"Down from the valley came the produce of half a nation, to flow outward to that part of the country which lay beyond the Alleghenies, to Europe, and to the other Americas--stone and coal, flour, corn, wheat, oats, hay, lard, hams and bacon, barreled pork, lumber, hides, beef, stoneware, lead, potatoes, cider, cheese, sugar, rum, molasses, whiskey, tallow, salt, and rice."
Steamboats tied up at the levee, ca. 1880s. These were heady days in the Crescent City. The decline of steamboating was already well advanced in the north, but in New Orleans, boats were still lining up two and three across at the docks.In the pre-Civil War, pre-railroad days, the river was the cheapest method for farmers to get their goods to foreign markets. It was far more cost effective to ship produce down the river to New Orleans--originally by flatboat or keelboat and later by steamboat--than it was to send it overland by wagon or cart to the ports of the eastern seaboard. Thus, New Orleans became the funnel through which the products of the nation flowed into the international marketplace. "There was nothing humanly useful that could not be sold in New Orleans," wrote Harold Sinclair, and Mark Twain refers to the"deafening whiz and whir" of the steamboat landing. Business at the Crescent City's levee burgeoned in the thirty years before the war, and as the city grew, so did the Mississippi Valley. The river and New Orleans played key roles in the building of a nation.[David Barrow Fischer Steamboat Collection]
While steamboat trade died out long ago, steamboats (modern replicas of the "real thing") continue to exercise a healthy influence on the important tourism market in New Orleans. Several excursion boats--the Natchez, the Creole Queen, and the Cajun Queen--offer daytime and evening river cruises to visitors to the Crescent City. The Delta Queen Steamboat Co. operates three steamers--the Delta Queen, the Mississippi Queen, and the American Queen--which attempt to recreate the 19th-century experience of a river trip. Vacationers can spend from 3 to 12 nights cruising up the river, stopping along the way at antebellum plantations and old river towns like Natchez and Vicksburg. Of these boats, the Delta Queen, built in 1926, is the oldest and can be said to be the last of the authentic steamboats on the Mississippi. Only recently, Delta Queen's parent company announced plans to build five new steamboats at a total cost of some $125 million. According to the Times-Picayune, this project will "keep over 1200 workers employed" during the construction phase, and each of the boats will carry a crew of 60 to 70 officers and personnel. Clearly, steamboats are continuing to impact the economy of the Crescent City!
Back to River Exhibit Main Page