Rescued History: Saving the Stories of the Inland Rivers

Written by Joe Armstrong, Content Specialist, Marketing, Downtown Main Library

A familiar sight along the banks of the Ohio, Mississippi, and other rivers during the 19th and 20th centuries were steamboats ferrying all manner of cargo, passengers, and information to and from bustling cities and towns. Using powerful coal-fired steam engines, pilots kept meticulous logs and receipts from their travels. However, after many decades in use and limited space onboard to safely keep such documents, many of these books were destroyed by fire while others managed to survive the perils of life on the rivers.

Rescued from Ashes

The Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library received a handful of logs that barely escaped the dangers of those powerful engines and swift currents. Showing charring and burn marks from decades of proximity to the engines, these 10 early 20th-century logs are remarkably still intact. While they may not look like it on the outside, every page of these books is legible and helps to tell the story of an active commercial boat and the various ports it visited along its way.

A Collection Spanning the Country

As part of the Inland Rivers Library Special Collection at the Library, these books are housed alongside thousands of records including pamphlets, passenger logs, photos, directories, buttons, music, and more. Starting from a generous donation by the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Riverman in 1956, and in partnership with the Ohio River Museum in Marietta, Ohio, CHPL now houses one of the major collections regarding the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and their tributaries. 

Knowledge for Future Generations

These logs are scheduled to be digitized and added to the Inland Rivers Library Special Collection Digital Library for the public to enjoy soon. Visit the Inland Rivers Special Collection on our Digital Library, opens a new window or visit the Cincinnati Room at the Downtown Main Library to browse through other treasures in person.

Explore the Inland Rivers Library through the Digital Library, opens a new window. View everything from navigational charts, diaries, passenger lists, and more. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve discovered in the collection? Let us know in the comments below.