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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Charles Dickens on a Connecticut River Steamboat

Above we have a shot of the “Becky Thatcher”, a replica “steamboat” on the Connecticut River operated by the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat out of Essex, Connecticut. More on that in a future post. For now, let’s travel by a real 19th century steamboat with Charles Dickens.

The noted English author toured America in 1842. We noted his observations on the Lowell factory system in this previous post about the mill girls of Lowell and Chicopee.

A later stop on that trip brought him to Springfield, Massachusetts where he boarded a steamboat for Hartford. It was February, and the winter had been so mild that year, that the first steamboat trip of the year was scheduled early.

That is not to say the river was completely without ice.

The river was full of floating blocks of ice, which were constantly crunching and cracking under us; and the depth of the water, in the course we took to avoid the larger masses, carried down the middle of the river by the current…The Connecticut River is a fine stream; and the banks in summer-time are, I have no doubt, beautiful; at all events I was told so by a young lady in the cabin.

The cabin, he notes, was very small, and the passengers all stood in the middle of it for fear of tipping the boat over to one side or other.

After two hours and a half of this odd traveling (including a stoppage at a small town, where we were saluted by a gun considerably larger than our own chimney), we reached Hartford.

It rained heavily, but “being well wrapped up, bade defiance to the weather, and enjoyed the journey.”

His party stayed in Hartford four days, and later went to New Haven by railroad.

Mr. Dickens makes no mention of their maneuvering through Windsor Locks, Connecticut, so-called because the canal locks on the river built there in 1829 make navigation accessible.

The reason they took the steamboat, so Dickens was informed, was because though Hartford is only some 25 miles south of Springfield, the roads (in February 1842) were so difficult to travel that the trip would have taken 10 or 12 hours by stage.

And that was in the fast lane on Route 91.


Unknown said...

Great fun to think of Dickens on a steamboat in the Connecticut--"a fine stream" indeed!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Hi, John, welcome aboard. I love his observations, especially since we don't seem to have many first-hand accounts of steamboating on the Connecticut.

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