Inland Rivers Library

In 1941, the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen established a museum in Marietta, Ohio, for their boat models, paintings, photographs, and steamboat relics, but found they didn’t have adequate storage facilities for all the associated books, pamphlets, ledgers, etc. In 1956, the Sons and Daughters decided to deposit this documentary material with the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. In addition, Captain Frederick Way, Jr., a noted steamboat pilot and river historian, donated his personal collection of river materials to the Library. These gifts—combined with river holdings already in our collection—became the foundation for what has since become one of the major resources for information dealing with the commercial and navigational use of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and their tributaries.

About the Collection

The Inland Rivers Library offers a wealth of material documenting more than two hundred years of river history—from flatboats and keelboats, to the grand era of steamboats, to today’s diesel-powered vessels. In the collection, you’ll find books and pamphlets about specific rivers, histories of river transportation, souvenir booklets on floods, directories of packets and steamboats, riverboat travel brochures, river guides, naviagation charts, freight books, diaries, logbooks, scrapbooks, crew registers, passenger lists, and maps. The collection also includes a small number of phonograph records, 16mm films, audiotapes, videotapes, and steamboat models. Captain Way’s contributions to the Inland Rivers Library include over 8,000 photographs of scenes along the Ohio and Mississippi. Many of those photographs have been digitized and added to our Digital Library.

One of the crown jewels in the Inland Rivers Library is the “Cincinnati Panorama of 1848,” an eight-plate panorama taken by photographers Charles Fontayne and William S. Porter, now considered one of the finest daguerreotypes of its kind. The dramatic view of Cincinnati is the earliest known photograph of the waterfront and the earliest photographic record of Western rivers steamboats.

If you’d like to browse through some of the treasures in the Inland Rivers collection, just stop by the Cincinnati Room service desk (3rd floor, North Building)—our staff will be happy to assist you! A print catalog of the collection is available in the Cincinnati Room.

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