Living History Takes Shape on the River
Morgantown Dominion Post
21 June 2015
By Conor Griffith
The shores of the Monongahela River will have a new addition in
the future as an early 1800s-era flatboat takes form in
Saturday morning marked the beginning of what will hopefully
become a community project to bring the region’s history to life.
Steve Stathakis, who lives outside Morgantown, and carpenter Paul
Kinkus started the project by crafting saw horses at the mouth of
Deckers Creek, in Hazel Ruby McQuain Park. This is the first step
toward completing an exhibit on the river featuring authentic
clothing, music, refreshments and a feel for the time period.
Only the tools, materials and methods that were available in the
early 19th century are to be used, the same era that marked the
golden age of flatboat use on America’s rivers.
As a carpenter, Kinkus said he has always been fascinated by the
methods used in the past. “They didn’t have electric routers and a
lot of the stuff they have today,” he said. “There were a lot of
very skilled people back then with more limitations than we have
Kinkus said the flatboat project will be happening during the
summer and everyone is invited to come roll up their sleeves and
participate, or simply stop by and learn about the history of the
“It might take all summer; it might take two summers and that’s
OK,” Stathakis said. He said the more individuals and businesses
that help out, the faster the boat will be finished, possibly by
the end of the summer. Work will proceed from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on
Saturdays this summer.
WVU is providing some old ash and maple for the project, while the
West Virginia Humanities Council provided some grant money.
Stathakis said the boat will be 30 feet long and 10 feet wide when
completed and feature a cabin on top.
These boats were used to settle Tennessee by floating down the
Ohio and Mississippi rivers — they’re basically glorified barges,”
Flatboats rely only on the river’s current and an operated sweep
to move. Once travelers reached their destination, the boats were
often taken apart and the wood was sold or used to build homes.
Michael Kerns, one of Morgantown’s earliest prominent
entrepreneurs, built flatboats, which were also the primary means
to bring goods to market.
Stathakis said steamboats spelled the end for flatboats, but they
were still used for years after the first steamers appeared.
“They were used through the 1860s and probably longer,” he said.
“They were inexpensive — you could build one out of trees on your
farm and didn’t have to pay anyone for transportation.”
Stathakis said these boats changed history in another fashion: In
the early 1800s, a farm boy from Illinois took two trips down the
Mississippi to sell farm goods in New Orleans, and in the process
was exposed to the brutal realities of the American slave trade.
“That farmer grew up to be the 16th president of the United
States, Abraham Lincoln, so don’t tell me flatboats didn’t play a
role in our history,” Stathakis said.