An interesting description of life on a lake passenger steamer a half century ago was written by Thurlow Weed in a series of letters to the Albany Evening Journal, of which he was editor. He took passage at Buffalo for Chicago on the steamer Empire to attend the River and Harbor Convention, and with many others made a more leisurely return trip, visiting a number of points en route. His prediction that in half a century, which would bring the time to the year 1897, a quarter of a million people would be supported on the shores of the Great Lakes, shows that Mr. Weed's powers of description were of a much higher order than his prophetic vision. As a picture of passenger sailing back in the palmy forties these letters are very interesting. With slight abridgement they are as follows:
"Steamboat Empire, June 30, 1847. - I am afloat, for the first time, on Lake Erie, in that magnificent steamer, the Empire. Captain Randall, who had steam up and was awaiting the arrival of the cars. In ascending to her beautiful saloon we found some three hundred ladies and gentlemen grouped around upon sofas, divans, etc., as luxuriously as on board of our own splendid Isaac Newton and Hendrick Hudson. Immediately Captain Randall commenced working his way, by slow and tortuous movements, out of Buffalo Harbor, the insufficiency of which, for the vast commerce of these inland oceans, forcibly impressed us with the importance of the convention about to assemble at Chicago. That convention will, by its deliberations, it is hoped, awaken not only the whole American people, but their Government, to the magnitude of an interest that has heretofore been almost entirely neglected, saving the people from their mortification and the Government from the disgrace of again seeing the implements and the materials prepared for the construction of lake harbors, sold at 'public vendue!'
"At least two-thirds of our cabin passengers are delegates to the convention. These, however, are but the stragglers of an army of delegates that had left Buffalo earlier. The number of delegates, therefore, will be legion. Our great commercial metropolis, though deeply interested, will, I fear, be but feebly represented. The only delegates with us, from New York, are Mr. Brooks, of the Express, and Edwin Burr, Esq. a friend with whom I traveled in Europe, and with whom it is always pleasant to meet. Very few of the large number of delegates appointed have appeared. Albany has shown more spirit, though her delegation is not as large as was expected. Hon. John C. Spencer, Mr. Croswell and Thomas L. Greene are here, bringing up our rear guard. Gen. Davis is, I believe, the 'sole representative' of the city of Troy.
"July 1, -- We have a calm, delightful night, and at sunrise was a few miles above Conneaut, Ohio, gliding rapidly along some six miles from the shore. At 8 o'clock nearly three hundred passengers were seated in the Empire's spacious saloon to an ample and well-served breakfast. During the forenoon our friend, Seth C. Hawley, of Buffalo, called our attention to a circumstance which was particularly unpleasant to American eyes, and which proved, far more conclusively than argument or even figures can prove, the impolicy and wretchedness of our 'Financial System of Forty-two.' The eye, at a single glance, took in a commercial fleet, consisting of 15 sail, all from Cleveland, and the neighboring ports, and all heading directly for the Welland canal. We reached Cleveland at 1 o'clock, where we lay an hour, which hour we improved by riding, first through its busy, bustling streets, and then along one or two of its broad avenues, adorned with tasteful mansions, surrounded by a profusion of fruit trees, shrubbery and flowers. Cleveland, as the outlet of the Ohio canal, is fortunate in possessing an accessible, safe and 'snug' harbor. The fact that since the opening of navigation 1,300,000 barrels of flour and 1,200,000 bushels of wheat have been shipped at Cleveland 'speaks for itself.'
"Hon. John W. Allen, a former representative in Congress, and one of the most useful, as well as one of the most deservedly esteemed citizens of Cleveland, with several other delegates from that town, joined us. Mr. Allen, after completing his law studies at Oxford, Chenango county, came to Cleveland, in 1825, in a schooner of less burthen than an Erie canal-boat, and landed in a yawl on the beach, there being neither harbor nor dock there. In the afternoon we passed in view of the scene of Perry's sanguinary naval battle and glorious victory. It commenced only a few miles south of the mouth of the Detroit river, near a group of islands known as the Sisters, the respective fleets drifting, during the action, several miles toward Put-in-Bay. Gen. Proctor, with Tucemseh and several British officers, stood on a point at the mouth of the Detroit river, below Malden, watching the progress of the battle. We entered the river at half past 8 o'clock p.m., and at half past 10 was alongside of the wharf at Detroit, having traveled from Albany to Detroit (nearly 700 miles) in fifty-one hours! We were, they tell us, the only persons who ever performed the journey between Albany and Detroit in so short a time. We lay but an hour at Detroit. Mr. Corwin and Governor Bebb, of Ohio, left Detroit this morning for Chicago on the steamer Oregon. This evening, soon after tea the saloon was arranged for dancing, and the hours were passed very pleasantly in the mazes of the cotillion and the whirlings of the waltz.
"July 2. - The officers of the boat held a council of steam yesterday, which resulted in a determination to attempt a moonlight flitting over the 'St. Clair Flats,' a point of navigation which corresponds with our 'Overslaugh,' in its worst state, before its obstructions were partially removed. This is a feat not attempted by large vessels by night, and bets were made against its success. An experienced lake captain maintained that we should go through, saying that whatever 'Bartholomew,' our sailing-master, 'does not know of that channel is not worth learning.' The difficult passage was reached about 2 o'clock p.m. The boat felt her way carefully along the winding channel until all the worst points were passed, when, just before reaching deep water, where two stakes had disappeared, she struck, and lay 'hard aground' until 6 o'clock this morning.
"At 8:30 o'clock this morning we came alongside a dock upon the Canada shore, to wood. An hundred-and-six cords of wood (hickory, maple, beech and oak) were seized by the deck hands, steerage passengers, etc., and soon transferred from the dock to the boat, and at 12 o'clock we were under way. I learn that the Empire, in a single trip, consumes over 600 cords of wood. This requires for each trip the clearing up of over ten acres of well-wooded land. The wood which was taken on board to-day cost $1 per cord.
"The St. Clair river is the trunk through which the waters of Lake Huron discharges itself into Lake Erie. It is a broad, beautiful river, looking out on either side upon a rich, fertile soil, and most of the way, on the British side particularly, the water and the land presenting a surface so even that another puncheon of water would apparently overflow the land. There is a current of something less than four miles an hour running through this outlet for the mighty Huron. The country along the St. Clair river strikes me as a most desirable residence. To-day, at any rate, everything looks bright and smiling. St. Clair is the principal village. Here commences the pine-timber region, for the sawing of which steam-mills are numerous. Here, too, is the gigantic frame-work of a steamer, building by Captain Walker, that is to be the Leviathan of the lakes. Early this morning we passed the steamer Illinois, Commander Blake. She is owned by my old friend, Oliver Newberry, whose intelligence and enterprise is associated with all the improvements of this New World.
"Passing out of St. Clair river into the broad and deep Huron, and stretching along an arm of the State of Michigan which helps to form Saginaw Bay, you begin to comprehend something of the vastness of the West. Visions of the coming greatness and grandeur, and of the ultimate destiny of this continent, fill the mind with amazement. That America is to be the seat of empire, and that, too, at no distant day, is a fixed fact. A wisdom above that of man has prepared for the inhabitants of worn-out, impoverished and over-burthened Europe, a fresh, fertile, primeval land, whose virgin soil and graceful forests will wave over millions of people. Those who are here are but the seeds of an emigrant population which are destined to multiply indefinitely. * * *
"July 3 -- We had another calm, beautiful night, and Lake Huron, this morning, is scarcely moved by a ripple. The evening was again passed in conversation and dancing. And here, let me say a word about the mode of 'killing time'. I had heard much about gambling on the lakes. But if this habit continues, the Empire's passengers form an exception to the rule. The time, so far, has been most rationally appropriated. Many volumes of 'cheap literature' have been devoured. Lakes, harbors and river improvements have been freely discussed. But cards seem to have gone out of fashion.
"We reached Mackinaw at 12 o'clock M. Here is an old town with four or five hundred inhabitants and a well-constructed fort, from which you have a fine view of Lakes Huron and Michigan. Having added some fifty cords to our supply of wood, and replenished our larder with an abundance of salmon-trout and whitefish, we are again under way, passing from Lake Huron into Lake Michigan, whose waters present an unrippled surface. From Mackinaw our course is south, the westerly or north-westerly course leading to Lake Superior. At 7 o'clock this evening we touched at one of the Manitou islands for wood. At this point all the steamers 'wood'. This island, some three miles by ten in extent, is only inhabited by the few persons employed in cutting and hauling wood. It is not even inhabited by animals. I saw none of the feathered race. Reptiles are seldom seen. And in the absence of all these, mosquitoes, finding no one to torment, come not to the Manitou island.
"July 4 -- This is the 71st anniversary of the Declaration of American Independence. Its sun dawns upon us in the middle of Lake Michigan, 'the blue sky above and the blue waters beneath us', but no land in sight. It is a bright day. We are steaming onward rapidly, headed for Milwaukee, yet some seventy miles distant. The great and good men who, seventy years ago, carved out a republic, could have had but imperfect conceptions of its even yet unappreciated magnitude. They did not dream that in territory then unknown to them there would now be a population greater than that of the old thirteen colonies. They could not, in their wildest imaginings, have supposed that on these then unexplored lakes there would now be a commerce exceeding, in tonnage and value, that of our Atlantic States. Yet these things are more than realized. And in reference to the population and resources of the West, we have only seen 'the beginning of the end'.
"The works of nature away out here, where 'the sun sinks to rest', are indeed upon an extended scale. Here are a succession of mighty lakes, emptying themselves one into another, until, nearly three thousand miles from their head, their waters mingle with those of the Atlantic. And upon the shores of these lakes is an extent of country capable of supporting and destined to receive, in the course of half a century, at least a quarter of a million of inhabitants. At 10 o'clock today our steamer's bell was tolled for the purpose of assembling the passengers in the saloon for divine service. The Rev. Mr. Stimpson, of Greenbush, officiated. The services were impressive -- the audience large and attentive. During the services a bird 'on weary wing' flew into the saloon, hovered around among the congregation, and then passed out to find a resting place upon the shoals. We have now been nearly four days 'at sea' and everything has gone just right. The steamer is well managed. Though nearly three hundred passengers draw around the table, the fare continues as abundant and extensive as it could be if Fulton Market was at hand every morning. The Empire was built at Cleveland three years ago. She is over 1,200 tons burthen, and extremely well arranged for freight, steerage and cabin passengers. Captain Randall is himself the largest owner. He was formerly engaged upon the Hudson river, and came here twelve years ago. His enterprise, industry and energy promise him the reward which such qualities deserve. We are now, at 1 o'clock P.M., approaching Milwaukee, only seven miles off. My first view of Wisconsin is a very pleasant one. I come prepared to believe it a most desirable residence. That within a few years it will become an important member of the confederacy there is no doubt."
"Steamboat St. Louis, July 9 -- Soon after leaving Chicago, on Wednesday evening, a meeting of the passengers was called to determine our route. The chair was taken by Philip Hone, of New York. After an expression of views and wishes by the passengers, a committee, consisting of Hon. Mr. Schenck, of Ohio, Hon. William Mosley, of Buffalo, and another individual, was appointed, to obtain information from Captain Wheeler, whom we regretted to find ill in his berth. Upon learning from the Captain how much time would be consumed in the excursion, and what points were most attractive, we reported to the meeting, when it was determined that the boat should, after touching at Milwaukee and Sheboygan, proceed to Green Bay, for the purpose of cruising for a day among its picturesque islands. There is a much larger number of passengers than was expected. Several hours before leaving Chicago, the officers of the boat refused to promise staterooms or even berths. But the interest of the excursion, and the reasonableness of the fare, combined, were irresistible. The boat goes where the passengers direct, and remains as long as they choose, for $2 per day, including board. * * *
"I had not the opportunity I desired at seeing Milwaukee leisurely, as our boat remained there but two hours. Next to Chicago, it is to be the great city of the Far West. Mr. Hone, one of whose daughters accompanies him, left us at Sheboygan, where he owns property that is becoming very valuable. This place, like all that I have seen of Wisconsin, is delightful. The Sheboygan river is navigable for the largest vessels two miles, but for the want of a few thousand dollars to improve its mouth, all its usefulness is lost. But this state of things cannot last. We left Sheboygan at 7 o'clock last night and at 6 this morning were at 'Death's door', a narrow strait, with several reefs (where it is said a large tribe of Indians, endeavoring to escape from a hostile tribe in canoes, were all drowned), which forms the entrance to a group of wild, picturesque islands, around which we have been coasting for eight hours. The weather is delightful. Our captain and mate are familiar even with this out-of-the-way and seldom-visited region. These waters are seldom traversed, and human footsteps are rarely set upon these islands. A single lighthouse, with an occasional land-mark, is all that we have seen, indicating that our government has recognized the existence of this most interesting portion of our common country.
"Having completed our run through these islands, our boat was headed for the North-Manitou Island, which, being only thirty-five miles distant, we reached long before sunset. On the northwest side of this island the sand-banks rise, in some places, full two hundred feet above the surface of the lake, and, what is singular, this island of sand is without its 'sand beach'. The shore is almost as bold, where the banks are high, as that in our Highlands. We were told that there is a large lake upon the summit of this island, abounding with trout, but on landing I found that this lake was upon the level part of the island, and even with the surface of Lake Michigan. This sand soil produces nothing but wood, though I do not understand why a soil that sustains a maple and a beech forest should not bear wheat, corn, and vegetables. There are some forty men employed here in cutting and hauling boat-wood, for which $1.75 per cord is paid. The only family here is from Granville, Washington county. Among the privileges they regret is that of voting a Whig ticket. From the last of October until May, they know nothing of what is passing in the world.
"Saturday, July 10 -- We left the Maniton (sic) Island at 8 o'clock last evening, and were called at five this morning to take a view of the beautiful approaches to Mackinac, or 'Michilimackinac,' that 'hard word,' the spelling of which has so severely tried the patience of some teachers, and has cost so much birch with others.
"The early part of the night was rendered anxious by the severe illness of our friend, Trumbull Cary, of Batavia, who, I am happy to say, is much better this morning. Mr. Colt, of New Jersey, has been quite ill for three days. He leaves us here, for the benefit of repose and the healthful atmosphere of this island.
"The steamboat Baltic, leaving Chicago 15 hours after us, was here when we arrived, she having come direct. I observe, among her passengers, a number of the Albany and Troy delegates. Here our party separates for the day. Most of the ladies and two-thirds of the gentlemen go on shore to enjoy a 'picnic,' for which ample provision had been made by Mr. Bloomer, our indefatigable steward. At 10 o'clock the steamers got under way for the Carp river, a distance of 12 miles, where there is said to be excellent trout fishing. We now lay at anchor at the mouth of the river, and some forty gentlemen, 'armed to the teeth, with rod, reel, line, hook, fly, angleworm, etc., etc., are intent upon beguiling and capturing the wary trout. We shall see with what success.
"Our boat rides at anchor in a broad bay, from which we look out upon a broader wilderness, apparently as unbroken and fresh as it was the day that Columbus discovered this continent. Solitude -- vast and sublime solitude -- is the striking feature of these mighty waters and these boundless woods. Lake Michigan occupies more surface than the State of New York, and the productive, unoccupied lands bordering it would sustain a population greater than that of all the New England States. And yet there are hundreds of miles of coast, upon this lake, whose waters float hundreds of vessels burdened with millions of dollars, where the government has not yet expended the first dollar for a harbor! There is a lighthouse, to be sure, on Washington Island in Green Bay, which warns the mariner of that danger, but if he is in a gale, or needs a harbor, he may run over an hundred miles without finding one.
"4 o'clock P.M. -- The boats have just returned from the Carp river. The enterprise was not all that was expected. The party were beset by merciless mosquitoes, and, if possible, still more ferocious flies. Trout were abundant, but fastidious. They were probably not acquainted with, or possibly objected to, the city mode of being caught. An hundred and fifty were taken, of which Mr. Clinton caught 39. But though the fish were shy, the mosquitoes and flies bit magnificently, as is apparent in the stung, swollen, and blood-besmeared faces of the anglers. We are now preparing to return to Mackinac to receive our 'picnic' friends on board, then to depart for Sault Ste. Marie.
"July 10, -- The 'picnic' realized all the enjoyment that was anticipated. A delightful spot, with a natural bower, had been selected. Mr. Bloomer had taken care to provide a dainty repast, having with him, also, the cook, waiters, etc. After visiting the 'Sugar Loaf,' 'Arch Rock,' and other points of interest, the band being in attendance, dancing upon the green commenced. Other rural exercises and sports were resorted to, and kept up with spirit, until dinner was announced. The 'chowder' as one or two Bostonians affirm, was one over which Mr. Webster, without loss of culinary character, might have presided. After dinner, the sports of the day were concluded by a grand 'steeple-chase,' in which ladies and gentlemen participated. The ground selected for the chase, though apparently on an even surface, proved to be undulating! The consequence was that several gentlemen who left the starting-post with spirit confidence, were either down, or distanced by ladies. One gentleman attributed his fall to the circumstance that Mr. Bloomer, in compounding his 'lemonade,' had substituted champagne for water! For the offence, the steward was immediately arraigned, but Mr. Corwin, who undertook the defence, obtained a verdict of acquittal, not so much upon the merits of the case as by showing that the services of the steward were indispensable to the continued enjoyment of all parties. The party returned, greatly delighted with their evening, a large party of ladies and gentlemen were rowed about the harbor, for the purpose of hearing the 'Canadian Boat-Song,' from voyageurs.
"At Mackinac we learned that Governor Seward and family, who were to have been with us, passed up the night before. His attendance as a delegate to the convention was prevented by professional engagements at Canandaigua. The fort here is garrisoned by a detachment of the 'Brady Guards,' from Detroit. The other members of this corps are in charge of the fort at the Sault.
"Sunday, July 11 -- We left Mackinac at sunrise this morning. The day is calm and intensely hot. At breakfast, this morning, the trout taken yesterday in Carp river were served. They were done to a turn; and larded, as they were, with delicate slices of salted pork broiled to a crisp, I need not say that the repast was a delightful one. At nine o'clock we found ourselves gliding through and around an apparently interminable group of islands. We were in a broad bay, with no land except that of islands in sight. These islands, thickly wooded with hemlock, cedar, and spruce, presented a deep evergreen foliage. They were of various dimensions and in all forms. While some contained 1,000, 500, 300, 200, 100, 50, and 25 acres, others were but a few rods square, and several were mere tufts, all, however, covered with trees and foliage. This splendid bay forms the head of Lake Huron. The islands are all uninhabited. They stand up amid these mighty waters, silently but impressively teaching the wonders of Nature to the children of man -- having been spoken into existence by an all-wise and omnipotent Creator.
"At 10 o'clock, the passengers were summoned to attend Divine service. The Rev. Mr. Allen officiated. During the service our boat had passed through this magnificent archipelago and entered St. Mary's river. This river, you know, is the outlet for Lake Superior. It is something more than forty miles long, with a current of three miles to the hour. Its banks are low and thickly wooded. Midway between the mouth of this river and the Sault, is St. Mary's Lake. Upon the shores of the river and lake we saw numerous Indian lodges, whose inhabitants seemed enjoying the repose of the Sabbath. The smoke from these wigwams curled very gracefully through the forest. But one white family was seen along the river, until we approached the Methodist Mission house, which is in the vicinity of the Sault. Our pilot having but an imperfect knowledge of this river, it was not deemed prudent to proceed very near the Sault with a vessel drawing so much water as the St. Louis. An anchor was cast nearly 30 miles from the Sault, shortly after which the St. Clair, a boat that plies between the Sault and Mackinac, on her way to the latter place, came along side, received our passengers, and put back, landing us at 5 o'clock P.M. So large a number of visitors had never before landed here in a body. A rush for apartments ensued. The Van Anden House and the St. Clair Hotel were filled to an over-flow. Mr. Corwin and several other gentlemen found quarters in the fort. Those who were unable to get accommodations at the hotels remained on board the St. Clair, Mr. Van Anden gave us up his family room. At 9 o'clock, we (some fifty) supped upon deliciously broiled whitefish that we caught after our arrival.
"Monday, July 12. -- We were astir at sunrise this morning. An hour was consumed in walking about the town, which has a population of 1,000 or 1,200, chiefly French and half-breeds. After breakfast, three of us started for the head of the rapids, where a bark canoe, in charge of three voyageurs, had been engaged for the day. Above the rapids lay three fine schooners that had been moved by land over this carrying place. Here is a broad and beautiful bay, out of which you pass into Lake Superior. The Julia Palmer (formerly the ship Julia Palmer), a steamer that had been moved on ways from the river St. Clair into Lake Superior, was off for Copper Harbor, nearly two hundred miles up the lake. We seated ourselves in the bottom of our canoe, upon mats, and glided up and across the bay some three miles above the rapids, into Her Majesty's dominions.
"In consequence of a painful occurrence in running the rapids, some three weeks since, when a boat was dashed against the rocks and three visitors drowned, we were told that the voyageurs would not take us over, and many, who promised themselves the excitement of running through these boiling waters, relinquished the enterprise. But in returning, our crew headed directly for the rapids, through which we passed pleasantly and safely, avoiding the rocks over which the water bubbled, on either side of us, by a dexterous and graceful use of the paddles. The distance is three- quarters of a mile, over which the current swept us in seven minutes. After this several other parties chartered canoes and came down in the same manner. Arrangements were then made for trout fishing. Ladies and gentlemen supplied themselves with tackle, and more than a hundred anglers sailed forth. But the day was so clear and bright that the trout rose reluctantly, and but few were taken. While others were fishing, we rambled about on the Canada shore, visiting the establishment of the Hudson Bay Fur Company, etc.
"There is nothing at the Sault which strikes a visitor so forcibly as the fact that our Government has neglected to construct a ship-canal around these rapids, connecting the waters of the mighty Superior with those of the lower lakes, and thus perfecting a chain of lake-and-river navigation more than three thousand miles in extent. It is not possible to select a point more favorable to a ship-canal. The distance is but three-quarters of the mile! The elevation is but 22 feet! This great work might be completed for less than a quarter of a million dollars. And yet it has not been done. I shall be disappointed if Messrs. Corwin, Butler, King and Schenck, who are with us, do not press this improvement in the next Congress. Large quantities of copper, some in masses and some in barrels, lay upon the wharves here. I observed much virgin copper blocked out from the mines in pieces weighing from one to two thousand pounds. I was happy to learn that a copper mine, in which our friend Greeley has a large interest, is promising to be very valuable.
"Tuesday, July 13. -- We turned our faces homeward this morning. The passage down the St. Mary's river, and again through the Bay of Islands into Lake Huron, was truly magnificent. Presque Isle, upon the Michigan side of the lake, is the first landing. Here we took in wood, ice and fish. Along here is a coast of nearly two hundred miles almost wholly uninhabited. Upon an uninhabited island, some fifty miles from Presque Isle, a son of Senator Backus, who resides at Saginaw, Michigan, has a fishing station, where he is now engaged with a dozen fishermen, and where he expects to put up 3,000 barrels of white fish during the season.
"Wednesday, July 14 -- We came out of Presque Isle last evening with a breeze which promised to freshen into something lively, but before 11 o'clock the wind subsided, and the lake became as it has been for a fortnight, calm and unruffled. At 2 o'clock this afternoon, we passed Fort Gratiot, at the outlet of Lake Huron, and soon entered the beautiful St. Clair river, for which my admiration is, if possible, increased. I have never seen a water-and-land view combining so much that is rich and beautiful. They tell me that the winters here are long and severe. But the wheat, corn, vegetables, etc., look vigorous and healthy, and are well advanced. We reached the St. Clair Flats at 4 o'clock. This spot, as I have remarked, reminds an Albanian of the Overslaugh. Here vessels arriving in the night are detained until morning, as there are no lights or beacons to enable them to discern the channel. And vessels other than steamers are compelled to lay here for a favorable wind.
"There are now over 700 steamboats, propellers, brigs, and schooners navigating these lakes. In July, 1846, as Captain Mills, who had charge of the dredge, reports; 71 steamboats, 37 propellers, 59 brigs, 128 schooners, and 81 coasting craft passed the St. Clair Flats. Thirty-one of these vessels were compelled to employ lighters in crossing, and all were more or less obstructed and delayed. And yet, though a few hundred thousand dollars would remove these obstructions, Jackson, Van Buren and Polk have opposed, resisted and defeated appropriations!
"Time has passed very pleasantly upon the St. Louis since we left Chicago. Though the number of passengers was too large for a pleasure excursion, yet the efforts of the officers to accommodate and please, and the disposition of passengers, generally, to be pleased, has been successful. The passengers breakfast, as at the Astor House, whenever they please, between the hours of 7 and 11 A.M. There is a lunch at 12. At half-past 2 we dine. A substantial tea is served at 7; and at 10 the supper-table is spread. And the fare is not only uniformly abundant, but the cooking excellent. The table is loaded with meats, viands, delicacies, etc., all served in good taste. Our evenings are uniformly gay and joyous. Immediately after tea, the tables are removed from the saloon, the band appears and 'the ball opens.' Of our party, which numbers about two hundred, nearly one-third are ladies -- agreeable and accomplished ladies, whose conversation, music, and accomplishments invest the excursion with an interest which ladies only can impart to society, and without which it would have been robbed of half its enjoyment. Dancing commences at 8 and continues till 11 o'clock, with much spirit, not only by the young ladies and gentlemen, but by many of the elder and graver personages, to whom the occasion has brought back something of the freshness and inspiration of youth.
"Thursday, July 15 -- We reached Detroit last evening in season to get a view of the harbor, which is an admirable one, and to walk before dark through its principal avenues, which present a broad, pleasant, and business-like appearance. The U. S. steamship Michigan is lying off the city, and I regretted that we had not time to accept Capt. Champlain's invitation to go on board. This veteran is worthy of his command. He, it will be remembered, was the sailing-master who took Com. Perry's fleet so handsomely into the battle of Lake Erie, and who conducted himself with marked coolness and courage through the fight.
"We reached Sandusky at 7 o'clock this morning. Its harbor, though requiring improvement, is one of the broadest, most secure, and commodious, that I have ever seen. The city, after struggling for twenty-five years with formidable difficulties, is overcoming them all, now looks prosperous, and is no doubt flourishing. The Mad-River railroad, which owes much of its success to the efforts of the late Governor Vance, is nearly completed. Running, as it does, from Sandusky to Cincinnati, it is destined to become one of the great thoroughfares of the Union. Already much of the travel of the Southwest comes over this road. We called early upon Oran Follett, Esq., editor, many years ago, of the Buffalo Journal, and now a member of the Ohio Board of Public Works. He has a splendid mansion, embowered with rose, honey-suckle, etc., and surrounded with delicious fruit. May he live in the enjoyment of these luxuries 'a thousand years.'
"I learn here that the produce speculators from the East have been making wild purchases of flour, wheat, and corn, in anticipation of more favorable news by the steamer that is now due. They will be sadly disappointed. It is strange how entirely the judgments of men are clouded by their cupidity. Nothing is more certain than that the next intelligence from England will show a further decline in breadstuffs.
"Friday, July 16. -- We arrived at Cleveland before sunset last evening, and enjoyed another view of this thriving city. Among its striking features is the 'Weddell House,' one of the most magnificent hotels in America. This building looms up like the Astor House, and is furnished with every attainable luxury. The furniture would compare favorably, in value and beauty, with that of the drawing-rooms of our 'merchant princes.' The house was built by Mr. Weddell, who had accumulated a large fortune in business at Cleveland. When returning from New York, last spring, where he had been to purchase furniture for this house, he took a severe cold, from the effects of which he died. The house is well kept by Mr. Barnum, who was formerly with his uncle in 'Barnum's Hotel' at Baltimore.
"We are now approaching Buffalo, after an absence of sixteen days, having traversed Lakes Erie, St. Clair, Huron, Michigan and St. Mary's; run through the Detroit, St. Clair and St. Mary's rivers, and looked into Lake Superior. The distance from Buffalo to Chicago is 1,054 miles. From Chicago to the Sault, via Green Bay, the distance is about 800 miles. From the Sault to Buffalo the distance is over 700 miles. We have journeyed, therefore, more than 2,500 miles upon lakes and rivers whose waters are whitened with the canvas and blackened with the smoke of vessels and steamers greater in number and exceeding in value the vessels and commerce of any one of the nations of northern Europe. And yet our government refuses to recognize this great interest as a part of the commerce of the Republic!
"The weather, during this long excursion, has been most auspicious. There has not been wind enough to disturb the most sensitive stomach. Nor has the slightest accident occurred. The steamboat Empire, in going up, and the St. Louis, in going the rounds, behaved admirably. Captain Wheeler and his officers were constant and untiring in their efforts to render the excursion, what it really has been, one of instruction and enjoyment. Mr. Bloomer, who acts as clerk, steward, 'chief cook,' and 'headwaiter' (for he makes himself generally useful), is just the man to take charge of these various departments.
"The St. Louis, though not one of the fastest, is among the best built, stanchest, and most commodious steamers on these lakes. She is owned by the Messrs. Hollister, a family of brothers and sons, who have been long known at Buffalo, and up the lakes, as enterprising and liberal merchants, public-spirited and useful citizens, and efficient, reliable Whigs.
"Niagara Falls, July 17, 1847. -- We arrived at Buffalo last evening just in time to take the cars for Niagara Falls. The railroad from Buffalo to the Falls, since I was here last, has, much to the advantage of the public and the stockholders, changed hands. Instead of the rickety rail over which we were then drawn by horse-power, we were now taken through upon a substantial road in an hour and ten minutes. Much has been done, since I was last here, to adorn Goat Island, to facilitate access to the Falls, and to enhance, if possible, the grandeur and sublimity of the views. General Whitney has enlarged and improved his magnificent hotel. Mr. White, in the 'Eagle,' presents every possible luxury and enjoyment that 'mine inn' can furnish to visitors. Mr. Hooker, who has been here almost as long as the cataract, is still on hand, in no otherwise changed than that instead of 'Hooker, Guide to the Falls,' upon his hat, it is now 'Hooker & Sons, Guides to the Falls.' The 'Indian-curiosity,' business, which, twenty-five years ago, was in its infancy, has grown into a large, and, from the price asked for the first article we looked at, a profitable trade. For a cigar-case intrinsically worth twenty-five cents, but for which we were prepared to pay fifty, as a fancy piece, the 'Injun' (as they spell the word at Mackinac) Bazaar man had the modesty to demand $2.50! As our 'curiosity' was not quite sharp enough for such a bite, we left the bargain open for the next fool.
"But the grand new feature here is the steamboat Maid of the Mist, that runs, three times a day, from the rapids, a mile below the cataract, up that wild, fierce, whirling current, to and along the base of the mighty column which rushes from the summit 'down below.' This was a bold and expensive enterprise. The steamer was placed under the Falls last year, but without sufficient power to stem the current. This discouraged some of the proprietors. But John Fiske, of Rochester, went to work this season with indomitable energy, to overcome all obstacles, and he has succeeded triumphantly.
"You are taken in carriages, nearly two miles to the steamer. The road down the bank starts from the point on the American side, which has been fixed upon for a terminus to the Suspension Bridge. As the Rapids and Whirlpool, in the former of which a boat would be torn to pieces preparatory to being swallowed up by the latter, are just below the Maid's wharf, this voyage has a nervous look. But the precautions and guards against accident are so well and carefully provided as to inspire full confidence. The steamer has two engines, so that if one fails the other can be put in gearing in a minute and a half. She is found with two anchors and chain-cables. She has also a small boat, by means of which a strong line can be run ashore the moment a necessity for doing so exists. The Maid of the Mist is commanded by Captain Filkins, who, like his engineer and pilot, keeps both eyes open and all their wits about them. Without this excursion upon the Maid of the Mist, a view of the Falls of Niagara is incomplete.
"Steamboat Cataract, Lake Ontario, July 18. -- We intended to have returned to Buffalo, for the double purpose of visiting friends and seeing the extent of the commercial, manufacturing, and mechanical wonders that intelligence and enterprise have wrought in a youthful city which is destined to be second only in the Empire State, to its great commercial emporium, since 1840. But learning that our old friend VanCleve was at Lewiston with his new boat, the Cataract, that temptation was irresistible. At 4 o'clock this afternoon, therefore, having come over the Niagara Falls and Lewiston Railroad, passing a succession of wheat fields whose waving straw, bristling beard, and well-filled heads, all 'fully ripe,' and inviting the embraces of the reaper, resembles the gold which is far less intrinsically precious, we found ourselves seated upon the beautiful promenade deck of the Cataract, viewing Brock's Monument upon the heights which American valor conquered; the spot where VanRensselaer fell, seriously wounded; and the sanguinary field in which Scott and Wool so gallantly fleshed their maiden swords.
"The Cataract was built at Ogdensburg, under the immediate superintendence of Captain VanCleve, whose experience, judgment, and taste enabled him to correct many defects and suggest many improvements. She is 225 feet long, 28 feet beam, and eleven feet hold. Her main saloon is 170 feet long. She has 51 spacious, airy state-rooms, with doors opening into the saloon and out upon the guards. She has also 190 large, commodious berths. Her ladies' saloon and dining cabins are in excellent keeping with the accommodations in other respects. There is a neatness and beauty in the furniture, hangings, tapestry, etc., etc., of the Cataract, which cannot fail to strike and charm passengers. Everything is arranged with an eye, as well to fitness and propriety, as to enjoyment and ease. The rooms are all richly, but not gaudily, furnished. And every part of the boat is arranged with a view to the comfort and quiet of passengers. When summoned to tea, the table, its furniture, and the repast itself, excited general admiration. Innumerable delicacies were served with most appetizing taste. The Cataract runs with less noise and motion than I have ever known. In her model, the line of nautical beauty has been preserved, and in her consturction, arrangements and finish, she seems as nearly perfect as science and art combined with experience and taste, could make her.
"Captain Van Cleve, though yet a young man, is a veteran on Lake Ontario, where he has been in command of steamers for more than twenty years. He is a capable, vigiland, and efficient officer, possessing, in an eminent degree, all the other qualities which make men respected and popular. Lake Ontario has its full share of perils. Its navigation is often rough, difficult and dangerous. But Captain VanCleve, during his long career, through all seasons and all weather, has never met with an accident which seriously damaged his boat or injured his passengers.
"Among the passengers on board, I noticed Hon. Alvin Bronson, of Oswego, and Hon. Myndert Van Schaick, of New York. These gentlemen were former members of our State senate, where by their business habits and practical knowledge, especially in reference to the various questions of finance, they rendered valuable public service. They are both of another political faith, but I do them no more than justice in saying that they discharged their duties, as representatives of the people, upon all questions not political, with an intelligence and integrity which senators, in all coming time, may imitate with great advantage to the people. We are now, at 10 o'clock, gliding up the Genesee river, having run down from Lewiston (over 80 miles) in six hours, showing a speed of nearly 15 miles to the hour."
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Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.