In 1941, the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen established a museum in Marietta, Ohio, for their boat models, paintings, photographs, and steamboat relics, but found they didn’t have adequate storage facilities for all the associated books, pamphlets, ledgers, etc. In 1956, the Sons and Daughters decided to deposit this documentary material with the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. In addition, Captain Frederick Way, Jr., a noted steamboat pilot and river historian, donated his personal collection of river materials to the Library. These gifts—combined with river holdings already in our collection—became the foundation for what has since become one of the major resources for information dealing with the commercial and navigational use of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and their tributaries.
About the Collection
The Inland Rivers Library offers a wealth of material documenting more than two hundred years of river history—from flatboats and keelboats, to the grand era of steamboats, to today’s diesel-powered vessels. In the collection, you’ll find books and pamphlets about specific rivers, histories of river transportation, souvenir booklets on floods, directories of packets and steamboats, riverboat travel brochures, river guides, naviagation charts, freight books, diaries, logbooks, scrapbooks, crew registers, passenger lists, and maps. The collection also includes a small number of phonograph records, 16mm films, audiotapes, videotapes, and steamboat models. Captain Way’s contributions to the Inland Rivers Library include over 8,000 photographs of scenes along the Ohio and Mississippi. Many of those photographs have been digitized and added to our Digital Library.
One of the crown jewels in the Inland Rivers Library is the “Cincinnati Panorama of 1848,” an eight-plate panorama taken by photographers Charles Fontayne and William S. Porter, now considered one of the finest daguerreotypes of its kind. The dramatic view of Cincinnati is the earliest known photograph of the waterfront and the earliest photographic record of Western rivers steamboats.
If you’d like to browse through some of the treasures in the Inland Rivers collection, just stop by the Cincinnati Room service desk (3rd floor, North Building)—our staff will be happy to assist you! A print catalog of the collection is available in the Cincinnati Room.
- The Keelboat Age on Western Waters by Leland Dewitt Baldwin
- Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994: Passenger Steamboats of the Mississippi River System Since the Advent of Photography in Mid-continent America by Frederick Way
- The Ohio River: In American History and Voyaging on Today’s River: Along with the Allegheny, Monongahela, Kanawha, Muskingum, Kentucky, Green and Wabash Rivers by Rick Rhodes
- Afloat on the Ohio: An Historical Pilgrimage of a Thousand Miles in a Skiff, from Redstone to Cairo by Reuben Gold Thwaites
- Packets and Pitmans: An Informal Account of Steamboating On the “Western Rivers” in the 19th Century by Ashley L. Ford
- Waterways of Westward Expansion: The Ohio River and Its Tributaries by Archer Butler Hulbert
- Led by the River: The Story of My Father’s Towboating Days by Marjorie Byrnside Burress
- Steamboats on the Western Rivers by Louis C. Hunter
- The Ohio River Handbook and Picture Album
- The Ohio River by John Pearce
- Always a River: The Ohio River and the American Experience
- Down the River: A Collection of Ohio Valley Fiction and Poetry
- Ohio River Resources: A GCLC Collection Guide
On the Web
- Three Voices from Cincinnati’s Past. The Library’s digital exhibit about life in 19th century Cincinnati features James S. Wise, a riverboat captain.
- Newsdex. Our index to local newspaper articles is a great resource for information about the Ohio River.
- Sons and Daughters of Pioneeer Rivermen. An organization dedicated to the preservation of river history.
- Cincinnati History Museum. Stop by the Museum to see a re-creation of the Public Landing of the late 1850s and other exhibits related to the history of Cincinnati.