|The Lucia was built in
1884 at the U.S. Boatyard in Keokuk, Iowa, and christened after the
daughter of Rock Island District Engineer, Col. Alexander Mackenzie.1
The Lucia was used primarily for towing and tendering barges and
dredges in the Keokuk/Des Moines Rapids area of the river. According to
the Rock Island District history, the Lucia became the sweetheart of
the Corps fleet.
The Lucia was the Upper Mississippi's equivalent of "the little engine
that could." Smaller than most of the District's boats, with a 78-foot
length, a 16-foot beam, and a 24-inch draft, her 9-foot stern wheel
turning 25 revolutions per minute, the Lucia performed a wide variety
of tasks on the Mississippi. She acted as a dredge tender, she towed
barges, placed buoys on the rapids, got booms in for the winter, worked
on levees during floods, and carried distinguished visitors up and down
During periods of flood (which were frequent through the 1880s), she
worked the bottom lands where the Des Moines River meets the
Mississippi. When this area flooded, the Lucia, rowboats in tow, would
paddle around the flood plain rescuing people from roofs and upper
windows. The rowboats would bring them to her crowded decks. At night
during the floods, the Lucia would turn her searchlight straight up to
act as a beacon for boats engaged in rescue work.
The Lucia and the U.S. General Barnard were often used by Bosse during
his photographic forays, being anchored or docked nearby and included
within the scene.
One incident recorded by historians adds human interest to this boat's
It is documented that the Lucia's pilot-captain, Billy Adams, and her
engineer, Tom Noonan, had worked faithfully on the boat for 20 years
without speaking to each other, for they were sworn enemies, when the
Lucia capsized in a tornado just above the Keokuk bridge, Adams was not
on board, but Noonan died at the engines trying to keep up power, one
of the very few fatalities in the history of the District fleet.