Steamboats! A new exhibit


A new exhibit about steamboats on the rivers leading into Georgetown opened at the South Carolina Maritime Museum on March 21, 2015.

The exhibit includes a model of the famous PLANTER steamboat and forty photographs of the steamboats that were the lifeline of towns along the rivers, bringing supplies from Georgetown’s stores to landings far upriver and ferrying cargo and passengers to Georgetown and onto oceangoing steamships, headed for the Northeast. The steamboats pictured in this exhibit are among the ones that made Georgetown one of the most important ports in the Age of Steam.

Almost all transportation of cargo and passengers during the 1800’s occurred on the waterways of the Pee Dee, Waccamaw, Black, Sampit and Santee Rivers leading to and from Georgetown.

Many people don’t realize that South Carolina’s rivers were among the earliest ones in the United States to have a commercial steamboat line, which started carrying cargo and passengers along the Pee Dee River from Cheraw to Georgetown in 1820.

The Civil War brought an end to prosperity. The rivers became silted in and clogged with debris until efforts were made to renew steamboat transportation just before the turn of the century.

Soon, steamboats loaded with cotton bales, barrels of naval stores, lumber and lumber products, tobacco, general goods for plantation landings along the rivers, and passengers were traveling on the rivers to and from Georgetown from as far away as Cheraw, Camden, Columbia, Charleston, Conway and other towns along the rivers.

Many interesting photographs of these steamers were taken and are included in the exhibit. Photographs of the F.G. BURROUGHS, MERCHANT MITCHELLE C, EUTAW, FRANK SESSOMS, PLANTER, LOUISA, GHIO, MAGGIE, RUTH, COMANCHE and others are shown as they plow up and down the rivers or load at landings. The photographs are accompanied by recordings of engine room noises and steam whistles.

A special feature of the exhibit is a model of the steamboat PLANTER as it was used for commercial service after the Civil War, hauling cotton and other cargo between Charleston and Georgetown. The model was built by Dennis Cannady, who is well known for his models of historic vessels.

The PLANTER played an important role in Civil War and Reconstruction history. It was a sidewheel steamer built at Charleston, SC in 1860, used by the Confederacy as an armed dispatch and transport. The steamer was taken over by Robert Smalls, a Southern slave and the ship’s pilot, who steered the PLANTER past Confederate defenses and surrendered it to Union Navy forces securing his own freedom as well as the freedom of fifteen other slaves. Robert Smalls later became a distinguished U.S. Congressman.

The exhibit will be in place until the end of summer. Don’t miss it!

Model boat builder Dennis Cannady. Photo courtesy of the South Strand News.