National Expansion & Reform The Last Grand Excursion of the Season to Piney Point

The Last Grand Excursion of the Season to Piney Point

“Excursions” served as diversions for busy people and opportunities to escape some of the summer heat by taking a boat ride. These trips were quite popular from the 1850s through the early twentieth century. Some of the ships that offered excursions were already outfitted as passenger steamers. Others were freight carriers that were normally laden with cord wood, railroad ties, stone, fertilizer, or other necessary items. During the excursion season, some operators cleaned up their vessels a bit and fitted them with a few niceties to make them more acceptable to paying passengers.

The steamer mentioned in the following newspaper notice was the Powhatan. Potomac River researchers Frederick Tilp and Edwin W. Beitzell recorded some of the interesting history of this vessel. Tilp wrote, “As early as 1854, newspapers noted that Washington’s Negro church were chartering the 202 foot sidewheeler Powhatan for summer excursions to Aquia Creek beaches. Following the Civil War, more and more Negro churches began chartering white-owned excursion boats, and Fort Washington became the favorite resort for their picnics, Sunday School outings, etc.” Edwin Beitzell noted the change in use that occurred a few years later writing, “At the beginning of the Civil War, which gave a great impetus to the further development of steamboats, a number of vessels were berthed along the Washington water front, some of which were seized by the Government, armed at the Navy Yard and used both as fighting ships and for transporting troops and supplies. Four of these, the ‘Powhatan,’ ‘Mount Vernon,’ ‘Philadelphia,’ and ‘Baltimore,’ were turned over to Companies ‘A’ and ‘E’ of the Washington Light Infantry.”

The Alexandria Gazette of Sept. 9, 1853 carried the following notice to readers: