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Captain Pete Grassie and the Princess Margy

By Lisa Blake

Princess Margy sternwheeler
The Princess Margy sternwheeler on the Great Kanawha River near Dunbar. Photograph by Michael Keller.

On a recent, crisp, October day, I had the pleasure of cruising the Kanawha River with Captain Pete Grassie aboard the Princess Margy sternwheeler. I had looked forward to this adventure with "Uncle Pete," as I have known him all my life, but the chilly wind and rain circled about us, and we were almost forced to cancel our journey up the river. However, to my delight, the wind subsided, and the sun made its appearance once again, allowing us to begin our round-trip trek between Dunbar and Charleston. Pete took his place in the captain's chair and grabbed hold of the steering wheel, and I began to think about his remarkable life.

Pete Grassie was born on November 8, 1920, near Pittsburgh, the third of five children. His father William S. Grassie was from Aberdeen, Scotland, and his mother Alice Elizabeth Kurtz was of German descent. Pete remembers moving to Charleston as a young boy. He came to Charleston with his mother, brothers, and sisters on the train, and his father came later in the family's truck. When Pete was 10, the family moved to Dunbar.

William Grassie owned a greenhouse in Dunbar named Kanawha Gardens. Pete and his brother Bill worked there five days a week after school, and 10 hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays. Pete left school after the ninth grade and went to work for his father full time. According to Pete, his pay was "three meals a day and a movie ticket once in a while".

Pete cherished his days off - every other Sunday - and normally spent that time swimming in the Kanawha River at the end of 22nd Street.

You can read the rest of this article in the Summer 2002 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.