Gallipolis Daily Tribune: Shantyboaters seek river people secrets

Gallipolis Daily Tribune
by Dean Wright

Pictured are shantyboat riders and A Secret History of American River People colleagues from left to right, Jeremiah Daniels, Wes Modes and Adrian Nankivell.

GALLIPOLIS — A trio of shantyboaters landed in Gallipolis Tuesday to speak with locals about the life and culture of the region as they continued a journey from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and on through Louisville, Kentucky, on the Ohio River.

Jeremiah Daniels, Wes Modes and Adrian Nankivell are three companions floating down the Ohio River as part of a documentation project called The Secret History of American River People. The project has traveled over 1,800 miles on five rivers.

The three companions of the Secret History of American River People project gather near the entrance of their shanty boat.

“Lots of people told us we needed to visit Gallipolis,” said Modes. “So, we’ve been doing this for six years and we’ve been on rivers all over the country. This year we’re exploring the Ohio River. I love rivers and I’ve spent some time floating down rivers in homemade boats. I started working on this boat in 2012 and I wanted to float down some rivers but I didn’t just want to be a tourist. I wanted to give something back to those communities. So, what made sense was to give a gift of listening and collecting stories.”

Modes said the trio would stop in various towns and do interviews, photographing, videoing and blogging their experiences to be shared on their website.

“We’re constantly talking to folks and learning about the places we’re traveling through,” said Modes. “Though people view this as a history project, we’re less interested in the Revolutionary War history or Civil War history. We’re more interested in the history that people remember, the living history of people who are in these communities. So, maybe at the highest level, scholars or researchers who want to know what are rivers like in 2018 and 2019 can have an understanding of what river communities are going through…Like are they struggling with gentrification and money that could displace communities? Are they struggling with more flooding? Are they struggling with people fleeing little towns to big towns? A lot of little communities might look like an economic bomb has hit them.”

Modes’ shantyboat is an amalgamation of materials and inspired by the historical wooden-hulled “shantyboat” houseboats of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

A Secret History of American River People’s shantyboat docks at the Gallipolis Boat Club.

“We’re excited about the personal and lived history of people’s lives,” said Modes.

The trio of boaters were able to speak with local personalities such as Gallipolis City Commission’s Mike Fulks, the John Gee Black Historical Center’s Bobette Braxton, the Gallipolis Boat Club’s Bill Martin and the Point Pleasant River Museum’s Butch Leport.

“I’ll be making a scholarly archive of what interviews we have so that if you live in say Davenport, Iowa, and you’re challenged by flooding, maybe you might learn from some of the attitudes of folks in Marietta,” said Modes. “There are shared challenges that all river communities have where some are natural and some are economic…Hopefully, through those shared challenges different communities can learn from that.”

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