Reputedly, the Robert Hanna (aka General Hanna) was the only steamboat ever to ascend the white river to Indianapolis. In 1830, Noah Noble, who would serve as Indiana’s governor from 1831-1837, offered a $200 reward to any riverboat captain who could navigate a boat via the river to Central Indiana. Several tried and failed. General Robert Hanna, who was contracted to build a portion of the national road, commissioned the construction of the vessel that succeeded. On April 11, 1831, he piloted the steamboat that carried his name from Cincinnati to Indianapolis. He used the steamer and an accompanying barge to haul timber and stone for the National Road bridge at Washington Street.

The Robert Hanna transported timber and stones for building the Old National Bridge, n.d.
Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society

The arrival of the steamboat caused great excitement in Indianapolis. A citizens committee drafted a resolution to the General Assembly claiming that the event proved the White River was navigable and that the state should undertake measures to improve the waterway. Enthusiasm waned when the steamboat ran aground on its return trip and remained stranded for some time. Even after renewed efforts in the 1860s, the White River never proved to be navigable, and the city eventually looked elsewhere for transportation connections.

Revised February 2021
 

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