"On the River"
Davenport Democrat and Leader
February 21, 1932
By Capt. Walter Blair
Le Claire Boat Yards one of Largest and Best Known on the Upper
Mississippi in the Pioneer Days of Steamboating
-Many Famous Crafts Were Built There
“The Le Claire Marine Railway” or the “Boat Yard” as it was
generally called was located three blocks north of the public
landing in Le Claire, Scott County, Ia., on ground included in the
section given to Antoine Le Claire by the Sac and Fox Indians and
within the quarter of this section laid out as the “Town of Le
The Boat Yard was bounded on the north of Edwin street; on the south
by Reynolds street, and extended from Main street on the west, down
a gentle slope to the Mississippi river which at this frontage was
very deep and sluggish.
It was an admirable site for the purpose. The heavy log ways laid
on the round for the heavy cradles to travel on had just the right
grade from the water up to the street. The open streets on the
north and south gave easy access to the yard from either end.
The company that built the yard was incorporated in 1856 by Albert
Jansen, Levi S. Chamberlin, Silas H. Lancaster, A. H. Davenport, and
R. H. Rogers, and they had it completed and ready for hauling out
the largest steamboats in September of that year.
Ex Governor Sam R. Van Sant of Minnesota who was interested actively
in the yard for many years says it was completed in 1855 and that
the first boat hauled out for repairs at this yard was the old
pioneer “Time and Tide” owned by Capt. Louis Robert, the
founder of St. Paul Minn.
Of the five incorporators, alert Jansen was a wealthy Englishman,
who built a fine large home with the handsome high stone wall on the
west side of Main street diagonally across (northwest) of the boat
yard. Mr. Jansen died from a bee sting not long after his splendid
home was completed.
Levi S. Chamberlin was the father of William M. Chamberlin and the
grandfather of James Chamberlin, prominent lawyers of Davenport,
Silas H. Lancaster was one of the early “rapids pilots” of Le
Claire, while A. H. Davenport and R. H. Rogers of the firm of
Davenport and Rogers were milling and merchandising in Le Claire.
J. W. Van Sant and son were operating the yard from 1864 to 1877.
Sam R. Van Sant, John Petersen and Martin Von Hein operated it 1877
to 1879. Van Sant and Edwards operated it 1880 to 1888.
The Le Claire Marine Railway and Lumber Co. was organized in 1889;
R. A. Edwards was organized in 1889; R. A. Edwards, president; Sam
R. Van Sant, vice president; and W. A. Blair, secretary and
treasurer. We quit operation 1903 and sold the ground and made
final settlement in 1923.
Besides the operators of this yard which for many years was the
life of Le Claire, I find by the public records that many other
prominent business men of this locality were interested in it, some
as share holders, others part owners or creditors, Antoine Le
Claire, George Davenport, George L. Davenport, Adrian H.
Davenport, John Reynolds, Levi Turner, James May, G. C. R. Mitchell,
Samuel Lyter, A. C. Fulton, Dr. James Gamble, Hiram Price and
Ebenezer Cook and several others have been connected with it
enough to have their names appear in the abstract of title which I
furnished the purchaser of the ground and the timber on it in 1923.
In the “Good Old Days” when steamboating was lively in the Le Claire
boat yard had the patronage of the Great Northern line that operated
a line of large sidewheelers and many barges in the St. Louis and
St. Paul trade; and also did a lot of work for the Diamond Jo Line
and others, including government boats and Case and company that
lot of floating equipment in improvement work on the rapids.
In the winter of 1869-1870 the yard was full. It had the U. S. snag
boats, Montana, C. J. McCaffrey and Winneconne; the side wheelers
Dubuque and Muscatine and the Diamond Jo Line sternwheelers,
Arkansas and Tidal Wave, all requiring heavy repairs. Two small
sternwheelers, the Minnietta and Hiram Price, were hauled out on
skids above the yard. That was a busy and prosperous winter in Le
The principal object in building the Le Claire boat yard was to take
care of the repairs of the many steamboats and barges then in
service on the upper Mississippi and not much new work was done
until good tow-boats were wanted in the rafting business. Beginning
in 1870 Le Claire turned out more than a dozen rafters beside
several tow-boats and fuel barges. I have only been able to learn
of three steamers for carrying passengers and freight built at this
yard, the Bannock City in 1864, the G. M. Sivley in 1886 and the
Volunteer built as a rafter in 1891 and rebuilt as a passenger
steamer in 1899.
The excellent white oak lumber used in the construction of new
vessels or the repairing of old ones was from trees that grew on the
hills on the Illinois side from Port Byron to Hampton and sawed at
the Le Claire, Port Byron saw mills until the supply gave out-no
more large white oak trees to cut. From about 1885 all oak lumber
used in the yard, came from Ohio river mills at Paducah, Ky., or