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Capt. Jesse P. Hughes


From The Marietta Times, Date not shown

Retired Riverman’s Pencil Faithfully Depicts Old Days

By Augusta K. Bedillion

            Capt. Jesse P. Hughes, a native of Washington Co. and who spent more than a half century on the rivers as a master, pilot, steamboat architect, artist and all round riverman, is the author of “Cap’n Hughes Steamboat Sketchbook.”  It is an original art picture book of river craft and scenery.  It is published by The Picture Marine Publishing Company, Cincinnati. 

            Capt. Hughes, who spent his early life in Newport, worked with the famous Greene family of two generations as captain and pilot on many of the steamboats operated by the Greenes.

            The pictures in the book are lithographed pencil sketches of a half century of steamboating that Mark Twain missed.  The sketches were done in pencil from memory and some on the spot. 

            The Steamer Gordon C. Greene, on which he was navigator and the Steamer Indiana, last of the Whit Collar line of steamboats on the rivers, are on the cover page, done in color.  The Gordon C. Greene still plies out of St. Louis on the Mississippi; and the Indiana was destroyed by fire in 1916, ending the long reign of the Commodore Laidley steamboat history on the rivers. 

Began Career as Boy

            Capt. Hughes began is career on the rivers 60 years ago while in short breeches as a cabin boy on the Steamer T. N. Barnsdall, in the Marietta-Matamoras-Sistersville trade.  The boat was owned and operated by the late Capt. William E. Roe.  He is now in Honolulu, Hawaiian Islands, spending a long-earned vacation visiting with his son-in-law, B. E. Prater, an instructor in the University of Hawaii, and his daughter, Mrs. Helen Prater. 

            Jesse went from the Barnsdall to boats operated by Capt. Gordon C. Greene and began his piloting career on the Steamer H. K. Bedford, on which Capt. Greene took his bride, Mary Becker Greene; and on the Steamer Argand, which Capt. Mary Becker Greene commanded in the late 1890s.  When Capt. Greene took his steamboats from the “Port of Newport” to the “Port of Cincinnati” Jesse went with him.

Tribute to Author

            In a forward his close friend, Capt. Frederick Way, Jr., of Sewickley, Pa., noted author of river books and head of the organization which sponsors the River Museum in Campus Martius states: “Capt. Jesse P. Hughes went to an art school.  He told me he did.  He told me, too, that his art career was nipped in the bud.  ‘Old Man Greene’ needed him back on the river.  And what Capt. Gordon C. Greene wanted, that was what Jesse usually did.  His yearning for art, and his natural talent for drawing, played him good stead. 

            “This might-have-been pencil and brush man who turned pilot and captain has one guiding principle.  He is accurate in everything he undertakes as is humanly possible.  He now gives us a series of sketches, and they are more than that.  They are photographic; they are historic glimpses of what interested this man most in his river travels over the past half century.  If Jesse’s pencil catches a guy-line somewhat crooked, you may depend upon it that that guy-line was crooked.  He is also accurate in the thrill of a gracefully crated ‘sheer line.’

            “There have been other steamboatmen with the artist’s skill, but none of them have had their work published.  Of all the candidates, Capt. Jesse’s book was chosen.  He was known as a steamboater and not as an artist.”

            The steamer Delta Queen, finest on the rivers, done in color, is the first picture in the book.

            Then, there’s the sketch of the T. N. Barnsdall, named for T. N. Barnsdall, early oil operator here, who gave the whistle on the boat—his namesake.  The boat was later sold and renamed “Royal,” and later named “Liberty.” Her whistle showed up on the Reuben Dunbar, one of the boats brought from the South during the exigencies of World War I.

Navigation Problems

            There was a time before canalization of the Ohio River was completed that the Ohio River was “figuratively speaking,” frozen over half of the year and dried up the other half.  The Steamer Cricket especially designed for low water operations was designed by Capt. Gordon C. Greene and Capt. Hughes.  She only drew 15 inches of water and could run when all other boats had to suspend operations because of low water. 

            In a story in the book with a sketch of the Cricket, Capt. Hughes tells of seeing a farmer drive his team and wagon across the Ohio River directly across the course of the Cricket.  (It might be remembered when folks in this area drove across the Ohio River on low water stage at what was Carpenter’s bar, near the site of the present Lock and Dam 17.)

            The U. S. snagboat, E. A. Woodruff, is pictured in the book.  The boat ran from 1874 to 1921 in the days when there were snags which spelled disaster all too frequently to the barges of towboats on what were “coal waves” after rains enough to make a navigable  stage; when there was smoke 100 miles long in the air from stacks of the towboats following close one after another. 

                                                            Other Sketches

            Then there is the sketch of the light house tender “Goldenrod,” only light house tender on the rivers since 1889 until the Steamer Greebrier [Perhaps he meant Greenbrier as that is the word used later in this paragraph. Typed as shown in article.] took over.  The Greebrier retired from service when the Coast Guard took over, now operating five modern diesel vessels.  It might be interesting to note that these light house tenders were named according to a system for wild flora—Goldenrod, Greenbrier, Anemone, Wakerobin, Fern and Willow.

            A sketch of the Courier, owned and operated by Capt. J. Mack Gamble, and later owned by Capt. Gordon Greene; the Steamer Tacoma, owned by Capt. Greene and which burned in the big river craft fire at Cincinnati in 1922 when the old steamer Island Queen and the Morning Star of the Coney Island Company and Tacoma were destroyed with the steamer Chris Greene burning; a wood named for Mrs. Junius Greenwood of Newport, sister of Capt. Greene; a sketch of the H. K. Bedford which sank and was destroyed in the ice at Ralph Bean’s Landing above Reno are pictured.

            Capt. Hughes selected a miscellaneous collection of his drawings for his book.  There is one of the Peter Sprague, largest towboat ever on the rivers; a showboat in tow; the race of the Steamer Betsy Ann and the Chris Greene in the famous sprint of the packets in July of 1928 when the Chris Green won the antlers.

            A sketch of the side-wheeler St. Lawrence which had the most famous musical steamboat [copy of article ends here].