Ports are necessities, like postage stamps or soap,
but they seldom seem to care what impressions they make.
Elizabeth Bishop, "Arrival at Santos'" Questions of Travel (1965)

The Ohio River

The river was there. Some people fished, some swam, most of us just looked. You couldn't miss it for the activity.

One winter in the late 1930's, it froze. I can remember looking from the 11th Street bridge and seeing men walking across the ice toward J & L. In the summer, you saw sunning and swimming under the bridge. The local name for the spot was "Bare Assed Beach." We revelled in the obvious.

The Ambridge landscape makes access to the water difficult except near the American Bridge Company. Most of the commercial river activity is north of town. These coal barges are emptied on the south side of Rochester.

Coal Barges

We think of the Ohio Valley in terms of steel production, but the fires of industry and home are fed by bituminous coal. The boiler furnaces of this tug and the engines of the freight trains consume coal. Generators producing electricity are turned by coal.

We shoveled it, breathed its dust, and scrubbed its greasy soot from our houses, clothes, and persons.

House Boat

The two houseboats are one of those childhood sights that settled firmly into my memory.  Even then, I could not imagine who might live there or why.

The laundry and the child at the door show that this was a family residence. Today, social workers or housing authorities would send both boats to the bottom.

House boat with dredge

They were tied up at the southern edge of Rochester not too far from the coal yard.

The old Monaca bridge is in the background.

The vessel nearby is a dredge used to keep the river's shipping channel deep enough for the water traffic.

Photo Credits: John Vachon, January 1940
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