Editors Note: This is the second installment of a two-part column. The first installment published in the Feb. 13 edition of The Cadiz Record.
Julien Gracey became more than just a means of hauling freight. She was an indispensable vehicle of social, political and even religious life for people who lived along the Cumberland River. Political candidates rode the boat and made campaign speeches at every landing. Physicians and circuit riding preachers rode her to make their rounds. On April 26, 1884, Bishop R. K. Hargrove convened the Methodist church's regional conference at Collinsville, Tennessee, a now-vanished town on the left bank of Cumberland River midway between Clarksville and Ashland City. The previous day, Julien Gracey started at Rock Castle in Trigg County and steamed up the river collecting people from every landing. The Ryman Line steamboat W. H. Cherry came down the river from Nashville with the upstream Methodists. On the return trip to bring the Trigg County worshippers home the Julien Gracey broke the drive shaft to her paddle wheel and had to tie up overnight near Linton while repairs were made. This was one of the few mishaps that the boat suffered. The following August the Julien Gracey came down the river with 40 people to a barn dance at Taylor's Landing near Linton and returned them to Clarksville late that night. In the summer of 1886 the Julien Gracey acquired the "well appointed pleasure barge 'Monon' for river excursions. Its managers will make contracts for Sunday-schools or lodge excursions or picnics, or will run excursions at low rates wherever there is a demand for them."
On Aug. 21, 1886 the Julien Gracey/Monon made its first excursion run up the river taking members of various Sunday-schools to a picnic at Ashland City, Tennessee. The boat stopped at every landing to pick up small groups of men, women, and children. As the Julien Gracey approached the Ashland City landing, the captain blew several blasts on the boat's steam whistle "so that all of the pretty girls would have a chance to get down to the river by the time the boat landed, and sure enough there was quite a bevy of them." Riverboat excursions became a way for young people who lived in otherwise isolated riverside communities to meet. Many romances began aboard the steamboat.
Good luck seemed to follow the Julien Gracey. In the spring of 1885 Captain Bill Colishaw took his family on vacation to New Orleans. While they were there Captain Colishaw bought a ticket for the Louisiana State Lottery. He tucked it into his wallet and forgot about it. When the winning number was drawn and published in June, Colishaw remembered the ticket, took it out of his wallet, and ... discovered that he had won the Louisiana State Lottery's $75,000 grand prize. Shortly thereafter Colishaw gave up command of the Julien Gracey and became captain of the Belle of Fountain, a luxurious new passenger packet that operated a shuttle service between Clarksville and Paducah. Captain H. S. Robinson took his place at the helm of the Julien Gracey.
The Julien Gracey was a live-saving angel of mercy twice in her career. In February 1884 severe floods inundated the lower Cumberland valley. Other steamboats fled the Cumberland River but the Julien Gracey remained "going all the time, and making as many trips as possible. It has been impossible for her to make regular time, as she would stop where she could do the most good." Torrential rains that began on March 25, 1886 and continued into April caused the worst flood known up until that time on the Mississippi River and its eastern tributaries. On April 3 the Cumberland River at Nashville was 43 feet 5 inches and rising an inch an hour. In a flood of that magnitude, the Cumberland River at Canton would have looked like Lake Barkley. The river rose so fast that many people were isolated on islands or trapped on the upper floors and rooftops of buildings standing in the flood waters. Captain Robinson and his crew in the Julien Gracey paddled up and down the river for several days, steaming into the backwater and up dangerous flooded hollows to rescue people and bring supplies to isolated communities.
Available sources do not reveal what eventually happened to the Julien Gracey. Last mention of the steamboat in the Clarksville Weekly Chronicle was on Dec. 3, 1887. At that time the boat had just been overhauled at Paducah and was loading cargo for a run up the Cumberland to resume operations. The 21st Annual List of the Merchant Vessels of the United States of June 30, 1889 listed the Julien Gracey as being in service on the lower Cumberland River. No further mention of the steamboat could be found. Since there is no mention in the Clarksville newspaper of a mishap befalling the popular steamboat, it seems probable that the Julien Gracey was retired and scrapped in 1890.