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Steamboat company changes course
to provide weeklong trips

Ohio River towns working
to improve landings
for possible steamboat stops

Ben Fronczek
Staff Writer


Part 2 of 2 (October 2001) Madison, In – The annual treks of the Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen and American Queen steamboats are familiar attractions to many Ohio River towns, not just for the ones in which they stop but also for those they pass. Many river town residents have been able to witness these spectacles of history from the river banks.

Steamboats

A year ago, Carroll County tourism director Robin Caldwell received a call from the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., parent company to the three large boats. The largest of the three, the American Queen, had initially been scheduled to make its way up the Mississippi River, but high waters were preventing it from sailing there. The company opted to go up the Ohio River instead and told Caldwell they had selected Carrollton as one of their stops, due to the fact nearby Madison was holding its annual Regatta that July weekend.
Being close to the Fourth of July weekend, Carrollton immediately started to prepare for the visit. The steamboat was to dock at Point Park, where the Ohio and Kentucky rivers meet. The gazebo in Point Park was decorated with red, white and blue bunting and hanging baskets donated by a local greenhouse.
Citizens from Carrollton and nearby Ghent, Ky., dressed in 1800s attire. The American Queen docked overnight. During the daylight hours, many of its passengers took walking tours of downtown Carrollton.
Caldwell remembered the passengers’ responses to the downtown as favorable.
“The main comment made was that this was so much nicer than a large city,” said Caldwell. “A lot of people said that they don’t go on the trips to see the large cities but the small river towns.” Caldwell added they were impressed with Carrollton’s architecture.
One year earlier, Carroll Countians greeted the Delta Queen steamboat. Carrollton Mayor Ann Deatherage was in her first year of office and today remembers the positive efforts made by the town to accommodate the passengers.
“We took them on tours around the community and through the park,” said Deatherage.
“A lot of our community’s organizations worked together to make things as comfortable for passengers and show them what our town had. I got some real good feedback from them, but we are in such an ideal location because of both the Ohio and Kentucky rivers.”
That same year but on a different voyage the Delta Queen visited a different park in a different town that was across the river to the east - Paul Ogle Riverfront Park in Vevay, Ind. The 285-foot boat docked there while taking part in a Mystery Cruise. Passengers were not previously informed of the towns where they would be stopping.
Though area towns have enjoyed visits by these historical steamboats, many local officials understand why they are not frequented as much as Madison. Much of it has to do with what can be seen downtown.
“In the towns they stop, the boats want their passengers to have someplace to shop or a museum,” said Caldwell. “You need to have some kind of specialty. The local people get excited and say, ‘Why can’t we get more boats?’ But we don’t have enough retail downtown. The thing that is so frustrating is that they love our downtown, there just aren’t enough places to shop.”
Docking and labor is also an issue for many of these river towns.
“For us to dock these boats is an event,” said Ann Mulligan, Switzerland County’s tourism director in Vevay. “We tie them up to trees. To dock them is doable, but we require a lot of preparation. If we knew they were coming on a regular basis, it would be something we could accommodate.”
Mulligan recalled getting just a few days notice that the Delta Queen would be coming. Vevay greeted the boat in a
ceremonial fashion, with city officials presenting the boat with a flag. The school band also gave a performance and trolleys provided tours of the town.
Carrollton has also had to make do with its present docking facilities. Deatherage said that a current Kentucky Renaissance Project to renovate the sidewalks and building facades in downtown Carrollton should help. She suggested that docking improvements could be a possibility for the future.
Rising Sun, Ind., meanwhile, already is taking serious consideration in the future of their docks and riverfront access. The town is awaiting word on a state grant that would improve the walkways to the riverfront.
“Right now these large boats can’t dock here,” said Tammy Elbright, director of Historic Downtown Rising Sun. “Hopefully, we can get our riverfront squared out to accommodate them. We feel there’s a lot to see and do in Rising Sun.” She added that even though the riverfront project is in its preliminary stages, it is something that needs to be consistently addressed, since the steamboat company books the cruises and stops two to three years in advance.
The town has played host to smaller riverboats that have docked. These include the B&B Riverboat, based in Cincinnati. Local business owners fondly remember the visits.
“We got a reasonable number of people coming into town,” said Bill Butterbaugh, who owns the Solar Flair Art Gallery with his wife, Rosemary. “The nice thing about Rising Sun is that it’s only a block or two from the river.”
Some Rising Sun shops even sit just 20 feet from the river. One is Riverfront Krafts, owned by Betty Bollard.
“Everybody comes down when (the Delta Queen) goes by,” said Bollard. “It would be nice if it stopped here.”
But the decision on where the boats stop is out of the control of local town officials. All they can do is keep working to preserve their tourist appeal.
“It’s going to be hard, since they are reducing stops to places such as Madison,” said Deatherage. “I don’t know what we’re going to do if they are eliminated. I’d hate to see that tradition gone. I hope they don’t stop coming because the younger people might not ever have a chance to see one.”

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