Doors to the Past
Wreck of the J. C. Rawn
The Wreck of the J. C. Rawn
(taken from 1939 Huntington newspapers)
Four Ohio River steamers have been wrecked by boiler explosions in the Huntington locality within the last century. Lives were lost in all the disasters. In every case, the boilers blew splintering deckhouses and launching bodies high into the air while rocking river- front buildings in the city of Huntington.
In 1885 the steamer John Brown blew up near Huntington. The accounts of the disaster are sketchy, as the steamer was destroyed 123 years ago, but the toll on life was reported as heavy.
In January 1905 the towboat “Defender” was blown apart by a boiler explosion as the boat reached the foot of Twenty-Eighth Street. Eight men were killed and nine injured. The steamer was towing 23 barges and three floats at the time. Volunteer rescue workers put off from shore in skiffs and motorboats, rescuing the injured and 20 others who escaped injury.
On February 16, 1916, the towboat “Sam Brown”, was wrecked by a boiler explosion at the foot of First Street on the Ohio side of the river. Six of the crew were killed and four were injured. Seven men came up missing, though a few of these were later found dead. The entire upper works of the Sam Brown shot upward under the force of the blast! The blast was felt throughout the entire city of Huntington. People rushed from their homes, skipping over shattered window glass and imagining an earthquake had occurred.
Thousands congregated on the river bank to watch small boats of all kinds aid in the rescue work.
On December 7, 1939, the sternwheeler “J. C. Rawn” was tied up on the river at Twentieth Street in Huntington when one of it’s three boilers exploded. The entire front end of the boat was blown away, killing three men and badly burning several others. The J. C. Rawn was scrapped due to the damage from the explosion. The Indiana built, 135 foot long sternwheeler was originally named the H.S. Chamberlain and later renamed the Weber. It was purchased by Rawn in 1931. Local genealogist Ernest H. “Ernie” Wright states that the J.C. Rawn was operated by his uncle William McKinley Wright. He also states that his Uncle was blown into the air and with severe burns, landed back on the rubble! According to Ernie, he survived more years to work on the boats!
On December 4, 1988, the 130 pound bell of the J. C. Rawn was found partially buried in the sand and gravel of the river bottom by divers. The bell and the sternwheeler were both created in 1911.
DEAD: Jesse Franklin Plants, fireman, of Pt. Pleasant WV, killed instantly
MISSING: Fred G. Gebhardt, mechanic
INJURED: Captain William McKinley Wright
Submitted by Ernie Wright