Crowdsourcing the fate of the St. Charles Experiment…

From what I read on the Internet these days, crowdsourcing is all the rage among the cool kids. Apparently, you can visit a crowdsourcing web site and solicit funds to make that movie on the history of darning needles you’ve been hankering after for years, or persuade people to fund that new invention you’ve come up with to do the Popeil Pocket Fisherman one better.

Thinking about that in the shower this morning, I had an idea to try to do some crowdsourcing historical research.

So here’s the deal: Back in the 1840s, a fellow that some might have called a crackpot, but others may have called a visionary, decided to build a steam boat here in northern Illinois on the Fox River, and then sail it down to Ottawa where the Fox empties into the Illinois, down the Illinois to Grafton where it empties into the Mississippi, down the Mississippi to the Ohio, then up the Ohio and eventually all the way to the St. Lawrence River in Canada. No small plans did this gentleman make. I related the story here once before, but I never get tired of telling people about it, so I’ll let the Oct. 2, 1840 edition of the Illinois Free Trader at Ottawa lay out the entire story:

 Fox River Navigation — Arrival

of the Bark “St. Charles Experiment.”

On Tuesday evening last Mr. Joseph P. Keiser and lady arrived at our steamboat landing in a beautiful bark, six tons burthen, from St. Charles, Kane county, Illinois. Mr. K. left St. Charles on the 18th inst. amid the smiling countenances of a large collection of citizens of that place who had assembled to witness his departure on this hazardous and novel enterprise. He descended Fox River without much trouble, notwithstanding the low stage of the water at present and the dam at Green’s mill, &c, might be considered by some as presenting insurmountable barriers.

The St. Charles Experiment would have steamed past Starved Rock on its voyage own the Illinois River to the Mississippi in October 1840.

The St. Charles Experiment would have steamed past Starved Rock on its voyage own the Illinois River to the Mississippi in October 1840.

The “Experiment,” we believe, is the first craft that has ever descended this beautiful stream this distance, save, perhaps, the frail bark of the Indian in days gone by. The distance from St. Charles to this place is about eighty miles by water, passing through a section of country which, in point of fertility, is not surpassed by any tract of country in the Union, and to the enterprise and exertions of Mr. Keiser belongs the honor of first undertaking and accomplishing the navigation of Fox River, which winds its meandering course through it.

The object of Mr. K’s enterprise is somewhat of a novelty. His design is to travel by water to the river St. Lawrence, in Lower Canada, by the following route: From St. Charles down Fox River to its mouth at Ottawa; thence down the Illinois to its mouth; thence down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Ohio; thence up the Ohio river to Beaver, Pa.; thence by way of the Ohio and Pennsylvania Canal to Akron, O.; thence on the Ohio Canal to Cleveland; thence on lake Erie to Buffalo, N.Y.; thence on the Welland Canal to Lake Ontario; and thence to the river St. Lawrence.

This route will doubtless prove arduous to our friend, but he is in fine spirits and considers his worst difficulties ended by having successfully descended Fox River at the present stage of the water. He has our best wishes for a safe and pleasant journey, hoping that he may be able to inform us of his safe arrival at his distant destination.

So far as I’ve been able to tell, the St. Charles Experiment is the only steamboat to have ever navigated the Fox from the river’s northern reaches to its mouth at Ottawa.

And here’s my historical crowdsourcing question: What the heck ever happened to Mr. K, his lady wife, and the St. Charles Experiment? Did they make it to the Mississippi? Did they actually steam up the Ohio to the canal system, puff through Akron, and into Lake Erie?

Perhaps some hardy researchers with access to microfilm newspaper files in towns along the route of the St. Charles Experiment will check for the period starting in early October 1840 and see if a strange craft from a town on the Illinois prairies stopped by to say hello on its journey to Canada.

I’ve wondered about the fate of the Keisers for many years now, and would like to put a “-30-“ at the end of their story. Can any of you loyal readers of historyonthefox add to the tale?

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Filed under Fox River, Illinois History, Local History, People in History, Technology, Transportation

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