Shoalwater (sidewheeler 1852)

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Name: Shoalwater (sidewheel steamboat)
Owner: McCarver & White[1] and others later
Route: Willamette River
Type: inland steamship (passenger/freight)
Length: 93 ft (28.3 m)
Beam: 17.5 ft (5.3 m)
Depth: 3.0 ft (0.9 m) depth of hold
Installed power: twin steam engines, horizontally mounted, 12 in (30.5 cm) bore x 48 in (121.9 cm) stroke 9.6 net horsepower.
Propulsion: sidewheels
Notes: later renamed Fenix, Franklin and Minnie Holmes. Dismantled 1858, at Salem, Oregon

The steamboat Shoalwater was the sixth steamer to operate on the upper Willamette River, which refers to the part of the river above Willamette Falls at Oregon City. In a short career of six years, Shoalwater was renamed Fenix, Franklin, and Minnie Holmes. [2] Shoalwater was the first steamboat in Oregon to suffer a boiler explosion, although fortunately no fatalities resulted.[3]


Shoalwater was built in 1852 by Leonard White at Canemah, a small settlement just above Willamette Falls. Her first owners were McCarver and Son, who were merchants in Oregon City.[3] Leonard White and others may have had ownership interests in the vessel. [2] Shoalwater was fitted with two geared engines, of which historian Corning said "generated more noise than power".[3] Shoalwater, as her name indicated, was designed to run when all other boats were compelled to lay up for lack of water on the sand and gravel bars that often blocked river navigation.[2]

Mechanical failure and renaming as Fenix

On April 30, 1853, while Shoalwater was ?making a landing below Rock Island near Butteville on the Willamette River between Champoeg and Canemah, the steam ran up too fast, causing a flue to collapse. Several persons received injuries, none of which, however, resulted seriously.[3] The accident proved so expensive that the vessel changed ownership and name, this time to Fenix (the owners' method of spelling Phoenix).[2]

Reaching the head of navigation

Fenix became part of the short-lived Defiance Line, which made daily runs south from Canemah with the steamers Wallamet and Canemah. During this time, Capt. Leonard White, who was considered one of the most intrepid of all steamboat captains of the time,[4] took Fenix up the Willamette River to Harrisburg, which was further upriver then any steamboat had yet been run, and well above Corvallis, which was the presumed head of navigation at the time. Fenix is also recorded as having taking Independence Day celebrants out from Champoeg for a three mile excursion cruise on July 4, 1854.[5]

Operations on Yamhill River

Captain White sold Fenix to Captain Hereford, who with others in the Willamette Falls Company was trying to organize a steamboat line. Hereford put Fenix on the run from Canemah up the Willamette and then the Yamhill River to Lafayette. Hereford was competing with the larger steamer Oregon and once tried to pass Oregon on a narrow stretch of the river. The vessels collided, and Oregon shoved Fenix out of the way. The Willamette Falls Company decided to sell Fenix and replace her with a steamer then under construction at Canemah. (That steamer was never launched, having burned on the ways when almost complete.)[5]

Sale to Citizens' Accommodation Line

Fenix was sold and again renamed, as Franklin and was run by the Citizens' Accommodation Line in company with Canemah. Three times a week Franklin made trips from Canemah to Salem, stopping at the many landings along the way.[5] The vessel was later lengthened and renamed Minnie Holmes, in honor of a young woman of Oregon City. (Minnie Holmes later married Dan O' Neill, who in 1850 had been a captain of Columbia, the first steamboat built in the Oregon Territory. O'Neill later became a long-term steamboat purser.)[2]

Conversion to sawmill

Shoalwater was unable to earn money under any name, and so in 1858 sold her to B. N. Du Rell, by whom she was taken to Salem and fitted up as a floating sawmill. The machinery was subsequently removed and permanently located on the bank of the river, where it was used in the manufacture of lumber until i860, at which time the mill was destroyed by fire. [2]


  1. Affleck, Edward L., Century of Paddlewheelers, at 13, 19.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Wright, E.W., Lewis & Dryden Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, at 57-58, Lewis & Dryden Publishing, Portland, OR 1895
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Corning, Willamette Landings, at 63, 72, 87, 119.
  4. Timmen, Blow for the Landing, aat 141-142.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Mills, Sternwheelers up Columbia, at 53, 54, 114-15


  • Affleck, Edward L., A Century of Paddlewheelers in the Pacific Northwest, the Yukon, and Alaska, Alexander Nicolls Press, Vancouver, BC 2000 ISBN 0-920034-08-X
  • Corning, Howard McKinley, Willamette Landings -- Ghost Towns of the River, Oregon Historical Society, Portland, Oregon (2nd Ed. 1973) ISBN 0-87595-042-6
  • Mills, Randall V., Sternwheelers up the Columbia -- A Century of Steamboating in the Oregon Country, at 39-41, 46, 69, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE (1977 reprint of 1947 edition) ISBN 0-8032-5874-7
  • Timmen, Fritz, Blow for the Landing, at 228-229, Caxton Press, Caldwell, ID 1973 ISBN 0-87004-221-1
  • Wright, E.W., ed., Lewis and Dryden Marine History of the Northwest, at 85-86, Lewis and Dryden Printing Co., Portland, OR 1895, available on-line at the Washington Secretary of State Historical Section

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
[[Commons: Category:Steamboats of the Willamette River

| Steamboats of the Willamette River

  • Faber, Jim, Steamer's Wake -- Voyaging down the old marine highways of Puget Sound, British Columbia, and the Columbia River, Enetai Press, Seattle, WA 1985 ISBN 0-9615811-0-7
  • Newell, Gordon, and Williamson, Joe, Pacific Steamboats, Bonanza Books, New York, NY (1963)