May 27, 1896 Disaster strikes the City of St. Louis and The Anchor Line

The third deadliest tornado in United States’ history struck St. Louis, Missouri, and the East St. Louis, Illinois, area on this date back in 1896. This F4-rated twister left 255 dead and over 1,000 injured as it devastated the region.   The Anchor Line (main Lee Line competitor) suffer the loss of and severe damage to several of her steamboats during this storm.  The Anchor Line became insolvent following this disaster.  As a result of the Anchor Line demise, the Lee Line expanded operations beyond Cairo IL into St. Louis.  The Lee Line ordered 3 large side wheel steamers and several smaller stern wheel boats built at Howards Shipyard Jeffersonville Indiana to expand the Memphis and St. Louis trade as well as compete on the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers.  The following account of the storm is from Capt. William Tippitt’s History of the Anchor Line.

Anchor Line May 27 1896 disaster 1

Anchor Line may 27 1896 disaster 2

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1890 and 1900 James Lee Jr fistic encounter

This bit of history is from Capt. William Tippitt’s History of the Lee Line.   My great grandfather James Lee Jr. purchased 690 Adams Ave. which is now the James Lee House Bed and Breakfast operated by Jose and Jennifer Velazquez.  Jose and Jennifer (and partners) have done an amazing job of bring this house back to and above its former splendor and most important are very gracious host.

Regarding this somewhat humorous story, (great grandfather passed away Feb. 1905), in 1890 and 1900 he still had a never back down attitude that served him well the many years he spend battling for his share of steamboat business

James Lee Jr fistic encounter

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1909 Water Ways Journal Lee Line advertisment

Thank you David Tschiggfrie, Editor of the S&D REFLECTOR, for emailing this October 23, 1909 ad from the Waterways Journal.

LeeLine Ad 10-23-09 WJ

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1841 flatboat men – Taming rough characters

These pages are from the Standard History of Memphis : From a Study of the Original Sources published by H.W. Crew & Co. Knoxville Tennessee 1912

1841 flatboat 1flatboat men 2

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1918 American Naval power v 1890’s post civil war gunboat

US Naval warship 1918 US Navy crusersIMGw

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Dual Turret Monitor USS Amphitrite from collection of Milton McFarland Painter Sr. , Mississippi River, Memphis TN – Circa 1911

US Naval warship

The Monitor USS Amphitrite was moored at the mouth of the Wolf River where it meets the Mississippi & apparently caused silt buildup causing the eventual forming of Mud Island.   This picture and above caption was sent by Henry Carlyle Acosta.  Thank you Henry for this very nice picture of the USS Amphitrite and the history.   The white building just to her stern appears to the US Custom house.

Credit: From Monitor Amphitrite.  Sysid 97315.  Scanned as tiff in 2008/03/03 by MDAH.  Credit:  Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

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Monitor USS Amphitrite correctly identified











Charles Ipcar says:

Love this website!

I and some of my friends have been puzzling over the above photo for a bit on another Facebook forum. The warship in the background cannot be the Gunboat USS Nashville, which had two funnels and did not lay that low in the water. The prime candidate appears to be the Monitor USS Amphitrite which was in the area from 1910 to 1916. The later date makes even more sense given that the Sadie Lee (2nd steamboat in) wasn’t even launched until 1901.


Thank you Charles for your keen eye and correct identification of the USS Amphitrite.   Close examination of an enlarged image of the above picture shows a single funnel ship with what looks like a gun turret on her bow very much like a Civil War iron clad Monitor US gunboat.  The link below gives the history of this ship and similar war ships.

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ROWENA LEE Insurance claim for Oct. 3, 1897 sinking

The value of the ROWENA LEE as insured by 3 insurance companies was $22,500.

The Greenwich Insurance Co. insured $5000 and paid $675.56 of the claim

The St. Paul Insurance Co.            ”         $2500 and paid $337.78  of the claim

The Sea Insurance Co                     ”         $5000 and paid $675.56 of the claim

Owners self insured                                    $7500 and paid $1013.34 of the claim

Total claims payments to raise and repair the ROWENA Lee was $3040.02

Rowena Lee sinking cover

Rowena Lee sinking p1

Rowena Lee sinking p2

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Eagle Packet Excursion April 1930

Eagle Packet 4 15 1930

The Eagle Packet Company was a competitor of the Lee Line following the collapse of the St. Louis New Orleans Anchor Line in 1898.   A postcard with the REES LEE in the fore ground somewhere on what appears to be the Mississippi River shows a steamer tied up on the river bank.  Enlargement of the picture reveals the steamer was the SPREAD EAGLE.  This REES LEE postcard was post marked 1910.


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STACKER LEE Rotograph postcard 1907

Stacker Lee Rotograph postcard

Nice Rotograph postcard of the STACKER LEE also known as STACK-O-Dollars by her crew because the STACKER was a very profitable boat.

The Rotograph Co. printed millions of postcards.  The link below gives a history of the Photographische Gesellschaft, founded in 1894.


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