MEMORIES IN FOCUS: A cruise line to go along with a rail line years ago
FROM 1888 "HANDBOOK OF MARION COUNTY," BY C.S. BURCH
This sketch of Taylor Riddle's steam-powered yacht, the Maud Murphy, along the Cottonwood River at 2nd St. was created by Chicago travel journalist C.S. Burch after a trip described in an 1887 article in the Marion Record.
Water always has played a pivotal role in the history of Marion, from its two lakes of today to its founding.
Many are familiar with negative parts of that history — historic flooding, now precluded by a reservoir and a levee.
Some are familiar with water’s more positive role, from the legend of explorers telling settlers that Marion’s confluence of rivers was the “best place I’ve seen” in the 1860s to the Chingawasa Springs resort and narrow-gauge railroad that hauled visitors to it in the boom times of the late 1880s and early 1890s.
Most, however, are unfamiliar with another unusual feature, contemporaneous with the Chingawasa rail line — a steam excursion ship that took visitors on tours up and down the rivers surrounding Marion.
In 1860, when Marion was settled, the region was known as the Great American Desert, considered largely uninhabitable.
What actually drove people to Marion in those drought-plagued years, according to 1860 news reports in an Emporia newspaper, were two rivers, Clear Creek and Antelope Creek, as Mud Creek was known at the time.
Both were fed by springs that quite unusually had failed to dry up during the 1860 drought and provided sufficient water at their confluence with the Cottonwood to provide sustenance to the first settlers of what at the time became known as Marion Centre.
One of those springs was the site of the town’s first settlement, in present-day Central Park, on the bank of Luta Creek, the combination of Clear and Antelope (Mud) creeks just before they join the Cottonwood.
Nearly 30 years later, other springs just upstream within the city limits and a few miles northeast of town at Chingawasa Lake put the town on the map as a health resort.
Mineral waters from the springs supposedly offered medicinal properties, leading to the construction of mineral baths in town and at the resort, as well as the railway connecting them.
But this wasn’t the only way in which the community capitalized on its water resources.
In 1887, Taylor Riddle, who went on to become a leading figure in the state’s populist movement, purchased from a boat maker in Racine, Wisconsin, a steam-powered yacht, which he named the Maud Murphy.
A young woman by that name was graduating from high school and going to work as a grade school teacher at that time, but it’s not clear whether the yacht was a namesake for the young woman, who soon afterward moved to Abilene.
What is clear is that the Maud Murphy was a major source of entertainment and regional fame for the next four years.
In those days, both the Cottonwood and the Luta had different paths through town. The Cottonwood meandered from near the present VFW post, along the east edge of Jex Addition, turning north to 2nd and Water Sts., then back south behind what’s now Marion Senior Center.
The Luta meandered through what’s now Central Park, bifurcating it en route to historic Brooker Springs, then veered west, north of present-day Bown Corby Apartments and past the waterworks. The difference between Luta’s original channel and its present one, dug in the 1920s, created what’s informally known as Dogfish Island.
Heaving to from a dock at 2nd and Water Sts., near a present-day storage area for Flaming’s Inc., the Maud Murphy steamed up and down the Cottonwood and the Luta, delighting thousands.
It was a major attraction of a statewide YMCA Bible School in 1888 and in 1887 provided a private tour for visiting journalists, including Chicago travel writer and artist Colonel C.S. Burch, who drew the accompanying image for his 1888 book, “Handbook of Marion County, Kansas,” written for immigrants and pioneers seeking to homestead.
“The handsome little steam yacht Maud Murphy recently launched from this great port,” the Record reported at the time, “and now plies the waters of the Cottonwood and Luta almost daily.
“We can now bear personal testimony to the delights of a trip in this charming cruiser. An invitation from that jolly old tar, Captain Taylor Riddle, moved us to the ‘wharf’ at the foot of 2nd St. last Friday afternoon, where we found the pretty steam yacht crowded with a company of ladies and gentlemen just steaming into port.
“We cannot, of course, do justice to the delights of such an experience in a newspaper article. It is like courting a pretty girl. It must be experienced to be appreciated.
“Balmy breezes cooled by the falling shadows of trees o’erhanging the placid stream mellowed the rays of an unclouded sun and — oh, well, now as then, we’re in deep water!
“The little steamer is a floating beauty. It is compactly built, encased in a coat of iron, and handsomely finished. It is 25 feet long, 5 or 6 feet wide, and draws about 2 feet of water. It has carried 20 passengers, though one-half that number is about the proper number for pleasure and comfort.
“The engine, which gets is power from oil, does its work admirably, carrying the boat through the waters at the rate of 8 miles an hour.”
The Maud Murphy, like the Chingawasa resort and rail line, was not long-lived. The steamer was destroyed in a barn fire Aug. 7, 1891, about the time that an economic downturn condemned the resort and rail line, along with several Marion banks.
Memories of the steamer were invoked years later when Record editor E.W. Hoch, a staunch anti-populist, attempted to dismiss pronouncements by populist Riddle about naval battles in the Spanish-American War by saying they were based on Riddle’s maritime expertise as commander of the Maud Murphy.
Last modified June 20, 2019