A piece of American history will disappear in May when Jeffboat LLC, the oldest continuously operated inland barge building yard in the U.S., closes its doors for good.
The Jeffersonville, Ind.-based company, which was founded in 1834 by James Howard, a steamboat builder, will close once it fulfills its current pipeline of orders, according to a statement over the weekend that was posted on the web site of Teamsters Local 89, which represents Jeffboat workers.
The local said in the post that new orders have dried up and that there is nothing on the horizon to indicate an upturn. "Over the last several years, the shipbuilding industry has seen a massive decline and while this cycle has occurred in decades past, this time it was unfortunately too much for the company to bear," the local said in the statement.
Though the local did not state a reason behind the lack of barge demand, it is widely known that the industry has been crippled by the multi-year decline in demand for coal, which, along with grain, has long been considered one of barge operators' bread-and-butter commodities. This, in turn, has left a massive oversupply of barge capacity that was too daunting for Jeffboat to overcome.
The yard operates on 80 acres along the Ohio River. The company employs about 160 workers. In published reports over the weekend, union leaders expressed optimism that another barge operator will eventually occupy the land and re-hire the company's many skilled workers.
Jeffboat was acquired in 2015 by American Commercial Barge Line, the U.S.' largest barge builder.