Historical Marker #925 in Monterey notes that town’s association with steamboat travel and trade on the Kentucky River.
Monterey, in Owen County, was originally named Williamsburg after James and Alexander Williams, who moved into the area around 1805. In 1847, the town changed its name to commemorate the Battle of Monterrey in the U.S.-Mexican War.
Long before the name change, Monterey was a vibrant trading route along the Kentucky River. Agricultural goods were loaded from the town’s wharf on flatboats and keelboats for transport down the river to markets in Louisville on the Ohio River and New Orleans on the Mississippi River. With the advent of steamboats, and the subsequent ability to travel upstream as well as downstream, additional outlets opened for the farmers of Owen, Henry, and Grant counties to get their crops to market.
One of the major crops transported from Monterey was tobacco. It was grown extensively in this area during the second half of the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century. After being cultivated, cut, dried, and packed in enormous hogshead barrels, the tobacco was transported by wagon to river wharf warehouses. The crop was then loaded onto steamboats and shipped to distant markets for processing and manufacture.
Smaller steamboats that could ply the narrower and shallow Kentucky River emerged with great regularity in the mid-nineteenth century. Steamboats such as the “Blue Wing,” “Wren,” “Falls City,” “Sonoma,” “Park City,” and the “City of Frankfort” made runs up and down the Kentucky River and to Ohio River markets, including Louisville, Cincinnati, and Madison, Indiana.
Steamboats not only brought economic benefits to river towns such as Monterey, they also brought entertainment in the form of showboats. These floating concerts were especially popular during the summer months when they would work the river circuits staying in towns for a few days before moving on to the next venue.
Today, the city is named after the Battle of Monterrey, which lasted from September 21 to 24, 1846. After winning the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, Zachary Taylor advanced deeper into Mexico with his Army of Occupation. Mexican General Pedro de Ampudia, the recently appointed commander of the Army of the North, decided to defend the city of Monterrey. Although the armies were equally matched, over the course of September 21-23, U.S. forces slowly advanced on the city. Fearing that he could not hold Monterrey, General Ampudia negotiated a truce with the United States on September 24, 1846. General Ampudia surrendered the city, but was allowed to evacuate with his men and move deeper into Mexico.
Not a battle in the traditional sense, Monterrey was still hailed as a major victory in the United States’ press. General Zachary Taylor was praised as a military genius. President James K. Polk, however, was less impressed with Taylor’s behavior and openly groused that Taylor had been dispatched to defeat Mexico and not negotiate truces. Owing to this discontent, Polk soon dispatched General Winfield Scott to launch an invasion of Mexico through Vera Cruz.
Taylor’s victory at Monterrey did leave a lasting legacy. Although it would soon be surpassed in fame by the Battle of Buena Vista, and the eventual occupation of Mexico City, a host of places in the United States would be renamed in honor of the battle. Today one can find a Monterey in Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, and Nebraska, amongst others. Williamsburg was thus not alone in deciding to rechristen itself Monterey.
The marker reads:
First named Williamsburg for James Williams, who came from Maryland, set up trading post about 1805. In 1847, legislature established town of Monterey, named for battle of Mexican War, on land owned by George C. Branham. Steamboats, in heyday on Ky. River, made regular stops at town wharf for passengers and cargo. Large tobacco market. Showboats visited town in summer.