The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Evening Press (St. Joseph, MI), 18 January 1901

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The Graham & Morton Transportation company suffered another severe loss by fire at an early hour this morning when their popular propeller, City of Louisville, was burned nearly to the water's edge. The saddest part of the disaster was the death of Charles Southwell, the watchman of the boat who lost his life while bravely doing his duty.

About three o'clock this morning, Nightwatchman Jenkins of Benton Harbor discovered an unusual light on the steamer City of Louisville which has been tied to the dock on the north side of the ship canal opposite the Colby-Hinkley fruit package factory. He drew nearer and saw that the boat was on fire. He hastened to the city hall, turned in the fire alarm and the fire department assisted by hundreds of citizens hastened to the scene. But quick as had been the response to the call, flames were leaping from the main deck and upper cabins, and it was with difficulty that the firemen, assisted by Captain Boswell, J. Stanley Morton and Adolph Zeitch fought their way to the main deck of the burning steamer.

They hastened to the engine room and found that the watchman, Charles Southwell had evidently discovered the flames and started the pony engine. A search for the watchman was made, and Mr. Zeitch and Captain Boswell upon going forward stumbled over his body. After starting his engine he had gone forward to get the hose and had stumbled over the forward coal scuttle. The smoke and heat had evidently overcome him and he had been roasted to death. His clothes were burned off his body and the flesh had burned away leaving the muscles exposed. The remains were tenderly carried from the boat and taken to the morgue of J. O. Rowe, Pipestone street.

A coroner's jury was impanneled and rendered a verdict of accidental death while on duty. The brother of Mr. Southworth [sic] arrived this afternoon.

The unfortunate man was 26 years of age and came from Saugatuck last spring to work for the G. & M. company. He acted as fireman all last season on the new steamer May Graham and when the Louisville was laid up for the winter was given the position of watchman. He was unmarried and leaves a father and two brothers who were notified of the death this morning.


The fire, fanned by the strong wind which swept down the canal had gained such headway that the two streams of water the firemen were throwing on the boat seemed to do but little good and the fire engine was sent for and from the time the engine arrived and got to work, five streams of water were playing on the flames to such a good purpose that they soon had them under control, but not until the entire upper works fo the boat were burned beyond repair and the inside cabins completely gutted. It is thought that the hull of the boat is uninjured and if this proves to be so the work of rebuilding will be commenced just as soon as the loss is adjusted.


J. Stanley Morton was seen by the PRESS this morning and refused to give out any figures concerning the loss or insurance, merely saying the loss could not be determined but whatever it was would be fully covered by insurance. When asked if the boat would be rebuilt he replied "I don't know."


No one seems to know just how the fire started but it is supposed to have originated in the oil room of the steamer which is located on the main deck, just forward of the forward coal scuttle. The watchman's lantern was found lighted and hanging on a nail in this room. The oil room of a boat is where the oil and waste is stored and it is thought that either a match was thrown carlessly [sic] down on a pile of waste or there might have been an explosion. It will always remain a mystery.


The barge R. C. Reed was built in Saugatuc [sic] in 1889 and a few years later was purchased by the Graham & Morton company for the Milwaukee run. In 1895 she was hauled on the ways at Almendinger's ship yard and rebuilt at a cost of $45,000. She was cut in too, [sic] made longer and fitted up for a first-class passenger and freight boat and has been on the run between this port and Chicago ever since. She was re-christened the City of Louisville. Her gross tonnage was 452, length 177 feet over all, 26 foot beam, depth 13 feet and was rated A-1. She was always the first boat out in the spring and the last to go into winter quarters. She had been put in first class shape during the few weeks she has been laid up. Her inside cabins have been painted and her machinery thoroughly overhauled and it was expected to open navigation for the season the first week in February but this will be impossible unless a new boat is chartered or the steamer Mary is put on the run which is hardly possible.

J. H. Graham, president of the company who is spending the winter in Mexico for his health was notified by wire of the fire and it is thought that if he is able he will at once return.

The remains of the brave watchman will be shipped to his home tonight.

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Date of Original:
18 January 1901
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Robert C. Myers
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Evening Press (St. Joseph, MI), 18 January 1901