Friday, March 28, 2008

Port Tobacco Times and Sedimentation

The Abstracts from the Port Tobacco Times and Charles County Advertiser compiled by Roberta J. Wearmouth, provide some insights into the sedimentation of the Port Tobacco River. Obviously an abstract can not include all the information contained in the original but the abstracts of the Times are a very useful source until the team completes it own review of local newspapers.

One abstract entry of interest relates to a time period long before the Times started publishing. An 1873 letter to the editor states that about 130 years previously there were plans to move the county seat to Chapel Point. The new town, to be called New Edinburg, was laid out with “ample ground for wharves, for the accommodation of trade and commerce, on water then deep enough for any vessel that could go to Alexandria”. The writer attributed this planned move to the rapid filling up of the creek and the fast growing destruction of the navigation at Port Tobacco. The writer said he had seen the plan for the town about 50 years earlier “when the Clerk’s office near the center of the public square was pulled down”. I sure would like to know how he learned that river sedimentation was the reason for the proposed move!

An 1854 report by a committee of the Charles County Agriculture Society seems to indicate the river at Port Tobacco’s traditional landing at Warehouse Point was already too shallow for navigation by large boats. This report recommended two locations on the Port Tobacco River for development as public landings for shipment of produce by steamboat. The first, Deep Point, on the East side of the river is approximately 2 ½ miles below the village of Port Tobacco and 1 ½ miles below Warehouse Point. It was described as being “as high up the creek as a steamboat could successfully ply”. From there smaller vessels would be used to transfer freight to the warehouses. The other recommended site was Brent’s Landing on the West side of the river slightly downriver from Deep Point. The abstracts give no indication that the Deep Point location was developed as a steamboat landing. However they do state that by the Fall of 1857 steamboats were stopping at Chapel Point (at the mouth of the river) where wharfs and a warehouse had been erected. Apparently Chapel Point served as the Port Tobacco stop for the duration of the steamboat era.

The Brent’s landing location was developed in 1881 but it too seemed to suffer sedimentation problems, for within a year the owner asked Congress to improve navigation by dredging the mouth of the Port Tobacco Creek. The abstracts state that funds were appropriated for a preliminary study of the feasibility of dredging both the Port Tobacco Creek and another creek in Charles County. However, they do not indicate if the dredging actually occurred. The silting problem apparently was not solved because in 1883 the Times praised the skills of a Captain who was able to dock a 300 ton schooner at Brent’s Landing. The article states that not only was the schooner probably the “largest sailing vessel” ever on the river but that much smaller vessels usually had great difficulty getting into the creek safely.

The abstracts also provide a few hints about how soil erosion that caused the sedimentation of the river affected the land around Port Tobacco, but that’s a story for another day.

- Elsie

No comments: