St. Louis Mercantile Library

P-3: Ruth Ferris Collection of River Life and Lore


Image: Str. Pilothouse of the IDLEWILD. (Ruth Ferris Collection)

HISTORY: Miss Ruth Ferris was a river and steamboat historian and writer, and one of the most respected educators of St. Louis for over a half century. Besides her excellent scholarship, she traveled on the rivers, recording these experiences, and she was a life-long friend to river people, and those interested in the river. Her collection of river objects and papers expanded out of her basement to the River Room at the Missouri Historical Society, to the Becky Thatcher Museum, and to their final home at the Mercantile Library.

SCOPE: This collection covers many aspects of inland river history, particularly on the Mississippi River.Included are extensive research files on vessels, particularly the famous steam packets and excursion boats; river locations and communities; and biographical information on hundreds of individuals associated with the rivers. 10,000 photographs dated from 1870 to the 1970s, include rare images of steamboats, river, communities, landings, and people.

HOLDINGS: Approximately 200 linear feet; 300 volumes. This is a varied collection of books, photographs, artifacts, manuscripts, prints, and ephemera. It is literally anything that pertained to steamboats including pilot licenses, bills of lading, boat tickets, gingerbread trim and decoration, bells and whistles, china, silver, and gambling devices. Miss Ruth Ferris accumulated her research files and manuscript collections, which encompassed information concerning river history, boats, river people, companies, floods, folklore, art and statistics.

Bill of Lading of the Str. COURIER, built 1870. (Ruth Ferris Collection)

The majority of these pieces of paper which relate to business and vessel transporting goods are from the Ruth Ferris Collection, and are for the most part Bills of Lading. There are two listings one Alphabetical (.pdf) and the other Chronological (.pdf). These documents are located in folders labeled for instance, Courier � Realia, and soon a new database listing all Vessel folders will be searchable.

ACCESS: This is Special Collection P-3. Some of the collection may be photocopied, digitally scanned, or photographed, depending on condition.

Image: St. Louis Levee and Eads Bridge. February 17, 1934,
from the Str. BETSY ANNs pilothouse. (Ruth Ferris Collection)

St. Louis Levee and Eads Bridge. February 17, 1934,

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