WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — In Wilmington's early years, its prosperity was directly tied to business coming in and out of port. The Port City needed easy ways to transport goods. While heading out to the ocean was a relatively easy task, river travel posed a tougher challenge.
Many of the rivers of eastern North Carolina become shallow as you head upstream, which made them impassable at points for the common wooden masted ships of the day which had a low hanging underbelly. That's where steamboats came to the rescue.
"Steamers" as they became known, came about in the early 1800's. Robert Fulton is credited with inventing the first commerciall successful steamer in 1807. The North River steamboat ran on the Hudson River between New York and Albany.
Here at home, the steamers arrived. With their flatter, shallower bottoms, they were able to more easily navigate the rivers, transporting goods back and forth between cities like Wilmington and Fayetteville along the Cape Fear.
In 1949, the Cape Fear and Deep River Navigation Acts paved the way for locks and dams to be constructed on the river. These paved the way for travel between Lee County and Wilmington.
Steamer service flourished through the mid 1800's, but they were soon outpaced.
Railroads proved more efficient at the turn of the century, but steamboat lore still remains, as seen on the river today with the Henrietta.