Sunday, May 4, 2014

When the Lucias Newberry Sunk

 by Pamela S. Meyers

This past week, after a very long and cold winter, the excursion boats on Geneva Lake in Wisconsin returned to their docks in the village of Lake Geneva. Seeing pictures of the Lady of the Lake, a replica of the original Lady of the Lake paddle-wheel steamboat that once plied the same waters back in the 19th century, got me to thinking again about another paddle-wheel boat called the Lucius Newberry.

It may not look elegant in this old drawing, but it was!
Back in the late 1800s the Newberry was the pride of the lake as it toured the waters, carrying both residents and tourists to various points along the 22 miles of shoreline. It was built in 1875 for a man named Lucius Newberry at the cost of $16,000. In 1887, he sold the steamer to another man named John Burton to be added to a fleet of excursion boats that included the original Lady of the Lake and another called the Commodore.

This side-wheeler boat was the showcase of the fleet, decorated to the hilt with Brussels carpeting and exquisite upholstered furniture, plate glass mirrors and an upright piano. It could carry as many as 500 passengers at a time, and during the height of the summer season, it made three daily trips from one end of the lake to the other.

All that changed on a chilly December night when it was tied to its dock home in Lake Geneva. It’s speculated that hobos had sought shelter from the cold by climbing aboard and decided to light
In this old postcard, that's the Newberr docked at the end of the pier.
up some smokes. That night the boat caught fire and, being constructed out of nothing but wood, it didn’t take long for it to be totally consumed. Volunteer firemen tried to save the vessel, but in the end they cut the ropes and the Newberry drifted out over the lake, flames shooting up across the water. Eventually it sank.

For years divers searched in vain for the wreckage and finally, a few years back, they found it. Since the vessel had burned down to the waterline, they were able to collect only a few artifacts such as a fancy ice bucket. But they did bring up the anchor which now sits in the Geneva Lake Museum.
The Lucias Newberry

I’ve always been fascinated about the fire and sinking of the Newberry and hope to include it in a future novel.

The replica paddleboats in the excursion fleet today are not operated by steam, but they do give us a taste of a different way of life back in the 19th century when the boats were used for both pleasure and were the most efficient mode of travel to points on the lakeshore. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to time travel back to that time and live life as it was lived. I doubt I’d want to stay there more than a few days though.

What about you? Would you like to time travel back to another period in history? Where would you go?

 Win a Free Book!

To celebrate the return of spring to the Lake Geneva area, I’m giving away a copy of my book Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The story is set in 1933, when the Riviera building was built at the Lake Geneva lake shore. It's become a historical landmark and has been restored to its original design. Leave a comment and your name in the comment by Friday, May 9, 2014. I’ll draw a name on Saturday.

A native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, author Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago, an hour's drive away from her hometown which she visits often to dig into its historical legacy. Her novels include Thyme for Love, and Love Will Find a Way,  contemporary romantic mysteries and her 1933 historical romance, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva,Wisconsin, released in April, 2013. She can often be found speaking at events around Lake Geneva or nosing in microfilms and historical records about Wisconsin and  other Midwestern spots for new story ideas.


  1. Very interesting, Pam! What year did this happen?

  2. What an amazing boat! I'm with you- time travel would be fun for a few days, but I'd miss modern medicine and plumbing :) Thanks for the giveaway of your book!

    colorvibrant at gmail dot com

  3. What an interesting post about the fire and the sinking of the Lucius Newberry! I love learning about historical events and traveling back in time through the pages of a book! Thank you for the giveaway opportunity!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

  4. Lovely place - been to Lake Geneva so pretty and love the hotels and shops. would love to win. truckredford(at)gmail(dot)com

  5. Hi Pamela! Thanks for this fascinating post on the Newberry burning & sinking. Ive always wanted to at least see a paddleboat, but to take a ride on one would be a special treat as well! Lake Geneva sounds beautiful - I'd love to get to visit one day! Thanks for the chance to win your book - it sounds like a very sweet story!!
    kam110476 at gmail dot com

  6. Hi Pamela,
    I never been to Lake Geneva. You've made it sound so interesting. I would enjoy reading your book. Carol Ann Pileggi

  7. Hi Pamela. Loved this post. $16,000. in 1875. That was a lot of money back then. Wonder what that amount would be now. I would loved to have rode on that boat up and down the river. What a shame about the fire by a careless person. A real loss. Wish they could have found more. I have your book but would love to win your book on Sat. for a daughter of mine who wants it really bad. Please put my name in. Thanks! Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com
    By the way, when will you have a new book release?

  8. I enjoy the LOVE FINDS YOU IN series and was interested in the sinking of the Lucius Newberry in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I've been to Lake Geneva and it's a beautiful area. Thanks for your interesting historical post. sharon, CA wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com