When Steamboats Reigned in Florida

Bob Bass

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Take a ride along Florida’s earliest mass transportation system

"Bass takes the reader on the paddle steamer's journey through Florida's waterways and history. When Steamboats Reigned in Florida is a welcome addition to Florida's chronicle of a once flourishing industry when steamboats were king."--William Lloyd Harris, Polk County Historical Commission

In the popular imagination, steamboats trigger romanticized images of the Mississippi River as portrayed in Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, or the musical Show Boat. But in fact they played a key role in settling many parts of the country, including the South.

Long before the arrival of railroads, steamboats opened up the interior of Florida to tourists and to trade. As early as 1829, steamboats began to ply Florida’s rivers and lakes, traveling upstream with relative ease. These were colorful, raucous, outrageous, sometimes dangerous vehicles that brought a steady stream of goods and supplies as well as people.

In 1870, Robert E. Lee, perhaps the most famous southerner at the time, toured Florida by steamboat. Ten years later his erstwhile enemy, Ulysses S. Grant, followed his footsteps. As more and more visitors flowed into Florida’s interior from bustling port cities such as Jacksonville, agricultural towns such as Palatka became tourist destinations. Harriet Beecher Stowe was known to wave to passing boats from the front porch of her winter home along the St. Johns River.

In When Steamboats Reigned in Florida, Bob Bass explores the impact of these vessels along with the stories of those who ran or established the steamboat routes along most of the major rivers in Florida--the Kissimmee, St. Johns, Ocklawaha, Suwannee, Apalachicola, and Caloosahatchee--as well as Lake Okeechobee and Ft. Myers. Through past historical accounts and his own family’s personal experiences, Bass sheds new light on Florida's steamboat saga.

Publication of this volume is made possible through the generous support of The Steamship Historical Society of America

Bob Bass is a freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in a variety of national magazines including Lost Treasure, Boys’ Life, Florida Living, Florida Wildlife, and many others.

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"An excellent local history."
--Steamboat Bill

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