Poster & Festival Link River History and Art

Dolph Smith's poster links our early river history to two days of street art and activities on South Main - River Arts Fest 2011, Oct. 21 & 22.

The 1st river steamboat headed from Pittsburgh down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to Memphis and New Orleans in 1811, but most early river traffic floated downstream by canoe, keelboat, and flatboat.

Keelboats were usually long, canoe-shaped, and had a mast for sailing. Flatboats on the other hand were raft-like, rectangular, and built of oak planks with sides 2-3 feet high. Many had a shed in the rear for horses and cattle and a forward cabin for the owner and his family. To go upstream the boats had to be poled or dragged. Instead most flatboats, called "the boat that never came back," were broken up at the end of their journey and the lumber used to build houses and furniture.

Wolf River flowed into the Mississippi just north of today's Pyramid and provided safe harbor for the boats and their cargo, including whiskey from Middle and East Tennessee. The whiskey was shipped on flatboats to Natchez where it brought $2 a gallon, twice the going price in Nashville.

A famous flatboat visit: In 1828, then 19 year-old Abraham Lincoln, passed through Memphis on his journey down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans.

The Mississippi River Museum at Mud Island River Park has a life-size replica of a flatboat and the museum is open Tues. - Sun. from 10 am - 5 pm. Tickets: adults/$10; seniors (60+)/$9; youth 5-11/ $7; children 4 and under/free.