The day two steamers arrived
Like fancy dresses that are tucked away in a closet, documents hiding in a dusty old box, or jewelry under lock and key, a historic mural of an uncommon event on the Allegheny River at Warren has been largely out of the public eye.
The Elton Davis mural featuring two steamships that arrived at Breeze Point on the same day in 1852 decorates one wall of the Oak Room in the basement of the Conewango Club.
The sternwheelers Clara Fisher and Allegheny Belle No. 2 are central features in the 35-foot long mural.
Thanks to an agreement between the Conewango Club and the Warren County Historical Society, the mural – copies of it, at least – will soon see daylight.
“The Conewango Club has granted permission for the historical society to use the print for reproduction, publication and sales,” John Beard, who is a member of both the club and the society and instigated the digitizing effort, said.
Photographer Jeremy Jeziorski volunteered to digitize the mural.
He used a high-resolution camera to take a series of images of the mural. He’ll piece those images, about 20 of them, together into a faithful reproduction.
Digital copies of the composite mural will be provided to the historical society.
The piece was commissioned by Harold Putnam on the 100th anniversary of the event. Putnam was a historian and a descendant of river men, according to his son Chase Putnam and granddaughter Ellen Paquette.
“He was a remarkable historian,” Chase Putnam said. “Dad was a steamboat fancier as well as a local historian.”
“He was very interested in steamboat history, especially locally,” he said. “He rode them whenever he could as a young man.”
Those interests prompted Putnam to have Davis produce a drawing for his 1942 Christmas cards, Chase Putnam said.
Ten years later, for the 100th anniversary of the events of Friday, April 2, 1852, Putnam asked Davis to paint a mural.
According to the text of a presentation made at the Woman’s Club in 1944, the 160-foot Clara Fisher had been specially built for the Warren and Pittsburgh trade.
The boat arrived around 4 a.m. that Friday, April 2, with a shrill whistle, disturbing “the babies and their snoozing mamas,” according to the April 8, 1852, edition of the Warren Mail.
The two-decked Allegheny Belle arrived a few hours later at about 9 a.m. despite having left Pittsburgh a day later than the Clara Fisher.
The Allegheny Belle made the trip to Warren in about 39 hours. That time may have set a record according to the Warren Mail.
The boats arrived with passengers and a variety of cargo: “plows, potatoes, kegs, feather sacks, barrels of pork, flour and whiskey” and steamed out of town together at noon.
Both the drawing and the mural include a line of buildings along the shore of the Allegheny and several keel boats being poled past the steamers.
A third rendering of the scene was produced for letterhead for Putnam’s office in the Pennsylvania Bank and Trust Building in 1959.
There are some differences between the original and final versions of the scene.
The keel boat Yankee Notion looks quite different and some of the buildings are changed.