The Steamships of Jacksonville

July 3, 2012 6 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a look at an industry that once gave downtown Jacksonville's waterfront an international and cosmopolitan flair: The Steamships of Jacksonville.

What is a Steamship?

A steamboat or steamship, sometimes called a steamer, is a ship in which the primary method of propulsion is steam power, typically driving propellers or paddlewheels.

The term steamboat is usually used to refer to smaller steam-powered boats working on lakes and rivers, particularly riverboats; steamship generally refers to larger steam-powered ships which are usually ocean-going. The term steamwheeler is archaic and rarely used.

Steamships gradually replaced sailing ships for commercial shipping through the 19th century and in turn were overtaken by diesel-driven ships in the second half of the twentieth century. Most warships used steam propulsion until the advent of the gas turbine. Today, nuclear-powered warships and submarines use steam to drive turbines, but are not referred to as steamships or steamboats.

Screw-driven steamships generally carry the ship prefix "SS" before their names, meaning 'Steam Ship' (or Screw Steamer, or 'screw-driven steamship'), paddle steamers usually carry the prefix "PS" and steamships powered by steam turbine may be prefixed "TS" (turbine ship). The term steamer is occasionally used, out of nostalgia, for diesel motor-driven vessels, prefixed "MV".

The St. Johns River Steamboats

From Savannah, the George Washington became the first steamboat to visit Jacksonville in 1827. Over the next seventy years, steamboats would transform the St. Johns River and Jacksonville into an epicenter for the distribution of goods, people and supplies throughout the east coast. At the height of the steamboat era, there were 38 stops along the St. Johns between Jacksonville and Enterprise, FL.

The steamship Fred & Debary on the St. Johns River.  This steamer was operated by the DeBary-Baya Merchants' Line in the late 19th century.

1829 - 1835 Early beginnings - sporadic communication
1835 - 1842 Second Indian War lasted seven years
1842 - 1850 Regular service - Savannah - boat building
1860 - 1865 Civil War - invasion from the north - cessation of travel
1865 - 1875 Reconstruction - re-establish old travel patterns
1875 - 1887 Golden age - river steamboat service
1884 - 1885 The first railroad connecting Florida from the northeast is completed and extended to Titusville.
1887 - 1920 Gradual decline of steamboats because of railroads and freezes

The Steamer "Magnolia" on the St. Johns River by the Acosta Bridge in 1917.

The "City of Jacksonville" moored at a Northbank dock in 1912.

160 feet in length, the City of Jacksonville steamboat was built in 1882 in Wilmington, DE.

Workers unload a shipment of bananas in Jacksonville at the Caribbean Fruit and Steamship Company's terminal.

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