A Way of life...never to be seen again.
David C. Holly, Tidewater by Steamboat
In the midst of the War of 1812, The Chesapeake
, first steamboat built to ply the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, safely made its maiden voyage from Baltimore to Annapolis despite threats from the British fleet spoiling for battle in the open waters. A unique era had begun, one in which fortunes were made and lost, and huge catastrophes — explosions, collisions and sinkings — ensued, as the economy of the region came to depend upon steamboats for trade and travel. At their peak, steamers served more than 300 landings along the1,000 miles of rivers and creeks of the tidewater region.
Then, from about 1905 to the end of the 1920s, only briefly interrupted during World War I, an even grander Golden Age of steamboating blossomed, featuring floating palaces of breath-taking beauty and grandeur. Three-decker ships like the Old Bay Line's State of Maryland
(1922), State of Virginia
(1923) and President Warfield,
(1928) flaunted ivory paneled saloons, mahogany pilastered smoking rooms, glass-enclosed palm rooms on the galley deck, and grand stairways overlooking chandeliers,gold trimmings and oil paintings. Costing from $716,000 to $960,000 (in those days!), each had 170 first class staterooms, 38 with private baths.
At the peak of this glory, the Great Depression arrived, propelling the industry toward a sad decline, and hastened by the devastating hurricane of 1933, that destroyed much of the shipping infrastructure on the Bay and its rivers. One by one, the lines and their steamships slipped away to other ports and destinies, such as that of the President Warfield,
After a stint as a troop carrier before the United States entered World War II, the President Warfield
returned briefly to service with The Old Bay Line of the Baltimore Steam Packet Company. Then in 1947, the ship turned up at Marseilles under the name Exodus 1947
, being readied to carry 4,500 Jewish refugees bound for Palestine. When British Sailors rammed and boarded her at Haifa, to force the return of refugees to camps in Europe, the incident sparked an outcry that led to the emergence of the state of Israel.
Holly, David C.; Tidewater by Steamboat, A Saga of the Chesapeake
; Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London in association with the Calvert Marine Museum, 1991.
Loker, Aleck; A Most Convenient Place, Leonardtown Maryland, 1650-1950
; Commissioners of Leonardtown and Solitude Press, 2001.