Jamestown riverboat launch produces a grand party in 1880

The Nettie Baldwin was built in Jamestown.

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig

In May 1880, the status of Jamestown moved from “inland village” to “river port city,” at least in the eyes of the writers at The Jamestown Alert.

“Navigation on the raging James is no longer considered in the light of speculative adventure,” wrote The Alert, “but as actual fact, as it was practically proven by the successful launching of the new steamer, Nettie Baldwin, last Saturday morning.”

The Nettie Baldwin was built here in Jamestown and its launching became one of the biggest events in the young community's history.

It all started when Capt. Wilson blew the steam whistle. This was the signal for workers to knock out the blocks holding the boat in place in its construction blocks. The Nettie Baldwin then slid 40-feet down a track into the “shinning river.”

The boat’s splash down into the river was greeted by cheers from all gathered along and some celebratory cannon and gunfire. The crew then brought the boat back to shore to serve as a podium for the speakers of the day.


Anton Klaus, civic leader and one of the owners of the Nettie Baldwin, broke a bottle of wine across the bow of the boat.

“I claim that the building of this boat to be run between Jamestown and Columbia, Brown County, D.T, about 200 miles by river, running through the richest valley of Dakota, will open and make it a home for thousands of people in a few years,” Klaus said.

Columbia, South Dakota, is located along the James River near the present-day Sand Lake Refuge.

Klaus was an astute businessman and had great success with the Gladstone Hotel, the brickworks in Jamestown and a number of other endeavors in Jamestown. The Nettie Baldwin wasn’t one of those successes.

Jamestown never caught on as a riverboat city. The Nettie Baldwin plied her trade for a few years but mostly from Columbia to the small river cities of Ludden, Hudson and Port Emma in southern Dickey County.

In later years, the boat was used for excursions on Sand Lake but her success never matched the grand launch right here in Jamestown.

Keith Norman can be reached at

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