Steamboat Building in Elizabeth, PA

A Journal of daily activities at the Elizabeth Marine Ways 1898 to 1925 

Sprague Model

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  On this page I have detailed my search for a model of the Steamer Sprague, that JW and five other employees of the Elizabeth Marine Ways built in 1908. Photos of the model are included after the article.


My Search

As an elementary school assignment, my class was to prepare a story about a grandparent's childhood memory. I wasn't very excited about this project, but spent some time with my grandmother, asking her to tell me a story from her childhood. This is what I remember.

As a child of three or four, grandma would spend time during the summer with her grandparents near Grove City, Pennsylvania where they lived on a stone covered road. Grandma liked to go bare foot on walks with her grandfather. Being very small in size, not quite able to form her words yet, and playing on her grandfather's love, she would often ask him to carry her by sweetly reciting this simple request, "Tarry me Grandpoo, so the tones don't hurt my feet."

I had forgotten that story until a few years ago when I was shuffling through some photos and letters that belonged to my grandmother. Among those items was a letter written to her from my great great grandfather, James Madison Montgomery. The letter was a note of congratulations on the birth of her daughter, Lois, my mother. "I do not know whether I will ever see this new addition to my little bunch of great grandchildren, but my love and my blessing goes out to her and her mother as it always did to you from the time when you would say, "Grandpoo, won't you tarry me, so the tones don't hurt my feet." Immediately the letter brought back sweet memories of the discussion I had with my grandmother. I became interested in finding out more about this great great grandfather and this led to my overall interest in genealogy.

Opening family photo albums and boxes stored in the attic, I gathered quite a bit of information about my maternal grandmother's side of the family. But the search for the Lynch family, my maternal grandfather's family, would prove to be a bit more difficult.

Initially, I made several unsuccessful phone calls to Lynch families in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, the hometown of my grandparents. My sister, Barbara, had remembered that there was a Marjorie Lynch Shaw living in that area. I recalled seeing that name on a headstone near the graves of my grandparents and mother. Utilizing a search program on the Internet, I found a listing for Marjorie Shaw in McKeesport. She turned out to be my mother's cousin. Eventually, Marjorie and I met and we exchanged a few photos and a list of anniversary and birth dates. She believed her brother James Lynch who lived in Florida might have more pictures and also some books saved from their Aunt Helen's estate.

A few weeks later, Marjorie called to tell me that James had sent a box of memorabilia to his sister's home. I now refer to that package as the "Box o' Lynch." It was filled with photos, several books on the history of Pennsylvania, but most importantly four journals. I picked up the first journal and read several pages, realizing these books were actually a personal diary. I was immediately fascinated, particularly when I read the following:

"....The first flying machine I saw flew down the river Fri. October 9, 1914 -- passed the Ways at 2:05 p.m.  disappeared around Bell Bridge bend in just two minutes."

click the link above to view this airplane:

 First flying machine

This was beyond any expectations. You see, these journals were written by James and Marjorie Lynch's grandfather – and my great grandfather, John William Lynch! I took the "Box o'Lynch" home so I could thoroughly read all of its contents. Quickly, it became obvious to me that I needed to copy these journals to preserve the words written so very long ago. I had been scanning family photos and decided the best way to preserve the journal was to scan each page. This turned out to be a very time consuming activity as the journal entries began in approximately 1885 and continued until 1948. With this technique I would not only be saving the journal pages in a permanent manner, but I would be able to easily share the pages with anyone who had an interest...members of the Lynch family and specifically my brother and sons.

As I scanned each entry, I also had the opportunity to read each word written on the cracked, fragile pages. At times, a few of the pages from the journal written more than 100 years ago, would crumble between my fingers.

I learned that my great grandfather had worked at the Elizabeth Marine Ways and a majority of the first journal dealt with the work performed at the Ways. Lists of men and boats were documented and daily activities were recorded. Because of my personal interest in genealogy, I recognized that some of these recollections could be helpful to others seeking information on their ancestors. I would also later learn the importance of the river history as it was noted on these pages.

One of the entries from 1908, indicated that JW and several other men had built a scale model of some barges which were to be used for display purposes. I did not give the entry any additional thought at the time. 

1908  8 - 26  Models


However, several weeks after reading that entry, I came across the following which was written in 1926:


..."The miniature ˝ inch scale model barges –coal boats—coal barges – coal flats – coal boat bottoms – a replica of the Str. Sprague and a miniature bridge were built at the Elizabeth Marine Ways August, 1908. These were first on exhibition at the Pittsburgh Exposition 1908-1909. The barges and other coal craft were hitched into the Str. Sprague representing the largest tow that ever went down the Ohio River. They were exhibited in a large shallow tank of water. They were all loaded with coal and passing under the bridge. This display was put on by The Monongahela River Consolidated Coal and Coke Company and were installed, ready for public inspection by Jno Wiegle and Jno Morgan and myself. Later they were exhibited in Europe, London, Paris and Rome, after which they came back to the Ways. The bridge and coal craft are still at the Ways, 1926. The Str. Sprague is in the offices of Pittsburgh Coal Company, Oliver Building, Pittsburgh, Pa. Three of the men who helped build these models are gone from all hard work -- Frank Worchester, George Balsinger, Herb Wiegel. The others that are still living are William Packard, Jno Morgan and myself...."

Click here to see the full page as written in the journal


It seemed obvious that this must have been a very significant model if it was displayed not only at the Pittsburgh Exposition of 1908 but also in Europe. To satisfy my own curiosity, I would have to find some photos of this model.

The following Saturday I was at a local mall and while my wife was having her hair done, I decided to kill some time at Waldenbooks. In the local history section, I began to leaf through books looking for information on the Pittsburgh Expositions. The last book I looked at was titled, "Only In Pittsburgh," by S. Trevor Hadley. In Chapter two, titled, ‘Pittsburgh's Great Expositions (1875 - 1916), on page 14, I read:

..."Elizabeth Ledwidge, a teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, wrote about attending the Exposition in 1908 which was also Pittsburgh's Sesqui-Centennial. She wrote: ‘We spent Exposition Day at the Point. Large crowds had assembled to hear Mayor Guthrie and Roger Pryor's Band play compositions from Pittsburgh composers. Among other things we saw were specimens of armor plates and many projectiles. The major exhibit was a model of the Sprague, the largest river steamboat in the world, towing 50,000 tons of coal in barges....'"

My knees actually buckled slightly as I read those words. I was overwhelmed and knew I now had a mission to find a picture of this model. I wondered if the model could possibly still exist even though the exposition was 90 years ago. Not likely. But I should at least be able to find a photo.

I continued to research the model in "Way's Steam Towboat Directory," compiled by Frederick Way, Jr. with Joseph W. Rutter. On page 211, I found the following excerpt about the display:

.."A working model of the SPRAGUE was built in 1908 for exhibition at the annual opening of the Pittsburgh Exposition along the Allegheny River, near the Point. The SPRAGUE was reproduced with a revolving paddlewheel and electric lights and was hitched to 56 miniature coalboats loaded with coal. The whole of the exhibit was contained in a tank 50x21 feet, filled with water, with a model of the Cairo, IL bridge featured. This exhibit of the high art of coalboating was sponsored by the M.R.C.C. & C. Company. Later this model was on exhibit at the Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh for a number of years, into the early 1930s...."

Through the Internet, I made contact with David Boyd of Waynesburg, a potential distant cousin, on the Lynch family branch. David and I exchanged a few e-mails and decided to meet and exchange hard copies of the information each of us had. During our meeting, he suggested I place a message on the Allegheny County Rootsweb page, as he felt certain there was a woman on that list who was knowledgeable on the subject of steamboats.

I posted a message requesting help in locating information on the 1908 Pittsburgh Exposition and a model of the Steamer Sprague. In mid-March, 1998. I received several responses with basic information regarding newspapers and photograph museums. One e-mail gave me not only some tips on where to look, but went into more detail with specific names and addresses of Steamboat Museums and organizations.

This is where I first encountered Maryann Hamer, river boat buff. She stated in an early message, "The reason I am interested is simple: I love steamboats." Maryann and I corresponded for several months, with me sharing pages from JW's journal and she, in exchange, telling me about the entries and explaining the various steamboat construction words. ( See this page for additional information on Maryann Hamer )

As time passed, I visited the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh and read many books on the 1908 Exposition, including several programs from the event. Many photos were available, but all were of exterior events such as parades and dedications. I even called Consolidation Coal, the present owner of the Elizabeth Marine Ways, hoping the company might have some photos in its archives – but no luck.

Then in May, 1998, Maryann sent me a short message indicating that she had talked with Jack Custer, an expert river buff, about the model of the Sprague. He insisted that the model still existed and was now owned by an unidentified woman from Pittsburgh who had a chain of mattress stores. I immediately began my own search, pulling out the Yellow Pages and looking up Mattress Stores. The phone calls began. I would first ask the person who answered the phone if their chain of stores had a female owner. If the answer was "yes," I would tell my story and explain my search. I look back now on this line of questioning with some humor, realizing that these individuals must have thought I was off the wall making such a call. Unfortunately, I had no success.

The next afternoon, I was reading our local newspaper, "The Valley Independent," which is published in Monessen, Pennsylvania. The "Weekender Magazine," a weekly feature on Thursdays, had an ad that instantly caught my eye. This was it! The ad was for a museum in Pittsburgh called "The Mattress Factory." It all made sense now!

I immediately called The Mattress Factory Museum and informed the receptionist of my quest. Within minutes, Barbara Luderowski, founder and director of the museum, took my call. It turns out, Barbara was the owner of the model of the Steamer Sprague. She had purchased it at an auction just a few months prior, and explained that it was previously owned by the Carnegie Museum. Barbara said the model had been placed on the auction block after a fire had burned a hole in the Sprague's roof.

The model had been found! Barbara and I talked for some time over the phone then arranged a time when I could visit her and see the model.

The following Saturday, my wife and I went to the Mattress Factory to finally see the model. We were immediately struck by the size of the model which was over 10 feet long, three feet wide and three feet high. It was huge! I now understood why it was considered the Sesqui-Centennial's primary exhibit. Barbara was in the process of rebuilding the model and had disassembled the Sprague into four primary sections -- the upper deck, hull, pilot house and the large red wheel. The upper decks were in one piece and it was easy to see the detail that went into the model's construction. It included such items as blankets and bed pillows in each of the cabins, hinged doors, and detailed railings.

I offered my assistance in helping her rebuild the model, but she obviously sensed that I am not skilled with my hands, so she has never requested my help. I am, however, extremely anxious to see the model when it is completely refurbished.

Note:   This story was published in the magazine  "S&D Reflector"  June 2002 issue.


Click on images to view larger.



      added 1/24/18

These two article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post August 4, 1908 and the Pittsburgh Gazette August 31, 1908 about the upcoming display at the Pittsburgh Sequi-Centennial celebration being built at the Elizabeth Marine Ways.



Photo of the model at the Carnegie Museum

On display at Carnegie Museum, date unknown.  This is the earliest photo of the model that I presently have.  From collection of Barbara Ritts   


Photos of the model when it arrived at the Mattress Factory Museum from Carnegie Museum in 1998

Click here to see a larger picture of the model    Click here to see a larger picture of the model


Photos of the model disassembled

Upper Decks Paddle Wheel Engine room boilers Lower deck showing rudders, location for wheel, and engine room area with electric motor used to turn wheel.


Addendum added December 2009      

During November 2008 Barbara Luderowski left a message on this web sites Guestbook informing me that she had sold the model to the National Mississippi River Museum ( located in Dubuque, Iowa.  I sent a general inquiry to this museum asking about the model which led to an exchange of emails informing me that they expected to include this model in a display sometime during 2009.  The model had not been refurbished but was reassembled and sold with the burnt area on the upper deck, the new owner wants to include this burnt area in their display as it matches a burnt area on the original SPRAGUE from a fire at some point in its history.

Dubuque, IA, about an 18 hour drive from southwest PA was too far for me to consider driving their to see the model so I would have to fly at some point in time.  During the spring of 2009 my wife informed me that she would have to go to Minneapolis, MN for a week in early July.......a quick look up told me that the drive from Minneapolis to Dubuque was about a 5 hour drive and this seemed a drive that could be accomplished.  I did visit the museum during the second week of July, 2009 to see the model and upon my arrival was escorted into the basement work and storage area.  This was my first time in seeing this model together, I had started this search over ten years earlier.  These are a few of the photos that I took:


The entrance to the National Mississippi River Museum.  The museum goes on in three directions, back, right, and left.  The model in one piece  Opposite side from previous photo with burnt area visible  One of many close-up photos I took

View from front   Close up of burnt area  Paddle wheel attached   


  As of this posting the model is not yet on display but based upon what I was told it is a work in progress.  Once completed I hope to make another trip to the Museum in Dubuque, IA to see the model complete a trip of over 100 years from being built at the Elizabeth Marine Ways by several workmen, including my great-grandfather, to a display at the 1908 Pittsburgh Sequi-Centennial, travel to Europe, on display at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh to a display at the National Mississippi River Museum. 


During April 2010 the Museum posted the following information in its monthly newsletter, the model is on display!




On July 15,2016 I visited the National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque, Iowa with my wife Suzan, my son Jay, and my daughter-in-law Kellie.  This visit to Dubuque was part of a road trip that included six other towns that were visited but the Museum in Dubuque with the model of the SPRAGUE was the primary destination of this trip.  When we entered the museum we had no idea where the model was on display so we were very surprised to begin the tour and turning the first corner there was the model. I was more than excited to have completed my search for this model of the Steamer SPRAGUE that began about 18 years prior with me hoping to find pictures of the model and ending with me seeing the actual model on display in a prominent museum in a prominent location.

Below are a few photos of the model on display at the National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque Iowa




      added 8/17/16

To give a perspective on the size of the model it is 10'7" long and 2'2" wide, the picture below with a great great grandson of J.W. Lynch, Jay M. Mohney, will help give this perspective.

A personal note for anyone that might want to visit Dubuque is that we stayed at a B&B in the Dubuque area that we would highly recommend.     Quiet Walker Lodge is a few miles out of town in a private area.

One of two building on the property which is the one we stayed in.  


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