Steamboat Barnet: Emerging Industrialism is one of a series of online exhibits in the Collaborative’s Emerging America program. Each exhibit showcases gems from the collections of Western Massachusetts museums and provides strategies to engage learners with compelling stories and source material. Part of our aim is to inspire teachers and students to identify the remarkable stories of their own communities and publish them.
The Connecticut River, now largely abandoned for economic purposes, once played a vital role in the commerce and industry of New England, and served as a major stimulus to the development of Springfield, Northampton, and other cities along the river.
In the nineteenth century, river improvements (canals and locks) and newly built turnpikes and bridges made overland trips faster and less arduous, but it was steam navigation that launched a fifty year period of rapid changes in transportation in the Connecticut River Valley.
In 1826, the Steamboat Barnet was the first steam-powered vessel to traverse the natural obstacle of rapids and falls in the Connecticut River and reach Bellows Falls, Vermont. Steam power meant that goods could be moved both down and up the river, a technological leap forward that contributed to the dramatic expansion of trade and commerce and the growth of cities in the Connecticut River Valley. Yet only thirteen years later, the railroad brought the era of the Connecticut River steamboat to a close.
The Significance of the Steamboat Barnet
The story of the Steamboat Barnet provides a window into the importance of the technological and transportation improvements that contributed to the growth of industry in the Connecticut River Valley. The Barnet’s story is important because it reflects the unfolding of the bigger story—that of the nation’s transition from self-sufficient rural economies to full market economies. In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, people in the Connecticut River Valley were no longer producing goods solely for their own use or for mere local distribution. They began to ship their products over great distances. New transportation systems were fueling the growth of market economies.
As the nineteenth century wore on, public leaders debated the role of the federal government in the nation’s economic development. Some argued that the federal government should direct and fund the development of a robust infrastructure to support economic growth. Others disagreed, particularly Southerners who could rely on their river systems to transport their cotton to distant markets. Despite growing sectional differences, “internal improvements at public expense”—a network of roads, canals, and bridges—turned out to be essential to the young nation’s ability to compete with the mature, established economies of Europe.
Private business funded many of these improvements, and this, as the Barnet’s story suggests, illustrates the entrepreneurial spirit of the times.
How to Use the Steamboat Barnet Site
Enter the exhibit through the Student tab to:
- View the different kinds of material that you can explore
- Read “The Story,” the narrative that provides historical background
- Answer “Essential Questions” to show that you understand the story
- Explore the various primary sources, multimedia maps, and timelines that bring the story to life
- Meet the Cast of Characters that are important to the story
- Browse the sources listed in Links and Literature to draw your own conclusions from the evidence
- Prepare yourself to use the website and other sources to analyze and reflect on the exhibit
Secondary school teachers can enter the exhibit through the Teacher tab to:
- Read the Teacher Essay for historical background
- Consider tools for analysis and reflection
- Explore the Teacher’s Room for tips on how to use the background material and primary sources
- Review the information on frameworks and standards
The Story of Our Partnership
We worked with teachers throughout the creation of this website to focus and refine our vision of the Steamboat Barnet website.
Bringing the Vision to Life: Acknowledgments
This site exists due to the tireless work of the Educational Collaborative research and design team.
- Rich Cairn, Director of the Emerging America: Teaching American History (TAH) Program led the team
- Suzanne Judson-Whitehouse, Assistant Director of the Emerging America: TAH Program supported Rich and assembled many of the exhibit’s pieces
- Meghan Gelardi-Holmes, former Assistant Director, did much of the preliminary work on the website
- Guy McLain of the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, Maggie Humberston, and Wendy Somes provided access to the Lathrop letters and were the inspiration for the project. Their research assistance and support made it possible
- Patty Hogan-Cerasuolo, History and Social Studies teacher at Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, brought her extensive classroom expertise to writing the teacher’s and student’s introductory essays and developing the lessons. Other teachers working with source materials over the course of several workshops provided additional inspiration and valuable feedback.
- Dave Hart and Matthew Mattingly from the UMass Amherst Center for Educational Software Development used their familiarity with local history and their experience with online learning to create the interactive map
- Chris Sparks, Lucia Foley, and Masci Web Design used their technical skills and imaginations to breathe the project into life
- Cecelia Buckley and the Professional Development Department of the Collaborative provided the platform on which we built
- Finally, Congressional support for the U.S. Department of Education made the Teaching American History possible, providing vital support and funding for the project