Some of the early Marietta settlers arriving from the east coast developed ship building factories. By the early 1800’s, the business of ship building was thriving. One of the first vessels built was the Brig St. Clair, a sailing ship. In 1801, under the command of Commodore Abraham Whipple, the Brig St. Clair, an ocean-going ship, floated 2000 miles downriver from Ohio to New Orleans and then on to the Caribbean, which opened trade with the Northwest Territory.
A second wave of shipbuilding in Marietta began in the mid-1800’s, and this time they were river steamboats. The Knox and Sons Boatyard was located on the Ohio River bank at the corner of Gilman and Virginia Streets in Harmar. Knox and Sons, was a major employer from the mid-1800’s to the early 1900’s.
HARRY D. KNOX (Sternwheel Packet, 1883-1898) Built in 1883 at the Knox boatyard in Harmar, Ohio, the Harry D. Knox ran Marietta-Beverly on the Muskingum River the first two seasons.
Sternwheel Packet images courtesy of the Dave Thomson Collection:
VALLEY BELLE (Towboat/Packet, 1883-1943) Built in 1883 at Harmar, Ohio, at the Knox Boatyard the Valley Belle was built for the Marietta-Beverly trade on the Muskingum River.
By the 1830’s, the state of Ohio canalized the Muskingum River with hand-operated locks and dams to make it more navigable year round. Construction began in 1836 on the project, called the Muskingum River Improvement, and was completed in 1841. Improvements consisted of a system of eleven locks and dams that made the Muskingum River navigable from Marietta to a short feeder canal just south of Dresden, Ohio, that connected to the Ohio and Erie Canal.
Today, recreational boaters can use the hand driven locks to “lock through” the 112-mile Muskingum River system.
These improvements in the river system increased economic opportunity in the region. By 1840, sections of the new steam driven railroad began to appear, as shown in the photograph above of the Marietta train station. By 1850, there were trains tracks across southern Ohio. Marietta became a railroad hub.
In 1873, rails were installed across the railroad bridge so the Cincinnati Railroad could travel between Harmar and Marietta. Several railroad branches developed in the area, and in 1880 a swing span was added to allow large boats to pass under it.
This increased access to Marietta and the influx of more settlers and goods with the opening up of steam travel connected Marietta to the East coast. This increased wealth and opportunity to travel is reflected in the expansion and improvement of the city of Marietta with new public buildings and private homes.