Henderson County, Kentucky Biography


Captain Neal SERVER was a tall, erect, slender man who used molasses to sweeten his coffee.
When he was a baby, his high chair tipped over landing him on the fireplace resulting in a small scar on his forehead. Neal wore reading glasses for many years, but at about the age 80, he gained what was called his "second eyesight," and I saw him read a newspaper without the aid of glasses.

Born 02 Feb 1851, near the Server Mill site in Lynn Township, Posey County, Indiana. Neal was the oldest of ten children born to James Lowery SERVER and Lucinda THOMAS. Family tradition held that Neal SERVER ran away from home when he was age 16 and went on the river.

However, this was not mentioned when Neal was interviewed by Spalding TRAFTON of The Gleaner, c. 1920. In Neal's words,

"When I was about 19 years old in 1870, I went on the wharf boat of G. W. THOMAS & Son at Mount Vernon, Indiana and work there four years."

Neal left the wharf boat job provided by his relative, George Washington THOMAS, and went on his first steamboat, The Arkansas Belle. I heard my grandfather talk about his days as a River Man. He proudly recalled the pammy days of the steamboat trade. Towns along the river system depended on steamboats for mail, supplies and a way to get their products to market. Actually, the steamboat business, as Neal experienced it, was no doubt on the decline by the time he went on the river. Railroads were growing and handled increasing quantities of freight as well as more passengers.

Indeed, Neal SERVER had a career on the river. He served on about a dozen steamboats in positions including engineer, mate, pilot and captain. He traveled on the Ohio, Green, Cumberland, Tennessee, Wabash and Mississippi rivers.

Neal helped three younger brothers enter the steamboat business. Henry SERVER became a mate; Fred SERVER also became a mater, and William SERVER became a captain and mate.

Neal told Spalding TRAFTON about the steamboats on which he had served:

c.1874 The Arkansas Belle, Evansville and Cairo trade
Watchman and Second Mate
Rebuilt as The H. T. Dexter, Evansville and Cairo trade
Sank at Diamond Island (KY) in 1886 - never recovered

c.1882 Josh V. Throop, Nashville on Cumberland River

c.1882 The Vint Shinkle, Cincinnati and Memphis trade - 1 year

The J. P. Drouilliard

c.1884 The Thomas D. Fite

1886-89 The Idlewild - Mate

The Joe Fowler - 1 year - Master

The Wabash - Master or Captain

The John S. Hopkins

The Bob Dudley

The S. L. Wood, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Vicksburg

c.1890 Evansville Police Force - 5 ½ years

c.1895 The City of Clarksville, Green River

c.1896 L & N Wharf Boat, Henderson, Kentucky

Some of Neal's steamboats stopped at Rose Clare, Illinois on the Ohio River. There he met a young widow, Malinda White ANDREWS, who had a daughter by her first marriage. They were married at Rose Clare on 12 Sep 1883, and moved to Evansville.

Malinda persuaded Neal to leave the river about 1890 and to find a job on land so he could spend more time at home. Neal joined the Evansville Police force, and two children were born while the family lived in Evansville.

A newspaper, The Mount Vernon Western Star in Mount Vernon, Indiana ( on 21 Aug 1890) had a paragraph under "Personal Items" as follows:

"NEAL SERVER, a former Mt. Vernon boy,
but now on the Evansville Metropolitan
Police force, was in the city on Thursday

He and Malinda lived for a time at 915 Water Street which is 615 Riverside Drive in Evansville. When Cornelia, my mother, was born in 1891, they lived at 23 Adams Avenue. When my Uncle Jim SERVER was born in 1894, they lived at 24 Madison Avenue. These last two street numbers may also have been changed.

I heard my mother say that the family did not want Neal to continue on the Evansville Police force. It was dangerous being a law enforcement officer in a riverfront town, and there was a newspaper account of a brutal encounter involving Neal while he was upholding the law.

Captain SERVER left the Evansville Police force about 1894 or 1895. He may have served for a short time in the law enforcement in Marion, Kentucky. He sailed Green River as a mate when The City of Clarksville was commanded by his younger brother, William SERVER.

About 1896 Neal took charge of the L&N Wharf Boat at Henderson. This was an opportunity for him to be on the river and have his family with him. The family lived on the wharf boat. Wharf boats served as floating wharfs on the river and handling incoming and outgoing steamboat passengers and freight.

My grandfather had a number of friends on the river. Captain R. G. RYMAN owned steamboats and befriended Neal by providing passes on the line for Neal's family members. As an example, Captain RYMAN wrote a note as follows:

Henderson August 15, 1900

Ryman Lines will pass Mrs. Server
& three children and Lusinda Server
to Nashville & return on at
Henderson wharf boat L&N & c
R. G. Ryman

The passengers: Malinda White Server - Neal's wife
Lillie May Andrews - Malinda's dau by first husband
Cornelia Thomas Server - my mother
James Milton Server - my uncle
Lucinda Thomas Server - Neal's mother

Neal is listed in Whose Who On The Ohio River. Family tradition held that he knew Samuel CLEMENTS when he was on the river. Samuel CLEMENTS later became known as the author, Mark TWAIN.

The L&N Wharf Boat was struck by an ice gorge in 1906 and was towed by steamboat to the Civil War era Marine Ways at Mound City, Illinois. There the large river vessel was pulled out of the water and raised for hull repairs. My mother was fifteen years old, and she remembered that the family lived on the wharf boat while repairs were being made.

Neal and Malinda bought the only home they over owned at 509 Fifth Street in Henderson. The home was about a mile from the river and within walking distance of the wharf boat.

Neal was an unsuccessful Democrat candidate for Councilman (First Ward) in the Primary Election of 02 Aug 1919. My grandfather was a staunch Democrat who became ill when he learned that his son had voted for Republicans the first time he was eligible to vote!

The SERVER family members continued to use steamboats for travel along the Ohio River. Cornelia visited her uncle's family in Elizabethtown, Illinois. James Evan SERVER and Mary RICHARDS had five children; one son and four daughters.

James Evan SERVER was a merchant and made a good living for his family. They had a large, beautiful home near the Ohio River. Neal was also a good provider, and Cornelia was a talented seamstress. Jim's daughter, Mary Server DUSCH, told me that Cornelia brought a trunk full of beautiful clothes when she came to visit.

Mary SERVER was much younger than her sisters, and in 1980 she wrote about Cornelia's visit after Cornelia graduated from Henderson's Barrett Manual Training High School in 1910:

When I was little, Cornelia and her friend
Hollie RODMAN would come to visit us at this
House. They came on the steamboats and brought
their trunks and with my three other sisters you
never heard so much chattering and calling back
and forth as they dressed for their dates. Little
colored boys ran back and forth with notes from
the Gullett boys, Ledbetters and Covingtons.
They went to the summerhouse or ice cream
parlor or sang all night in the big double parlors
on the north side downstairs and the slightly
slurred Southern voices of the five belles were
beautiful. Uncle Neal and their Uncle Jim were
very proud of them.

Mary also shared some notes from her father's diary:

Capt. C. E. SERVER, Henderson, KY, 21 years
Supt. Of L&N Wharf Boat resigned 08-13-17 and
accepted a position as Capt. of (the) James L.

Mrs. C. E. SERVER and Lillie came down from
their home in Henderson, KY, Tues. 09-25-17
and left on (the) Golden Fleece Sat. Eve. 09-30-17..

Neal served on the river toward the end of the great steamboat era in America. His final license by the United States Department of Commerce, Steamboat Inspection Service,

This is to certify that Cornelius E. Server
Has given satisfactory evidence to the undersigned United States
Local Inspectors, Steamboat Inspection Service, for the district of
Evansville, Indiana that he can safely be intrusted
With the duties and responsibilities of Master of Steam and Motor
Vessels of not over ----All----gross tons, upon the waters of
Rivers whose waters flow into the Gulf of Mexico.
Also First Class Pilot on the Ohio River from the Mouth
Of Green River to Paducah, Ky, Green River from Mouth
To Spottsville, Ky. --------------------------------------------------

And is hereby license to act as such Master for the term
of five years from this date.

Given under our hands this 17th day of February 1932
James V. Sproule Baylon Spratt
U.S. Local Inspector of Hulls U.S. Local Inspector of Boilers

Captain SERVER died 03 Sep 1933 at 509 - 5th Street in Henderson, Kentucky, and is buried on the SERVER lot in Fernwood Cemetery. I am the oldest living descendant of Neal SERVER with a few of his possessions that I prize greatly and plan to pass along to the next generation. There is a clock, a watch, a rocking chair, a river boat picture of The Princess titled, Bound Down The River, with an 1860 date, a dinner buckets, an ironstone platter, some pictures of steamboats and their captains, and some riverboat timetables. There is obviously no pretense of great wealth in any of these items.

When the first railroad bridge over the Ohio River was replaced by the present bridge, Neal SERVER was given credit for recommending that the partial masonry pile nearest the river bank at Henderson remain to help break up ice gorges and to shield river vessels at Henderson during ice flows. There was virtually no cost involved in allowing the pile to remain where it had been for many years. There is no identification on the pile, but I view it as a last reminder of the experience of a lifetime and the thoughtfulness of a River Man, Captain Neal SERVER.

James Allen Smith
Kennesaw, Georgia
August 2002

Contributed by James Allen Smith, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS