Historical Marker #2265 in Owen County notes the historical significance of steamboat captain Samuel Sanders, who plied the waters of the Kentucky River for many years.
Today, it is difficult to believe that steamboats once appeared in great numbers on the Kentucky River. From Beattyville in eastern Kentucky to Carrollton on the Ohio River, steamboats of various sizes moved raw materials, finished goods, and people from place to place with amazing speed and capacity.
One of the most noted steamboat captains on the Kentucky River in the nineteenth century was Samuel Sanders. He was born in 1813 in what is now Owen County. Being raised on the Kentucky River, near Monterey, at an early age Sanders considered a profession in boating. As a young man Sanders first worked on a keel boat, but, with the rise in popularity of steamboats for commerce, Sanders saw their potential and joined several different crews that made trips as far as New Orleans. After starting his career as a mate, he eventually rose through the ranks to become captain of his own craft. In the 1850 census, the 37-year-old Sanders was listed as a "Boatman." Later in the decade he was in charge of packet line and was known as Captain Sanders.
While Kentucky River steamboat work suffered during the Civil War, Sanders continued to find enough work to keep a boat running. The federal and state governments used steamboats to carry troops, arms and ammunitions, rations, and other supplies needed to wage the war. Sanders's small steamboat, the "Wren," was one of the most active during the war. On the "Wren," Sanders regularly traveled between Frankfort to Shaker Landing in Mercer County and sometimes from Frankfort to Louisville. His steamboat was constantly harassed by guerillas, particularly those led by Capt. George Jessee from Henry County.
By 1870, Sanders was living in Frankfort with his wife Penelope and daughters Mary, Sarah, Kate, Louisa, and Nancy. Due largely to the deterioration of the various locks on the Kentucky River and the state's unwillingness to maintain them, steamboat traffic on the river suffered. Many of the locks were repaired with Federal aid starting in 1880, and heavy river traffic resumed. During this era, steamboats frequently carried kegs of whiskey from distilleries, tobacco, hemp, and grains from area farms. Lumber and coal from the mountains also began to be transported.
The last steamboat Samuel Sanders captained was the "City of Frankfort." He piloted this craft from Frankfort to Louisville, and Madison, Indiana. After an active and long life on the river, Sanders retired in the 1880s. In 1902, at age 89, Sanders suffered a fall at his Frankfort home. He died on March 15 and was buried in the Frankfort Cemetery.