Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties|
Including Personal Reminiscens of
Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902
Navigation on the Sangamon
In early days before railroads were invented or dreamed of, the people of Springfield and Menard county looked forward to the time when steamboats would be the means of sending their surplus products, and bringing back goods and merchandise. In fact the navigation of the river was more feasible then than now. The great bodies of timber along the stream had never been acquainted with the woodman's axe, and the stream, with the exceptions of a few overhanging trees and a few unimportant drifts, was a stream that offered but few impediments to navigation. The river furnished a more steady supply of water then than now. The winter snow and the summer rains supplied the water, and the earth, not being trampled by stock as at present, the Sangamon was evenly fed the whole year. As far back as 1831 the experiment was tried of loading a steamer at Alton with merchandise. There were no bridges across the stream, and the steamer had no difficulty in making the trip till it arrived at the Salem dam, where it stuck. By unloading a part of the cargo and using a capstand, it was pulled over the dam and went on its way rejoicing. In a few years, the Utility, a stern wheeler, came up and laid at the Salem mill for a week or ten days. I was old enough to remember the Utility. It attracted great attention. Farmers came for miles around to see it. The river began to fall and it was dismantled at Petersburg, and its machinery was put in the first mill, while the pine lumber used in its construction was used in building houses in Petersburg. The engine was a large single engine, and it did good service for many years. It stood in the mill as late as 1841, though the mill had gone down. This ended the navigation of the Sangamon, as railroads had begun to come in use. A horse boat was built in 1845. The Gamels came from Sugar Grove. Major Hill, with a few others, cut a big black walnut tree in the grove. The tree was 80 feet long, it was split straight and hauled to Petersburg, and the boat was built, but a sufficient amount of power was not obtained to propel the boat up stream even when empty.
Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson