Local steam riverboat popularity lasted between 1837 and 1858 in west Michigan, when it began to drop off. Initially their purpose was to haul freight and passengers. The first steam riverboat, the Governor Mason, was built in 1837. It mainly traveled between Grand Rapids and Grand Haven but did make one trip upriver past Lowell to Lyons. The boat had no whistle so a bugler was hired to alert of the boat’s arrival.
The second steamboat, the Owashtanong (Odawa name for the Grand River) was built in 1837 in Grand Haven by Robinson, White and Williams & Co. As steam riverboats gained popularity, the need to improve the river became greater. In 1838 the state appropriated funding for improvement of the Grand River, for the large boats.
The John Almy, an 1838 riverboat gained lasting fame around Lowell when it was stranded and wrecked on the Grand River, at the mouth of the Flat River. The launching of the Almy was described by Able T. Page: “It was a great event in the little pioneer village, a gala day for the people; old and young turned out to witness the launch. All eyes were eagerly watching to see the beautiful craft slide gracefully into its native element.” Unfortunately, the Almy sank at Lowell on its maiden voyage.
The J. F. Porter traveled between Grand Rapids and Lyons starting in 1852. The Porter had been built in Mishawaka, Indiana in 1850. It was brought to Grand Rapids and hauled over the canal bank there to begin its service which continued until 1858 with the Detroit, Grand Haven, and Milwaukee Railroad laid its tracks and began serving the same route. As the availability of railroads increased, the popularity and usefulness of the riverboat declined. From then on riverboats became a leisure form of transportation.