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U. S. Steam Launch Lucia, 1889

The Lucia was built in 1884 at the U.S. Boatyard in Keokuk, Iowa, and christened after the daughter of Rock Island District Engineer, Col. Alexander Mackenzie.1 The Lucia was used primarily for towing and tendering barges and dredges in the Keokuk/Des Moines Rapids area of the river. According to the Rock Island District history, the Lucia became the sweetheart of the Corps fleet.

The Lucia was the Upper Mississippi's equivalent of "the little engine that could." Smaller than most of the District's boats, with a 78-foot length, a 16-foot beam, and a 24-inch draft, her 9-foot stern wheel turning 25 revolutions per minute, the Lucia performed a wide variety of tasks on the Mississippi. She acted as a dredge tender, she towed barges, placed buoys on the rapids, got booms in for the winter, worked on levees during floods, and carried distinguished visitors up and down the river.

During periods of flood (which were frequent through the 1880s), she worked the bottom lands where the Des Moines River meets the Mississippi. When this area flooded, the Lucia, rowboats in tow, would paddle around the flood plain rescuing people from roofs and upper windows. The rowboats would bring them to her crowded decks. At night during the floods, the Lucia would turn her searchlight straight up to act as a beacon for boats engaged in rescue work.

The Lucia and the U.S. General Barnard were often used by Bosse during his photographic forays, being anchored or docked nearby and included within the scene.

One incident recorded by historians adds human interest to this boat's history:

It is documented that the Lucia's pilot-captain, Billy Adams, and her engineer, Tom Noonan, had worked faithfully on the boat for 20 years without speaking to each other, for they were sworn enemies, when the Lucia capsized in a tornado just above the Keokuk bridge, Adams was not on board, but Noonan died at the engines trying to keep up power, one of the very few fatalities in the history of the District fleet.


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