Background Information
(Excerpted from “Navigating Keelboats, Faltboats On Allegheny Was Difficult” Jamestown Post-Journal, December 1, 1987 by John Evanetski; “Home Matters” Warren Mail, May 16, 1850; and Whistles Round the Bend: Travel on America's Waterways by Phil Ault)

            In the nineteenth century, flatboats and keelboats were to the Allegheny River, what trucks and moving vans are to today's highways.
The flatboats which plied the Allegheny River ranged in size from 20 to 100 feet in length and were 13 to 20 feet wide. They were made of pine or oak and their flat bottoms allowed them to move safely through shallow waters. They were manned by a crew of anywhere from five to seven steersmen.

Flatboats carried goods to markets, and they were also used to carry passengers, often immigrants heading west. While keelboats could be reused, flatboats, like lumber rafts, were generally dismantled at their destination.

Flatboats could be used as traveling stores, selling their contents at every port. Boats commonly sold furniture, sashes, doors, and other materials. Nathan Brown of Jamestown was well known in Warren for putting two flatboats on the river every spring, from which he sold goods.

The first keelboat to arrive in Warren was “The Lady Brown” on July 4, 1823. Keelboats were important carriers of supplies. Items such as flour, iron, nails, and pork were common cargo. Keelboats averaged between 30 to 50 feet in length, but were only 7 to 12 feet wide. Unlike flatboats, they had a pointed nose and stem. Their decks were usually roofed over, and they might have a mast for a sail.

The keelboat's great advantage was that it could go upstream, while rafts and flatboats usually could not. The trip upstream was accomplished by sheer muscle power. To go upriver, the crew used poles or horses. Using poles to push the boat, men would keep a rotation (work rhythm) going for shoreline paths using large poles attached to the boat in order to tow it along  When shoreline became too rugged for horse paths, crewmen would occasionally jump ashore with the ropes and pull the boats along steep banks or rock outcroppings.

In 1850, the Warren Mail noted the importance of keelboats to the economy of Warren:

               Perhaps all are not aware of the usefulness of (keel) boats on the Allegheny River. They form a connecting link in the line of business transactions between Pittsburgh and this section of the country...Large quantities of flour, pork, iron, nails, liquors, and groceries are annually procured at Pittsburgh for this place and vicinity, Ridgeway in Elk County, Olean, and intermediate places along the river. Many articles of furniture, tools, etc. of the lumbermen are annually brought up. These can all, at most seasons of the year, be brought to Franklin by steamboat. In times of low water, however, they would be compelled to remain at Franklin or Pittsburgh or be transported by land at much inconvenience and expense.
This is all avoided by Keel Boats...They come whenever there is freight enough for a load. They are drawn by two or three horses, which is found to be a decided improvement on the old method of poling...They come from Pittsburgh in ten or twelve days and return in about three.
Three Keel Boats were up during the last six days.

The coming of the railroad, with its ability to transport goods and people swiftly, and in almost all seasons, meant that flatboats and keelboats could not compete, and they eventually disappeared from the river.


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society