Dan's Day Trips Part Four
By Dan Breitwieser, WCJB TV 20 News
The Suwannee River is the site for the wreck of the City of Hawkinsville steamboat. It was the largest and last steamboat to run up and down the river.
Historians believe the City of Hawkinsville made it's last trip 85 years ago this week. Just like we saw last night where the launch of the locomotive hastened the end of both Newnansville and Levyville, it also meant the demise of the steamboat era. According to legend, that guided the location of the boat's final resting place, making it a perfect place for a day trip.
Way down upon the Suwannee River, but not too far away, lies the wreck of the City of Hawkinsville. It's about a hundred yards south of the old railroad bridge near Old Town. The lower the water level, the better the steamboat can be seen in the murky and muddy river.
Captain Chris Brown of Suwannee River Tours has been bringing people here for three years, and has never seen the spikes stick out of the water before.
"The way the boat is sitting is actually on the ledge, so it's leaning this way," says Brown. "You're able to see the one side that is sitting on the bank, but the other side is 15-20 feet down below the water line."
When the steamboat was built in 1896, it was 141 feet long with two decks and one large smoke stack. Today, you can still see parts of that same deck just below the water line.
From the early 1800s on, many steamboats cruised up and down the Suwannee River moving goods and tourists through the entire state. Historians say by the end of the century, it was a booming industry. That is, until the railroad came along.
The irony is that the best landmark to find the City of Hawkinsville, the railroad bridge, is what actually put it out of business. Once the railroad came though, steamboats like the Hawkinsville were made obsolete.
"He hauled all the supplies from the lower suwannee all the way up here," says Brown. "And after about 4 years of hauling materials for it, they didn't need him anymore. He put himself out of business is what he did."
Brown says it's no coincedence that Captain Currie abandoned his ship just a stone's throw from the bridge.
"Some of the river lore i've been told over the years is that he parked it here to let people know that this is what happens when progress comes through," says Brown. "Maybe sometimes progress is not such a good thing."
A motorized boat is probably the easiest way to find the City of Hawkinsville, but you can also canoe or kayak here. For those who want to stay on land, it's right off the Nature Coast State Trail.
It's also possible to dive and explore the wreck. Brown says that's a dangerous venture for all but the most experienced of divers.
"Someone that is just a basic diver, you don't want to come in here," says Brown. "When you get down 10-15 feet, there is a strong current that comes through, a lot of fishing line, a lot of loose boards and spikes sticking up."
If floating by and seeing the wreck underwater isn't enough, you can get an up close and personal look at a piece of the wreckage at the Fanning Springs State Park Ranger's station. This is a catch that came from the wreck of the City of Hawkinsville.
The wreck is now an underwater archaelogical preserve for its own protection. It's one of eleven across the state, but the only one in a river.
"It's one of a kind," says Brown. "That's the only steamboat of this condition that's been under water this long and you can still see this much of. Most of the other ones, they're just a few boards here and there, that's about it. This one is still pretty well intact and that makes it unique."
A special thanks to Captain Chris Brown with Suwannee River Tours for taking me out on the water. To find the City of Hawkinsville wreck for yourself, it's about 100 yards south of the Nature Coast State Trail near Old Town. I hope you have enjoyed Dan's Day Trips because I certainly have. Hopefully it's given you a couple good ideas to plan your own adventure.