Before the railroad reached Iowa City in 1856, there was great hope that the Iowa River would support steamboat travel as a way to import and export goods. That hope was actually written into the City’s code as all bridge construction – which began in 1854 – could not “obstruct navigation.”
Excitement across Johnson County was at an all-time high when the first steamboat, the Ripple, under the command of Captain Dan Jones, made its way into Iowa City in the early summer of 1841.
“We need not speak of the astonishment caused by such unusual sounds – sounds which were for the first time heard on our peaceful river – nor of the many conjectures which were started as to the course from whence they proceeded. Our doubts were soon dispelled by the glorious reality, as the Steamer Ripple for the first time came dashing up the Iowa and landed at the ferry, which henceforth is only to be known by the more appropriate name of the Steam Boat Landing.” The Iowa City Standard
Yes, there was hope in Iowa City that, with the coming of the Ripple, many more steamers would be chugging up and down the Iowa River on a regular basis. But sadly, with the ebbs and flows of the river in Johnson County, it simply was too difficult – and risky – for larger boats to maintain a regular schedule. In Irving Weber’s 1980’s video presentation, he talks about a spot just south of town, a ford, when at certain times of the year, the water level would be so low, farmers and cattlemen could walk their herds across the riverbed.
Sadly, by the 1860’s, after the railroad came into town, this grand idea of Iowa City Riverboat Landing sank like a stone since the river just didn’t have the consistent depth needed to sustain this enterprise.
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