Larkin “Lark” O’Connor, a Civil War veteran, steamboat builder and navigator, was known as “the last of the river captains.” He and his brother, Jim, were household names in Lafayette, where they operated several steamers along the Wabash River for 40 years until 1872.
Along with passengers, their freight included corn, logs, lumber, stone, gravel, sand, and bricks. Captain Lark even built a floating sawmill on a flatboat, which was tugged behind one of his steamboats. A primitive steam engine built with a boiler, smokestack, floppy belts and drive wheels ran the saw.
By the 1880’s the steamboat industry began to dwindle as trains became the preferred method of transportation; however, Captain O’Connor persevered.
In 1884, he piloted a riverboat dubbed, “The George Stockton,” named in honor of a prominent Lafayette businessman. (Stockton was also the father of Georgia Stockton, the founder of the local DAR chapter in 1894.)
An old newspaper from April 1881 told the story of how Captain Lark’s steamer, “The Joe Segner,” sank because of an overload 30 miles south of Terre Haute.
In the spring of 1886, after a tornado hit near Attica, Captain Lark offered an excursion downstream so that more than 500 sightseers could view the wreckage along the shore.
Captain Lark, historically referred to as “the colorful Irishman,” lived on the northwest corner of Smith and Wabash Streets, a short distance from the Wabash River. The house was eventually torn down to make way for St. Ann’s School.
Sources: Bob Kriebel’s column, Old Lafayette, Newspapers.com