Burning of the James Lee Oct. 4, 1893 an addendum

My grandfather S. Rees Lee woke his father James Lee Jr. with the news that several Lee Line boats were burning.  Great grandfathers response was “there is nothing I can do about that” and rolled over and went back to sleep.  His response sounded like a man who knew exactly where he could put his hand on the insurance policy covering the James Lee.

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Burning of the James Lee October 4, 1893

The JAMES LEE had survived two previous fire episodes one while undergoing repairs to her pilot house while tied up at the Memphis river front, the other when a near by steamer caught fire.   Capt. James Lee Sr. who lived aboard his namesake prevented her from being pushed into the river when the fire was discovered, this fire was the first fire encounter.   During the pilot house fire, he forbade the steamer being pushed into the river.  Standard procedure was to push a burning steamer into the river so as to avoid burning nearby moored steamers.  He was carried ashore by brawny mate Tom Claggett who lifted 300 pound Capt. Jim in his hickory chair and proceeded down the gang plank all the while Capt. Jim bellowed in protest.  Mate Claggett later became a Lee Line captain.  The second fire encounter occurred when a Lee Line steamer ignited when a careless night watchman dropped a match while lighting his lantern.  Again, brawny mate Tom Claggett was able to secure the JAMES LEE when he sparred the steamer into the river allowing her to escape the conflagration.   She was caught by a harbor tug and returned to shore since her boilers were cold.

Capt. Tippitt gave a detailed account of the arson fire that burned the JAMES LEE from the Memphis Appeal and the Commercial Appeal.

Appeal Oct. 4, 1893; “The JAMES LEE was burned last night at her mooring at Hopefield Bend, just 3 ½ miles above the City on Arkansas shore. The fire occurred shortly before 11 o’clock, its origin is a mystery, she had been out of service for a year on account of the dull times. During this period she has lain in the bend.

Capt. Peter Lee, Mr. Lowe, the steamboat agent secured the tug of the Pittsburg Coal Co., and ran up to the scene. On arrival there was nothing but a mass of roaring flames, the GAYOSO tied up just above the JAMES LEE was not damaged.

The JAMES LEE, a four boiler boat was built at Pittsburg by James Rees & Sons in 1878 at a cost of $60,000 by Capt. James Lee, Sr., for whom the boat was named and her first commander, then Capt. S. Stacker Lee was in command and he made several record runs with her. She was always in the Friars Point trade going down one day and up the next.”

Commercial Appeal reported; “The JAMES LEE took fire last night at 10:30 pm and burned to the waters’ edge. She was lying up 3 miles north of Memphis on Arkansas side. The fire was incendiary origin no doubt, organized and set by a bunch of fire bugs operating on the river. For several months it has been laid up and was just put into condition to return to operation.

Our reporter was returning from the fire at 2:15 am, this morning in a skiff when a blaze of flame shot across the river side of deck of the C.B. BRYAN, we were within 100 yards of scene and hasten to the burning boat, as we approached an oil can wrapped in sack and an empty skiff was passed, the boat man Wm. T. Thompson was left to secure the skiff and oil can. On the BRYAN watchman T.A. Murray, J.S. Gillespie and Vic Johnson were setting on the head of the boat when they heard a crash in deck room and immediately flames arose, they went to work and quickly extinguished the flames.

Our reporter on approaching the scene of burning JIM LEE found the GAYOSO a short distance above, approaching her he was stopped by two men on the GAYOSO who threatened to shoot him if he came any closer, no information about the JAMES LEE could be secured from them.”

Commercial Appeal Oct. 5, 1893; “It is now thought that Joe Williams, a colored ferryman, who has been a habitué of the river front and whose body was found under the wheel of the BRYAN is the fire bug. His sister stated that he left home Tuesday night with a can of gasoline or coal oil, the skiff found was rented by him at Golden Gate earlier in the evening.

The watchman on the JAMES LEE, Dennie Thomas and W. Jones state the fire broke out on shore side, the only fire on the boat was on the other side in cook house, and they discovered the blaze too late to save the boat. She was insured for $25,000.

The MARY ANN was moored just above the JAMES LEE and burned at the same time; she was valued at $1500 and not insured, owned by the Lee Line and used in Upper St. Francis River as feeder boat and during low water. “


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3 Jinxes sink the H W BUTTORFF


To view the text, click on the image and you should be able to scroll up the image to read this old account of the sinking March 1, 1899 of the BUTTORFF.  Way’s Packet Directory recorded this steamer entering the Lee Line fleet January 1911.  This article was taken from Capt. William Tippitt’s History of the Lee Line.

Buttorff sinking

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H W Buttorff at Nashville TN 1913 postcard

The H W BUTTORFF is the steamer in the foreground.  The BUTTORFF entered the Lee Line fleet January 1911 and was renamed the JOHN LEE.  Evidently, this picture was taken prior to 1911.  This postcard is another EBay purchase in the quest to find new pictures of Lee Line steamboats.  The steamer to the rear of the BUTTORFF was a Ryman Line packet, which was a Nashville based company.  The Ryman family owned what is now the Grand Ole Opry House.  Capt. William Tippitt reported Mr. H.W. Buttorff was President of the Ryman Line.  Additionally, Capt. Tippitt noted that Mr. Buttorff was a director of the N.C. and St. Louis Railroad which was controlled by the L&N Railroad.

H W Buttorff Nashville

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Bohlen-Huse Ice House compressor April 1913

Bohlen Huse compressor stand 2This picture from the interior of the Bohlen-Huse Ice  Co. facility on Court Ave. was taken following the great Ohio and Mississippi River flood April 1913.  Other pictures show ice plant equipment disassembled for cleaning and maintainance.   James Lee Jr. purchased the Bohlen-Huse Machine and Lake Ice Co. sometime around 1884 to diversify the family business enterprises.  The badge on this one of two compressor stands reads Built and Erected for the Bohlen-Huse Machine & Lake Ice Co.  By the De Le Vergne Refrigerating  Machine Company.  New York 1891.  The other compressor stand is dated 1901.

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1890 Sharp elbows and sharper competition

With numerous boats competing for freight, the Lee Line was at various times in fierce competition for business.  Capt. Tippitt’s History of the Lee Line reported the following news report from January 1890.  Jan. 1, “Yesterday coming up from Polk Landing, the LADY LEE landed to take on some corn for which she signed a bill of lading, the CUMBERLAND a short distance behind her also landed, she landed along side the LADY LEE , claiming the corn on the strength of transportation order.  The officers of the CUMBERLAND seeing the corn in their sacks, ripped open the sacks, took their sacks and left the corn on the ground.  Neither boat got the corn and things were squally for a while.  These two boats can never run in the same trade peacefully, there is not any large extent of brotherly love between the owners, Neff and Lee.  The corn, well it is still on bank.”

The Memphis Ledger reported the following, Feb. 25, 1890 “The Lee’s have the JAMES LEE in front of the CUMBERLAND the LADY LEE running with her and the GAYOSO ‘skip-jumping’ landings with LADY LEE, no chance for CUMBERLAND to get away with two boats on her tail.  The fight nears a showdown and waxes hot.”

Further, Capt. Tippitt added the following history, Commercial Appeal May 3, 1890, “A lively steamboat rate war has been declared by the Lee Line against the Neff Line in the Helena trade, and a long bitter fight is predicted.  The trouble dates back two years ago, when Capt. George W. Neff entered the Steamer ROB ROY in the Walnut Bend trade in opposition to the JAMES LEE.  That did not amount to much, as the Lee’s had a larger and finer boat in JAMES LEE, she got the bulk of the business.  Realizing that he was losing money, Capt. Neff cast his weather eye about and finally purchased the steamer CUMBERLAND.  He placed her in good condition and with her again entered the fight, extending his trips to Helena.

The Lee’s retaliated by building the LADY LEE and running her in the Helena trade.  The boats would watch each other like hawks, and if one remained in  port the other one also would remain.”  Both lines reduced passenger and freight rates.  The Commercial Appeal noted the end of the war between Capt. Neff and the Lee’s when it reported the estate of Capt. Neff was offering the CUMBERLAND and the steamer CITY OF CHARLESTON, October 19, 1890.

The Appeal October 14, 1891 reported, “The Lee Line is boxing in the little ED DURANT with the ORA LEE stopping at Fulton and the  ROSA LEE at Ashport, one of their boats runs just ahead of her of up trip and other lay for her on down trip.  The Lee’s just can’t stand competition.”

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1887 Memphis Taxing District Ordinances

The following is the introduction to the 1887 Memphis Taxing District Ordinances which came onto existence following the loss of Memphis’ Municipal Charter due to the Yellow Fever Plague of the late 1870’s.  My great grandfather James Lee Jr served on the Memphis Legislative Council which was composed to the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners and the Supervisors of Public Works.   This Digest of 1887 contained 261 pages of municipal ordinances in addition to contracts between the Taxing District and 11 railroads, the Memphis Grain and Package Elevator Co., Memphis Water Co. and other entities.

Introduction to First Digest

It may not be inappropriate, as introduction to this Digest to state some of the causes that gave birth to that government whose laws and ordinances it contains.

After the scourge of 1878 had done its work of death, those who survived found many deserted hearth-stones and desolate homes.  Pestilence, more pitiless than war, had robbed Memphis of thousands of her truest and most enterprising citizens, and of millions of money, in paralyzed industry and diminished values; and the future, which once promised so fair, was beclouded with doubt and fear.  For interest on debts made no pause, though the “pestilence walked in darkness,” and taxation in the devoted city vastly increased on greatly diminished resources; and our accumulated misfortunes did not appease the thirst for payment of a vast and insupportable debt.  Friend met friend, and, as they looked each other in the face and remembered the past, wept for themselves and for their beloved city.  What was to be done?  Memphis has tried to settle her debt, and failed.  Where the fault lay, it is not necessary to inquire.  The fact is, the attempt failed.  Besides, profoundly grateful for the beneficent charity that poured in upon her from the civilized world with unabated benefaction, through the yellow fever, it was felt that something ought to be done in the way of thorough sanitation, in order that the plague never return; and that it was essential to the life of trade that our dilapidated streets be repaired and paved.  Added to all this was the realization of the fact that municipal government in the United States were a failure.  It is curious, not to say sad reflection, that so enlightened and progressive a people as ours should have so lamentably failed in their management of municipal affairs.

So it was, these accumulated ills bought Memphis to the verge of destruction and despair, and these weighty considerations moved her to seek relief.  It was a question of life or death.  For what booted it that her position was the most commanding on the continent, and that she was the natural entrepot for all the varied production of the largest,  most fertile and rapidly developing valley in the world, if all her earnings and income were only to fill the coffers of her creditors?  What booted it that her muscle, brain and enterprise promise gave of prosperity and greatness, if all she had, and hoped for, was only held in trust for the payment of debts that were accumulated without permanent benefit to her, and that, like a millstone around her neck, dragged he down to bankruptcy and death?  From these ills, and others worse to come, her citizens united to find a release; and believed that when governments fail of their purpose (the good of the governed), and that communities, like individuals, can invoke the protection of the maxim “self-preservation is the supreme Law,” they asked the sovereign State to take back their ancient privileges and franchises, and give them a new and better form of government .

To this end, mass meetings were held, committees appointed, and bills drawn and passed by the Legislature.  These laws have been ratified by our Supreme Court, and the Taxing
District of Shelby County, Tennessee, is an accomplished fact.  And it is fondly hoped that its organic law embodies the solution of that hitherto unsolved problem-how to govern, cheaply and well, a municipal corporation.

This government is simply an agent of the State government, without the power of credit or taxation, and the evils thereon.  It owns no property, except for governmental purposes alone.  It can issue no bonds, and has no power to pay them if they are issued.  It contracts no debts, except as against particular taxes levied by the State itself, to pay them, year by year.  It therefore pays as it goes-the only true policy for individuals and States.  What improvements it makes, it pays for; and if it has no money to pay, it waits till it has.  Launched under such auspices, it is hoped that it will prove a lasting blessing, and that economy, honesty and enterprise, cleanliness and thorough sanitation, good streets, and an efficient fire and police protection, will close its gates to pestilence forever, and open wide the doors to health and lasting prosperity.

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Capt. Stacker Lee

When cotton shipping season began in September and rouster crews were difficult to recruit, Capt. Stacker would take his walnut cane and walk from the Beale Street landing where Lee Line boats were moored and walk up Beale Street and into the dive bars and brothels and loudly announce “indeter is coming and bellies will be empty and there will be no food for those who do not work.”  Rousters who worked on Lee Line boats knew they could find a meal on board Lee Line boats during the cold slow winter months.

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LEE LINE ad circa 1895 1896

The Lee Line extended service onto the Ohio River following the bankruptcy of the St. Louis and New Orleans Anchor Line, which occurred in 1894.  The St. Louis and Tennessee River Packet Co. resulted from the merger of several smaller Packet Lines following the demise of the Anchor Line.  Previous to the Anchor Line bankruptcy, the Lee Line stopped at Cairo IL.  Following the Anchor Line ceasing operation, the Lee Line placed a wharf-boat near the Eads Bridge in St. Louis.  In 1904, the Lee Line advertised excursions to the St. Louis Worlds Fair.



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Rouster song

This rousterabout song was taken from Capt. William Tippitt’s History of the Lee Line

De rousters in da cabin,
Eatin from de plate
De Captain on the levee
totin in de freight
De Stewart and de pilot
De cook and de clerk
Is humpin on de gang plank
Doin rousters work.

Wages on the Memphis River front in 1890 were $100\month for pilots
and $60\month for rousters.

These pictures are from my brother George’s collection and depict rousters moving coal from a barge onto the boiler deck storage bins.  The boat is unknown but the location is probably on the Mississippi River.

031 ROUSTERS 2_1 030 ROUSTERS_4_1

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