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Issue Date: February 2014


by Sheehan Hannan

In the South, guns boomed as the Civil War raged on. Yet on Sept. 26, 1864, the lakeside burg of Cleveland, bustling with considerable growth, saw the launch of its first luxury steam yacht. The oak-hulled vessel was dubbed the Octavia. Its kingly state rooms were detailed with white maple and ebony. The Italian name coincided with its first port of call in the Mediterranean.

The owner, T.W. Kennard, was accustomed to luxury. As the engineer-in-chief of the massively profitable Atlantic and Great Western Railroad, Kennard transported raw coal and petroleum. He'd struggled to build his rail line, completing it with the financial help of a Spanish royal and the importation of 5,000 English laborers. The completed railway proved extremely successful, ferrying 216,000 passengers and 469,000 tons of freight in its first full year. Railways, belching steam, were rapidly replacing America's waterways.

Docked at the foot of Superior Avenue, where the Detroit-Superior Bridge now stands, the Octavia's twin masts overshadowed the headquarters of the Northern Transportation Co. and Pelton and Breed in the heart of town. Businesses' reliance on canals and rivers was changing, the proof docked in the Cuyahoga River, rigged with both sails and steam, an unholy blend of past and future.

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