Looking back: Recreating the days of leisurely river travel | Hartsville

As our county grows and businesses move here, and more people move here, interest in the recreational uses of the Cumberland River increases. There’s talk of doing a canoe trail from the Trey Park area to the river, and we know people in kayaks are already paddling along Big Goose Creek.

There are other ways to enjoy the river. One that was popular just a few years ago was going up the river on a steamer!

We already know that the first steamer to come up the river from Nashville and cross Trousdale County was between 1819, when the first steamer arrived in Nashville, and 1833, when a steamer made all the way to Burnside, Ky.

We have no contemporary record of how people here reacted to seeing the first large steamer arrive at Hartsville Landing, but in our records we have this account of the first steamer to visit a small town on the Roanoke River in Virginia:

“The news had circulated widely that a steamer would arrive…it was the occasion for a general celebration among all classes. Horses and mules were pulled from the plow and hitched to all kinds of conveyances, and men, women and children came from all parts of the country and gathered on either side of the river…many of men and boys climbed the trees to be the first to see.

When the big boat arrived and parked on the bank, the event was not without problems!

“…Just then the whistle began to sound, and the crowd on the shore created a scene such as I have never seen before or since…the women shouted and stood fainted, and the children were terrified…”

But that was nothing compared to when the boat released an explosion of accumulated steam!

“Most of the crowd thought the thing had exploded…the little and weaklings of the crowd along the bank were crushed, knocked down…the horses got tense…and broke away without a driver…toppling wagons and buggies, tearing down posts and fences and chased by barking dogs, left the scene.

A similar scene may have happened here!

However, people got used to the sound of the whistle and the steam, and traveling on the big ships became a fun activity.

A Nashville newspaper ran an ad in 1916 that advertised a “4th of July excursion to West Point” on the Steamer Jo Horton Fall. The announcement included: “Leaves Nashville Wharf Mondays 5 p.m., returns Wednesdays 7 a.m. Round trip $3.50 including meals and berth. Hartsville band to provide music. Dancing.”

Memories of such trips inspired our former Hartsville Chamber of Commerce Director, Eleanor Ford, to contact the owners of the “Music City Queen” to recreate a trip to Cumberland.

It was the late 1990’s and the boat only offered short day trips, and certainly no overnight accommodations and no “Hartsville band music”.

The “Music City Queen” was a modern steamboat and it took people on day trips on the Cumberland River near Nashville. It was quite an event to bring the boat up here and make it financially profitable. Ms. Ford arranged for several other cities to participate.

Many readers will remember the big boat that used to come here and load people up for a short trip up the river and back. The boat picked up passengers at Hunter’s Point, Carthage and Granville, as well as Hartsville.

In one year, more than 3,500 people took part in one of the excursions, which lasted two to four hours and could include meals, depending on the time of day. The sunset dinner cruise was particularly popular.

The boat made the trip upriver for several years, but when the company owning the steamer increased their prices dramatically, it was no longer feasible and they did not return. Although there are many people today who would jump at the chance to travel on a large steamer and experience river travel.

By the way, Hartsville has a resident who regularly travels on a steamer. Former elementary school teacher, trainer and principal Ronald Moreland enjoyed a second career as captain of the steamship “General Jackson”. The boat is moored at the old Opryland wharf and cruises the river regularly with meals and entertainment.

My wife and I had the pleasure of cruising on the boat, and Captain Moreland was at the helm!

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