History

A shantyboat is a small crude houseboat (also called a flatboat, broadhorn, barge, scow, or ark). There is a long forgotten history in America of people living in homemade shantyboats, a reasonable and cost-free solution for displaced people in rural areas and workers in urban areas.

Shantyboat

Shantyboat

During the 19th century into the 1930s, itinerant workers lived in shantyboats along the canals and rivers of industrial American towns. Now, not only the shantyboats are gone, but the wild river banks, the river-based industry, and even the towns and neighborhoods adjacent to the river.

Working-class people living on the water is tied to economic conditions, the boom and bust cycles of capitalism, the 1890s, the Great Depression, the 70s, and the early 2000s.

In the fallout from the U.S. economic collapse in 1893, thousands of families left their homes in the upper Mississippi Valley in home-built shantyboats to look for work along the more industrialized lower Mississippi River and Ohio River Valleys. In the 1930s, displaced and jobless people took to the waters, to live or to travel to look for work. Dozens of published chronicles of these family sojourns are still available.

Family on front porch of houseboat on river in Charleston, West Virginia-1938

Family on front porch of houseboat on river in Charleston, West Virginia-1938

During the 1960s and 70s, a water-based analogue of the Back To The Land movement blossomed in leftover houseboat communities. People looked to the relative freedom of rivers, lakes, and seas, especially in floating communities in Sausalito, California, Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. Largely class-based conflicts between these houseboat communities and land-based home owners decimated these communities, and still flare up occasionally in the remnants of these communities today.

More recently, young middle-class men and women, principally from punk and anarchist communities, have taken to the river in homemade houseboats to float the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Missouri and other rivers. Despite the maze of regulation and prohibition against it, some of these itinerant communities of boat people still exist here and there.

Shanyboat

Shanyboat

William Glasier Crop

William Glasier Crop

Des Arc Bayou, 1912

Des Arc Bayou, 1912

Family on Houseboat

Family on Houseboat

Bohemian Flats Along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, MN

Bohemian Flats Along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, MN

Bohemian Flats, Minneapolis, MN, 1910

Bohemian Flats, Minneapolis, MN, 1910

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Family on Houseboat

Family on Houseboat

Kentucky River

Kentucky River

Boathouse

Boathouse

Loading the Lewis and Clark Keelboat_robertgriffing590x387

Loading the Lewis and Clark Keelboat_robertgriffing590x387

Shantyboat in Winter

Shantyboat in Winter

shantyboat at iron bridge

shantyboat at iron bridge

Houseboat

Houseboat

Houseboat washed high and dry amid debris. Maunie, Illinois-1930

Houseboat washed high and dry amid debris. Maunie, Illinois-1930

Houseboat along Ohio River at Rochester, Pennsylvania-1940

Houseboat along Ohio River at Rochester, Pennsylvania-1940

Houseboat on the Ohio River at Rochester, Pennsylvania-1940

Houseboat on the Ohio River at Rochester, Pennsylvania-1940

The Deserted house boat-1905

The Deserted house boat-1905

Steel bridge over Illinois River at Pearl, Ill-1905

Steel bridge over Illinois River at Pearl, Ill-1905

Anna Hubbard at outdoor kitchen

Anna Hubbard at outdoor kitchen

Harlan Hubbard on deck of his shantyboat

Harlan Hubbard on deck of his shantyboat

A visit to Harlan Hubbard's shantyboat

A visit to Harlan Hubbard’s shantyboat

L&N Railroad Bridge between Newport and Cincinnati

L&N Railroad Bridge between Newport and Cincinnati

Harlan and Anna Hubbard's shantyboat at Fort Thomas, Ky

Harlan and Anna Hubbard’s shantyboat at Fort Thomas, Ky

Harlan Hubbard building his shanty boat

Harlan Hubbard building his shanty boat

Anna Hubbard hangs laundry on the line to dry

Anna Hubbard hangs laundry on the line to dry

Anna Hubbard at shanty boat (with bicycle)

Anna Hubbard at shanty boat (with bicycle)

Men loading tobacco onto a shantyboat barge

Men loading tobacco onto a shantyboat barge

 

1 comment for “History

  1. Steven classon
    July 18, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Wes good luck on yor journey,I met u in auburn , when your truck broke. You parked in front of our building on locksley lane. I’m looking forward to following your journey. Good luck. Talk to you later. Steve.

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