Published by the Sons & Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen
America's Steam & Diesel Riverboat Magazine

NOTE: This article is available to all website visitors rather than registered members only. It originally appeared in the October 2009 edition of the S&D Reflector.

I thought that with the 70th anniversary of the S&D organization coming up this September that probably most of the members and persons interested in S&D might not have any idea how the group really got started, so here goes with a little history. Now please realize that even in my advanced years I most certainly was not there, so if I make mistakes, please blame those who came before me and remember rivermen are allowed to embellish the truth.

As in any good story, I’m told it must start with “in the beginning”. The beginning of S&D was conceived by a 43 year old school teacher from Clarington, Ohio, Ohio River mile 118, named Elizabeth “Lizzie” Litton. Elizabeth Litton was the daughter of Capt. Walker Litton and was the sister of Capts. Grover, Hazel and Homer Litton. Now despite her skeptics and detractors Elizabeth hung in there with her idea. She enlisted the help of her neighbor, friend and school principal, a fellow named J. Mack Gamble. With J. Mack Gamble on her side she was off and running.

It was Gamble who came up with the name, Sons & Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen. Miss Litton’s idea was for a yearly gathering, a river get together, much like a typical family reunion. Luckily the group early on recognized the need to expand far beyond just river families. To quote the very early by-laws it said “membership is open to all persons related to river pioneers and others who by occupation or interests are desirous of having membership”. Over the years that humble membership requirement has evolved into today’s statement found in each Reflector, “the only requirement for membership is an interest in river history”.

Miss Litton called for an organizational meeting to be held on June 3, 1939 at the Hotel Lafayette in Gallipolis, Ohio. It’s not a typo error – it was in Gallipolis, Ohio. A motion was made to organize: officers elected were J. Mack Gamble, president; Capt. Phil Elsey, vice president; Elizabeth Litton, secretary; and Ben Richardson, treasurer.

A second organizational meeting was held on September 10, 1939 at the Lafayette Hotel, in Marietta. Membership eligibility and the official name were confirmed, and J. Mack Gamble was directed to write a constitution and apply for a charter.

It’s rather important to note that Capt. Fred Way. Jr. was not at either of the two organizational meetings. Most of us associate Capt. Fred with the beginning but such was not the case. Capt. Fred Way was trying to make a living and support his family. He was off piloting the big excursion steamer ST. PAUL.

The first Annual Meeting, Miss Litton called it a “Social Meeting”, was held on November 18, 1939 at the Lafayette Hotel, in Marietta. Capt. Fred Way always said “my biggest fear is that no one shows up for S&D”. I’m sure Miss Litton and J. Mack Gamble worried about that first Annual Meeting. Did they ever get a surprise, more than 150 persons showed up and it was standing room only in the Lafayette’s old Riverview Room. The program consisted of several songs by the famous river pilot, Capt. W.C. Dugan of Vanceburg, Ky. Three main addresses were made by Capt. Fred Way, Jr. on the need for a river museum, Attorney J.W. Devol on Early History of Ohio River Steamboats and Capt. C.W. Stoll on Steamboats. A highlight of the meeting was the blowing of a Pittsburgh harbor salute by the down bound steamer D.W. WISHERD with Capt. Charles Litton, Master.

The group liked Capt. Way’s idea for a river museum and appointed a committee to look for suitable sites. Mrs. Edith Reiter, curator of Campus Martius volunteered space. A telegram was received during the meeting from Capt. Tom Greene, “please do not decide definite location for proposed river museum till we discuss Cincinnati as headquarters”. The hunt was on for a museum location and a headquarters location for S&D.

The second Annual Meeting of S&D was held on September 1, 1940 at the Hotel Wright in New Martinsville, WV. This meeting was one of only two not held at Marietta in the last seventy years. Attendance was good and Ben Richardson was elected president. The big item was the announcement by the museum selection committee that Campus Martius was the favorite of three final sites. This so angered Miss Elizabeth Litton that she and others withdrew their support for S&D. Capt. Fred Way wrote in later years the following, “Miss Litton was so upset that the home at Bellshire was not chosen that she withdrew her support from S&D. Thus the acceptance of the Marietta location brought with it, unfortunately, wounds and injury to various persons. Growing pains, perhaps. Personally I always feel sad when thinking back to this time, with a gnawing wish that such ill will might have been circumvented”.

It’s also interesting how our membership has changed. ALL the Union Barge Line boats were bragging that each had 100% membership by their crew.

The third Annual meeting was held on August 31, 1941 at the Lafayette Hotel in Marietta. The 1941 meeting was really a turning point for S&D.

It was announced that the River Museum was open in the basement of Campus Martius and was already filled with exhibits. The second item that was to have a profound effect on S&D’s future was the election of Capt. Fred Way, Jr. as president. Capt. Way served S&D as president until his death on October 3, 1992, a total of 51 years of dedicated service. What S&D is today is due to the dreams, ideas and hard work of one man. The rest of us, who carry the mantle of responsibility, are just caretakers on Capt. Way’s behalf.

Due to World War II no meetings were held in 1942, 1943 or 1944. The Annual meeting was again held in September, 1945 and has been held every year since.

Earlier it was noted that the second Annual meeting was held at New Martinsville, WV, one of only two occasions that Marietta was not the site. The second time this occurred was at the Annual meeting on September 13 1947. Capt. Tom Greene had the Str. Delta Queen on the ways at Dravo, Neville Island, Pa. and invited S&D to hold its meeting on board the vessel, inspect the work in progress, tour the Dravo facility and take boat rides on Dravo vessels. Dravo hosted the banquet in its huge cafeteria and the space was needed as more than 200 persons attended. Capt. Way in the announcement flyer promised many other surprises. Well, the membership got more than promised, on September 9, 1947 the Str. Island Queen blew up at Pittsburgh and many toured the wreck site after the meeting.

The early meetings of S&D were quite exciting and could get a little spicy. Most of the members attending were river people and on any given subject discussed could give many versions of the same story. Tall tales were the order of the day.

This story could go on and on but space limits deny that of happening. I instead have chosen to high light some of the big events in S&D history.

The year 1955 was an exciting year for S&D. Capt. Way did a little “arm twisting” and talked Crucible Steel into donating the Str. W.P. Snyder Jr. to the Ohio Historical Society ( OHS ) and make it a part of the River museum at Marietta. OHS had an empty piece of land along the Muskingum just one block from Campus Martius and suitable for exhibiting a large vessel in working order. The boat became an instant star attraction.

Also in 1955, S&D entered into an agreement with the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to transfer all of the S&D documentary materials from Marietta to the library. Thus was established the now well known Inland Rivers Section.

The year 1964 brought about the jewel in the S&D crown of achievements.

Capt. Way published in March, 1964 Volume 1, No.1 of the S&D Reflector. It’s interesting to note that Capt. Way was sure that the effort would fail and there would be no readership. J. Mack Gamble relentlessly pushed and prodded Capt. Way to keep it going, the outcome is history. The Reflector has become the life line of S&D. Capt. Way was editor till 1992 and then J.W. “Woody” Rutter continued in the fine tradition of his Father-in-law.

The River Museum had literally grown out of its basement location at the Campus Martius and with a new wing built, all of the River Museum was moved to take up all the space on the lower floor, this in 1960. In just a few years our collection had outgrow this space, many items were in storage and not available for viewing. In 1971 the State of Ohio budgeted over $500,000 to begin work on a new, separate museum site devoted just to the rivers. The site was by the mooring location of the Str. W.P. Snyder Jr. The new, now named “Ohio River Museum” was dedicated and officially opened on October 14, 1973. A huge parade was the highlight, with Capt. Fred Way, Jr. as Grand Marshal.

The year 1973 saw the S&D turn in another new direction. On February 13, 1973, J. Mack Gamble died. Gamble had been the first president of S&D, a charter member, had written the S&D Constitution and Charter and had been certainly one of its most stalwart and influential members. Gamble was Superintendent of Monroe County schools, a bachelor and a rather frugal person. In his will he left the sum of $ 100,000.00 to S&D. He also directed that all his steamboat models, river books, relics, large photo collection and writings go the Ohio River Museum. The S&D Board of Governors, in 1975, voted to establish the J. Mack Gamble Fund and set a board of trustees to administer the fund. The purpose of the Fund ,” to promote the historical and educational purposes of the S&D, in keeping with J. Mack Gamble’s lifelong interests as a historian, author and educator”. Today, 33 years later, due to very fine leadership by trustees that fund is worth over $700,000.00 and has given out many thousands of dollars to river museums, research projects and site developments.

I stop here, there is a lot more to tell. Maybe somebody will write a book on the full complete history of S&D. Remember our motto, “Lighting up the past, present and future of the Mississippi River System”. I’ve tried to shed some light on the past, now each of you can determine the present and future of S&D.

The above history, written by Capt. William Judd, is in the most part taken from the writings and the authors personal conversations with the late Capt. Fred Way, Jr.