CAVE-IN-ROCK, Ill. (Oct. 17, 1935) — A man who has won the respect and
confidence of hundreds of those who live on or near the Ohio River between
Rosiclare and Shawneetown is Richard McConnell of Cave-in-Rock. There is no
one more deserving of this appreciation than Captain McConnell. For almost
thirty years he has been a river man. His promptness and faithfulness to
duty under all circumstances, his willingness to accommodate all those whom
he serves, and his honesty and integrity as a business man have made him
worthy of a place in the history of this section of the Ohio Valley.
Richard McConnell was born October 11, 1867, on what is now part of the Dan Frailey farm in Hardin County on the river bank just opposite Weston, Kentucky. His parents were the late Hugh and Helen Beavers McConnell, both of whom were born in Illinois. He was the fourth of the six children born into this family. His only brother died in infancy, one sister also passed away many years ago. The remaining sisters are Mrs. Mary Yeakey and Mrs. Alma Dowdy both of Fords Ferry, Kentucky and Mrs. James Ledbetter of Elizabethtown.
When Captain McConnell was a small lad the family moved from the farm where he was born to Kentucky, locating at Ford's Ferry. There he passed his boyhood and early manhood working on the farm with his father until he was thirty-nine years of age.
In 1892 he was married to Mrs. Lucy Alice Bentley. To this union four children were born. The first, a girl, died at the age of three years. The other are Gladys, who is now at home with her father, and Ellis and Cyrus who are both river men of ability, and who are now employed at St. Louis. The mother died when the last-named was but a small child.
Several years later, Mr. McConnell married Miss Olive B. Alexander of Marion, Kentucky. They have three children: Everett, who like his father is a man of the river, reliable and fearless, makes his home with his parents. Mrs. Mary Pearson, wife of John Pearson, who with their little daughter, Patricia Ann, live on a farm near Cave-in-Rock; and Richard, Jr. who is now completing a course at Lockyear Business College at Evansville, Indiana.
In 1908, Captain McConnell's career as a river man had its beginning in the building of a boat in the barn of his father at Ford's Ferry. The boat, the "Esta" was built by his brother-in-law, R. L. Yeakey.
In the spring of that year the Yeakeys and McConnells traveled in the Esta to Beardstown, Illinois. There they remained for about a year engaged in fishing. During one period of two months the average catch was 300 pound of fish every 24 hours.
When they returned to Fords Ferry in 1909, Mr. McConnell had made a trade for the old Lowry farm about one half mile below Cave-in-Rock. His trade grew as people learned that he was a man not only understood boats but could be unfailingly relied upon to do as he promised.
In 1910 another boat was built in the cave here by Mr. Yeakey and was by him named the "Egyptian." The Egyptian was a nice two roomed boat 38 feet by 7 1/2 feet with a glass cabin and a back room for the machinery. It became very popular, as in those days the most convenient and quickest method of reaching Cave-in-Rock or getting in connection with the rest of the world was by boat. Traveling salesmen and others patronized Captain McConnell and soon he began to make regular trips twice a day to Rosiclare. During those years he was of great service to the community as he furnished a means of transportation for those who wished to complete their high school course at Rosiclare. Parents of each pupil entrusted them to his care and their confidence was never misplaced.
In 1915 a third boat, the "Katheryne" was built by Mr. Yeakey here in Cave-in-Rock to accommodate the growing of passengers and the increased freight, this boat was much larger than the "Egyptian" it was 63 feet and 9 1/2 feet and had a steel hull.
Twenty years ago on the first Monday in July, Captain McConnell commenced carrying the mail on this new boat. He made daily regular trips to Shawneetown, and then back to Cave-in-Rock and on to Rosiclare.
There was a regular schedule of times for arrival and departure at the various points along the river, and he established such a record for punctuality that people could almost set their time pieces by the goings and comings of the "Katheryne". At this time the family left the farm and moved into town in order that they might be able to give their superior service. In addition to his other work, Captain McConnell has been the agent here for the West Kentucky Coal Company for the past twenty six years. During all these years he has had an able assistant in his faithful wife, who not only kept the machinery of the home running but made countless trips on the boat and looked after much of the necessary business.
In 1918 the McConnells suffered a great misfortune in the burning of the "Katheryne". She was rebuilt, however, on the same hull and again entered the trade in 1923 the "Mary McConnell" 60 feet by 12 feet and with a hull of steel was built at Dubuque, Iowa. She was equipped with two engines, and in all of her years of service, a trip was never lost on account of the break-down of an engine. After the building of the 'Mary McConnell the "Katheryne" was used as an excursion boat and as a means of transporting men who had jobs at Dam 50 to and from their work.
For sixteen years Captain McConnell carried the mail through all kinds of weather and in spite of all difficulties, perhaps the winter of 1917-18 is the one most vividly impressed upon his memory as the river was blocked with ice for several months and deep snow covered the land. Many citizens of Cave-in-Rock will recall how the men went out with teams and shovels and dug through the drifts to Saline Creek. From there the mail and supplies were brought overland from Shawneetown. In 1934 Captain McConnell seeing the need of a good ferry at Cave-in-Rock purchased the landing and commenced to operate the ferry at this place. He soon built a landing of concrete for the convenience of his passengers. He measured the distance for the landing himself and it was so accurately done that when the pavement was laid connecting it with the end of the street, no changes had to be made. The contractors for the road inquired as to what surveyor had done the work.
Later he leased the ferry right at Elizabethtown also, and a fine ferry boat for that trade was built at Paducah and named for his wife "Olive B. McConnell".
Though the paved roads and automobiles have almost supplanted the use of the river and boats, there is still a great demand for crossing the river. The completion of the road here and its connection with the Kentucky State Road will probably greatly increase this demand.
Captain McConnell has seen many years of service, but he has not retired. He is still able to use the pilot's license which he had had for so many years. He and his son Everett, are operating the ferry here and at nay hour of the day or night they faithfully answer the calls of those who wish to cross the river.
The many friends of Captain McConnell are hoping that he may continue to serve the public in that capacity for many years in the future.
Thanks to Wanda H. Reed for contributing this article to the Hardin County ILGenWeb site. The Hardin County Independent first published this article by Kathryn McDonald on September 27, 1935.
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