After a half dozen railroads bringing their trains into Dallas began to be a familiar story, its citizens grew more and more conscious of the great advantage Houston was having in its lower charges on every ton of freight because of the river water rates there, and once more there began to be heard agitation to bring to reality the long dream of making the Trinity navigable. In the 188o’s several bills were unsuccessfully introduced in the state legislature for aid to the project, and something of the skeptical attitude of those not directly interested in the venture can be gleaned from John H. Cochran’s History of Dallas County. He tells of one bill introduced by Colonel A. T. Raney of Anderson County which provided that any company clearing a given number of miles of the channel to make it navigable should be given four sections of land for each mile cleared.
By 1890 the businessmen of Dallas began organizing the Trinity Navigation Company which was to be active for almost twenty years. They protested “the arbitrary high freight rates” and suggested “the opening of Trinity navigation again,” as the practical way to get these reduced. One of the most ardent crusaders in the cause was an attorney, William Wolff, who, when he attended political rallies and public meetings of almost any sort, would endeavor to get the group to pass a resolution favoring the navigation of the Trinity. In 1892 Colonel Henry Exall and a committee made their own investigation trip down the river by rowboat with their provisions coming along by wagon, and early the next year the navigation company built a snag puller on the river at Dallas which they christened The Dallas. This was twelve feet broad and sixty-four feet long powered by a stern wheel. It cost $1o,000 and aroused such interest that when it was completed 13,000 people are reported to have made their way down to the river bank on a single Sunday afternoon to inspect it.
The Dallas returned from her trial trip down the Trinity bearing a cargo of cord wood, William Wolff fired a salute to her from an anvil and the wood was auctioned off by Hugh Blakeney, the crowd in its enthusiasm ran the bid for the first cord up to $ x o, while some single sticks brought fifty cents apiece as souvenirs.
On March 8, 1893, the Trinity Navigation Company of Dallas bought the S. S. J. H. Harvey, Jr., which had been built the year before at New Orleans and had been named for its owner. This boat, powered by steam, had a gross tonnage of 96.96, the ability to transport 600 bales of cotton and 150 passengers and had previously been used to clean out obstructions on the Mermenteau River in Louisiana. She was 1 13 feet long with a beam of 191 feet and 200 horse power.
She left Galveston on March 14, preceded by the snag remover S. S. Dallas and on May 20, S. Dallas and on May zo, after having had to remove spans and otherwise maneuver to get by various railroad bridges that crossed the upper Trinity she tied up at the foot of Oak Cliff streetcar bridge to be ready for the last mile of her journey. For as a climax to a mammoth celebration in her honor, on the afternoon of May 24 she was to steam to the edge of the Dallas business district and tie up at the foot of Commerce Street.
At sunrise on the 24th, the expectant populace was awakened by the firing of 100 minute guns. Such a large part of the town was to take part in the great parade which was to start at twelve o’clock that some people were worried lest there be no one left to watch it. Their fears were groundless. From early morning excursion trains poured in visitors from the outlying regions for the great occasion. At x :3o ten guns were fired as a signal for the twenty divisions of the parade to form at their various stations in the different streets. While they were assembling, Charles F. Bolanz, grand marshal of the parade rode up and down giving directions and advertising Dallas industry by wearing a Dallas made hat and sitting in a Dallas-made saddle.
At noon the notes of a bugle signaled the parade to start. First came the Dallas wheel club, 120 cyclists with their machines decorated, led by their special marshal, W. L. Springfield, and preceded by Tom L. Monagan, riding an old fashioned wheel and costumed in a poke bonnet and rainbow colored crinolines.
Behind the cyclists came the town’s mounted policemen and in turn the city, county and state officials, and the fire department. The stockholders in the Trinity Navigation Company came next with the indefatigable William Wolff allotted a special carriage of honor. Then followed fraternal orders, school children, numerous brass bands, floats appropriately decorated and dozens of marchers bearing banners with slogans the nature of which can be guessed. For an hour and thirty-five minutes the mammoth spectacle passed on its way to the river.
At 3 P. M., a cannon boomed to tell the city that the Harvey had actually completed her journey and was now tied up at the foot of Commerce Street. The vast throng which had already drunk up the city’s supply of soda water assembled on the bank for a picnic and to listen to the program of oratory with Judge George N. Aldredge giving the chief address. One and all the speakers viewed the arrival of the Harvey as the beginning of the era of Trinity navigation And the next morning the Dallas News concluded its lengthy editorial on the occasion with the words:
It is now clear that the Trinity River is the way out of the difficulties and disadvantages brought down upon us by the provisions of the interstate commerce law. The people of Dallas are quite sure of this fact and their guests of yesterday have returned home fully convinced that they are right.
After the arrival of the Harvey a temporary dam was built at McCommas Bluff thirteen miles below Dallas and the Harvey and the Dallas made frequent trips in this locked section. Sometimes more than a half hundred couples would sail on the Harvey down to Miller’s Ferry where a dance pavilion had been built. But gradually she became less and less popular for outings and after she had been tied up for a year, the first of February, 1898, without fanfare she sailed again for Galveston — a voyage which took her four months and twenty-one days. She was sold and began a new career on the Clacasieu River in Louisiana. The snag-boat Dallas was broken up the same year.
The Harvey vanished but not the idea one day of using the Trinity for river traffic. Over the years as additional dams have been built, Congress has been insistently petitioned to make the Trinity River Project a reality. At one time enthusiasts envisioned a great lake to occupy the river bottoms between Dallas and her one-time suburb of Oak Cliff – until General Goethals, engineer of the Panama Canal, looked over the situation in 1921 and pronounced that such a lake would only make a serious flood situation catastrophic. The lake was forgotten, but the dream of Trinity River with power barges has continued on its checkered career.
Courtesy The Lusty Texans of Texas of Dallas by John William Rogers.