riverboat

The City of Florence was one of the riverboats piloted by Charles Franklin "Captain Frank" Rowden. [COURTESY PHOTO]

Decatur resident Frank Rowden, 68, sees a common theme in his family, even before it arrived in the River City in the late 1800s.

"I guess you can say in one way or another most of my family has been in the transportation business," Rowden said.

His great-grandfather, Charles Franklin Rowden, perhaps the most renowned of them, was a riverboat captain who moved to Decatur from Chattanooga in 1890, according to Frank Rowden.

"He spent over 50 years running the rivers," Rowden added. "He was licensed for all rivers flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. His last job was helping build the (Wilson and Wheeler) dams. I actually got to see a boat that he was on. There was a boat called the Ildewild which is now the Belle of Louisville. It's docked in Louisville, Kentucky, and they do excursion runs and serve meals. He used to captain that boat."

Rowden said "Captain Frank" was introduced to the riverboat industry by his father, William Thomas Rowden.

"His father ... was also a riverboat captain," Rowden said. "So they used to make a run down here to Decatur all the time. ... Frank, from the time he was a teenager, he was on the rivers.”

According to a "Waterways Journal" article that appeared in 1943 after Charles Franklin Rowden's death, the captain "learned to handle every type of steamboat in use including general packet boat, tow boats and excursion steamers."

The article said he also "was one of the few men who held a license as master, pilot, mate and chief engineer on all rivers flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. He worked on the White River, the Missouri River, running from Omaha, Neb., to St. Louis, the Cumberland River above Nashville and made all the principal river runs during his lifetime."

Just as "Captain Frank" was exposed to riverboat life by his father, his sons, Elmer, Paul and Charles, also gained steamboat experience.

Frank Rowden said Elmer, his grandfather, worked for the Texas Company (Texaco) in oil and gas distribution from the early 1920s until his death in 1949. Frank Rowden's father, James Franklin Rowden, worked as a transportation supervisor.

According to Rowden, his great-great-grandfather, William Anderson Raney, father to Captain Frank's wife, Alice, also spent time in the transportation industry as a railroad agent in Decatur.

Among the various family items Rowden also discovered something from another of Captain Frank Rowden's ventures.

"I have ... a 'salesman's case' that Captain Rowden used to carry on the boat with him because he was selling suits on the side," Rowden said. "I've got advertising in there as well as receipts from where he sold suits in different places."

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