Size: 82 Feet Long by 24 Feet High
— Painting completed January 2000 Artist Wes Hardin —
There were few roads in the Wiregrass in 1800s - and the roads that were here were little more than twin rutted paths. The main transportation in the region was the steamboats on the Chattahoochee River on the east, and, to a lesser degree, the boats on the smaller Choctawhatchee, which flows through the center of the Wiregrass region.
On their journey upriver, the steamboats would carry supplies for the towns and plantations, and on their downstream journey they would carry produce, mainly bales of cotton, bales of cattle hides, and navel store (barrels of turpentine and pitch), heading for the factories in the East and Europe. The steamboats would tie up at small makeshift wharves along the river banks to load freight, and would even accept passengers and freight in midstream brought to them by small boats from one of the plantations along the river.
Some of the boats did booming vacation business. Many people would save their money and take a vacation by making a round trip excursion down the river to Apalachicola and return - usually a four-day trip from Dothan. The vacationers and regular passengers would have very nice cabins on the middle decks, while the lower deck would be loaded with freight. Many boats, such as the John W. Callahan, had an excellent dining room and an orchestra that would be on the top deck playing music for the vacationers who would dance under the stars to the tunes and enjoy themselves. It was a romantic time.
The end of the steamboat era began with the coming of the railroads to the Wiregrass in 1889. Boats still ply the river today carrying gasoline, chemicals, and other produce upstream, and return loaded with pulp from the paper mills, and telephone poles destined for the eastern markets and Europe.
The John W. Callahan was 153 ft. long by 35 ft. wide, and measured only 31 inched from the bottom deck of the keel. It was really a huge barge with a paddle wheel.
It was necessary to build the boats in this manner because of the shallow water and sand bars in many places in the river.