamboat made its first scheduled trip on Sunday, June
14, 1891. The west terminal of the route was at
“Eagles Heights”, a newly developed picnic ground just east
of the dam and the Big Four RR Bridge. This beautiful
wooded area belonged to Francis M. Eagle, son-in-law of
Joseph Harter. As a matter of fact, the steamboat
carried the name, “May Eagle”, on its bow. May was the
daughter of Francis Eagle. I suspect that Mr. Eagle, a
prominent lawyer at Wabash, might have underwritten the
That first day, the May Eagle carried about 300 passengers.
The newspaper remarked that “this venture will prove not
only popular but profitable and the steamer will run every
Sunday and in the evenings when business demands it.”
Many people, said the Journal, “took their dinners and spent
the afternoon at Eagle Heights on the Fourth [of July].”
Once a young people’s club, entertained at the home of their
leader, “indulged in a boat ride by moonlight afterward.”
Hamilton once tried to go north and see if he could reach
Liberty Mills. Only part way up stream, he decided not
to continue and returned to his dock. In September,
Hamilton found his steamboat sunk in the bottom of the river
at the dock near Ulrey’s mill. After several days of
hard work, the boat was raised and soon put back into
service. There was no good explanation of the
accident. Perhaps it was not an accident.
On October 12, Schuyler Hamilton left for Indianapolis to
resume his studies at the medical school. He did
complete his studies, and in April of 1892 he returned to
his home in North Manchester with his diploma and set up his
medical office in his home on Sycamore Street just north of
But back to the steamboat. In March of 1892, David
Hamilton took his steamboat to Logansport with plans to
launch it there. The story is not clear about whether
the boat would travel in the Eel River, or the Wabash, or
both, since the mouth of the Eel is at Logansport.
David took up residence at Logansport, intending to open a
recreation park of some sort. He bought a
merry-go-round which somebody had installed at North
Manchester and moved that to Logansport. By the middle
of July, David had given up the whole idea, sold his boat,
moved back to North Manchester to stay, but brought his
“swing” (marry-go-round?) back with him intending to sell it
here at a park development at Riverside.
Dr. S. C. Hamilton (Schuyler) had a good practice in North
Manchester. He received the distribution rights of the
Thatcher Gold Cure, a revolutionary new treatment for
alcohol, opium, and tobacco addiction. In 1894 he
moved with his family to Lyons, Iowa, where he bought a
large brick building and established the Lyons Gold Cure
Sanitarium. A book of biographies of Clinton County,
Iowa, said this:
“Dr. Hamilton has met with wonderful success from the start,
having as high as one hundred and fifty patients at one time
the first year, and he has cured more relapses from other
cures than any other physician in the west. Patients
have come to him from all over the country, as far east as
Syracuse, New York, and as far west as Seattle, Washington.
He not only cures the liquor habit but also the opium and
morphine habits, which are generally far worse and cause the
victim more torture. He is numbered among the leading
physicians of his adopted county”.
By the way, does anybody have a photograph of the May Eagle,
that Steamboat on the Eel?