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Eel River Valley

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Source: North Manchester News-Journal, May 13, 2009


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 history.
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 lumber company). 
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 June, 1891.
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 project.
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 Main.
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?