When Parkersburg Became an Island
Taken from a hand-written account by Mae Stump Elliott

First published 2001

In 1907 Parkersburg had two floods, one of over 40 feet on January 21st and the other cresting at nearly 52 feet on March 16th. According to old records, March 16, 1907 was a bright sunny day. Despite the welcomed sunshine, Parkersburg was an island with all roads in and out of the city cut off by the high water.

But there were the boats which ran regularly on the Ohio and Little Kanawha Rivers, flood or no flood. And, there were trains, or at least there had been.

On the morning of the 16th, the Baltimore and Ohio's crack train, The St. Louis Limited, was trying desperately to reach Parkersburg with its 105 passengers and her crew.

It seemed The Limited would make it but, about half a mile west of Kanawha Station, high water on the tracks put the fire out under her boiler. With the fire gone, the supply of steam declined rapidly and the train came to a hopeless halt surrounded by the muddy waters of the Little Kanawha River.

However, there was just enough steam left for the engineer to blow a distress signal to a boat which could be seen passing rapidly, riding the swift current downstream toward Parkersburg.

An old newspaper reports "Captain Bill Stump, skipper of the gasoline sternwheeler, RELIANCE, was headed downstream from Grantsville with a barge 16 feet wide and 60 feet long. The barge was loaded with white oak staves consigned to the Standard Oil Co. Refinery which was then located on Staunton Ave. These staves would be delivered and a load of oil field equipment would then be taken back up the river and delivered to different locations between Burning Springs and Grantsville."


The account of the old, near-tragedy continued, "Captain Stump was quick to recognize the distress call and came immediately to the rescue," the article related. "The Captain maneuvered his boat alongside the stalled train and took off all passengers and the crew without injury to any of the more than 110 anxious souls who were marooned there. There was not enough room in the cabin of the boat to accomodate a crown of that magnitude.

It was a nice sunshiny day and passengers and train crew stood on the quarter decks at each end of the barge, or sat on the cargo."

"When the RELIANCE and her precious carge reached Parkersburg, the barge was headed up Market Street. The RELIANCE was then cut loose from the barge and was propelled by hand with long poles up past the City Building at Fifth and Market Sts., the passengers being unloaded approximately in front of what is now Reps Furniture Store." Captain Stump told that the auditor of the B & O compensated him with an order for $100.00 which, he said was a lot of money at that time.

The newspaper article was written several decades after the incident, it related, "Three unidentified reporters wrote, "The veteran riverman said that at that time (1907) all steam and gasoline boats were built of wood.

The Little Kanawha was a busy river with locks and dams in good repair, making a pool in stages from Parkersburg to Creston. The river was channeled and the timber was kept cut from harbor line to shore line."

At the time the story was related, Captain Stump had retired, but in speaking of his years on the river, he said, "I had a good time. I worked hard but I enjoyed every minute of it."

There are probably not many cases on record where a boat has rescued the stranded passengers from a crack train.

After retirement, Captain Bill Stump and wife Ruby Dent Stump lived near Wheeling for several years, then came to Parkersburg, and lived there until they died. He died in 1962, and she in 1964. They were interred in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Parkersburg, W. Va.