Tell Us About Shantyboat Communities

Everywhere we go, we keep hearing that once upon a time, there were communities of shantyboaters living just at the edge of town along the river.

Sitting beside the Tennessee River in Knoxville, Wes Morgan told us that Cormac McCarthy‘s Suttree had it right: There were scores of shantyboats moored to the banks of the river, where you could find all the gamblers, the poor, the unemployed, the fishermen, and the drunks living at the edge of society. We interviewed Betty Goins who grew up on a shantyboat at the confluence of Tennessee and French Broad.

We heard from Peter Rachleff along the banks of the Mississippi River about the shantyboaters who lived near the Bohemian Flats in Minneapolis.

Long ago, we read about 1950s shantyboat communities on the Ohio River in Harlan Hubbard’s amazing chronicle Shantyboat.

And just last week, beached on the Sacramento River, Charles Yerxa and George Graham were telling us that there were collections of shantyboats in Colusa into the early 1970s. Charles told us that kids would throw rocks at the boats to see if they could make the residents yell at them.

I collected some historical photos around this earlier at the start of this project.

We’d like to hear your stories about shantyboats in your town on your river. Do you remember them or have you done some research? Do you know where there are photos of old shantyboats?

We are putting the call out for you to contribute your story to the archive. Please click here to contribute your story and photos of historical shantyboaters in your community.



1 comment for “Tell Us About Shantyboat Communities

  1. Vincent mortreux
    September 15, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    Good afternoon,

    My name is Vincent Mortreux. I am the Senior Producer for TF1 French Television’s Washington DC office.

    One of our correspondents is currently working on a series along the Mississippi River and he would have been interested doing a story for our evening newscast about the shantyboats and life on the Mississippi River.

    With this in mind, if you could put me in touch with someone who could tell us about his or her experience, and show us what Iife is like on the Mississippi River on a shantyboat , we would very much appreciate it.

    As you may already know TF1 is the largest European television network with an audience of approximately 6 million. Its newscasts can be seen on television in most French speaking countries as well as on the Internet worldwide.

    If I may provide you with any additional information please don’t hesitate to ask. I can be reached either via email at or on my cell (202) 257-1157.

    I thank you in advance for your time and consideration and look forward to hearing from you.

    Best regards,

    Vincent Mortreux

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