Steamboat Photo Comparison

Lesson Plan #2


This lesson will provide students (grades 6 thru 10) with experience working with and interpreting historical photographs as cultural artifacts.  Students begin by examining three historic photographs of steamboats, which once plied the Choptank and Tuckahoe Rivers.  Students will use a steamboat route map and steamboat schedule to learn how steamboats were the equivalent of the automobiles of today during the late 18th and early 19th century.  Finally, students will use simple math to calculate cost and travel time from different locations on the Choptank and Tuckahoe Rivers to Baltimore.


1. To examine historical photographs and route maps as cultural artifacts that provide insight into life along the Choptank River during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

2. To compare and contrast travel between the "age of steamboats" to the "age of automobiles".

3. To use simple mathematics to calculate the cost and time of travel between Baltimore and locations on the Choptank River.

4. To compare times and costs of the Steamboat Era with those of today.


1. Provide each student with a copy of the photographs, route schedule and route map to be used in this lesson as well as a Photo Analysis Worksheet.  Discuss with students how they can use the worksheet to discover various kinds of information about historical photographs, including clues about the year a photograph was taken, how people dressed, why in which the photograph might have been taken, etc.  Explain that in this lesson students will use the worksheet to examine a variety of historical steamboat photographs, a steamboat route map and steamboat schedule.

2. Divide the class into three study groups and have each group use the Photo Analysis Worksheet to prepare a class report on the significance of one of the following historical photographs:

(Note: Small-format digital images of the study photographs are provided with this online lesson material.  Large format prints of the photographs may be obtained with help from the Center staff. Contact the staff at 410-241-8661.)

3. Have each group display and report on its photograph, summarizing the findings recorded on their “Photo Analysis Worksheet.” As students present their reports, call attention to the following points:

  • Landmarks: When the exact location of a photograph is unknown landmarks in the photograph may help to locate where the photograph was taken.  Often times landmarks such a church steeple or other topographic features are used to identify a specific location.  Look carefully along the skyline and on the edges of photographs for clues.

  • Orientation:  From the landmarks can you determine the direction from which the photograph was taken? This information may offer clues as to where the photograph was taken.

  • Information: What information can be obtained from the photograph?  Can you determine the time of day or time of year the photograph was taken? Information such as the presence of snow or ice or lack of leaves on trees suggests winter, while photographs of persons in shorts and short sleeves suggest summer.  What other kinds of information can be gained?

4. Have the students compare the historic photographs with present day photographs of the same view.  How have the settings changed? Why?  Speculate on how this view might look in the 21st century.

5. Conclude the lesson by having the students look at a steamboat route map of the Chesapeake Bay and a steamboat schedule for the Choptank River. Follow the navigable waterways and determine how goods from the upper Choptank River were shipped to cities such as Baltimore and Philadelphia.  Consider these questions:

  • Before the present day network of roads and railways lines existed, how did travelers get to the larger cities in the region such as Baltimore and Norfolk? 
  • Look at the steamboat schedule and determine how long it would take you to get from Denton to Baltimore?  What did it cost? 
  • How did needed commodities such as fertilizer, manufactured goods and news about the world reach the communities in this region during the age of steamboats? 
  • How long does it take to get to Baltimore today by car? 
  • How much does it cost to drive to Baltimore today, assuming that the gasoline and vehicle maintenance expenses for a car are about $0.31 per mile.  If steamboats still existed, would it be cheaper to get to Baltimore by steamboat or by car? 
  • How long did it take to get to Baltimore from Denton in 1912? How long does it take to get to Baltimore by car today? 
  • How are manufactured goods shipped to Denton today?


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Choptank River Heritage Center
10215 River Landing Road
Denton, Md.  21629
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