Belle of Louisville
enters 96th season
Institute plans fall cruises
from Madison, Ind., as part of the the
steamboats 2010 season offerings
Helen E. McKinney
Indiana Edition Cover
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (May 2010) Mark Dotys
life reads like the pages of a Mark Twain novel: Every day he dons his
captains hat to navigate slowly down the Ohio River aboard a 96-year-old
steamboat, everything around him recalling a more peaceful time. The
sound of churning water fills his ears and the sights of the rolling
river lay before him as he steers not just any steamboat, but the Belle
of Louisville along her designated course.
Doty assumes his role as Head Captain of the Belle as if it were a job
made specifically for him. Doty works in what he labeled a different
Every day is different; Im not stuck behind a desk every
Doty anxiously looks forward to the start of the 2010 season, which
opens in May especially after the boat has undergone a significant
renovation to add air conditioning to the ballroom deck and other upgrades.
Cruises begin Memorial Day Weekend, followed by a season of special
events, weddings, dinner and evening events.
Doty has been Head Captain of the Belle since 2007. He was licensed
as a Head Captain in 1996, after the city of Louisville had just purchased
a second riverboat, the Spirit of Jefferson, for $395,000. He was Head
Captain of the Spirit of Jefferson for nine years.
Growing up in Shively, a Louisville suburb, Doty had not even ridden
on a boat until July 1981 when he began working on the Belle one year
out of high school. I worked my way through the ranks, he
He basically grew up on the Belle, he said. Doty called
it a unique opportunity for him just to be able to be in the wheelhouse
and steer the steamboat. No modern navigational features are on the
Belle except for a radar that was installed last season and two-way
You have to play the wind and the current all of the time,
Doty said. He accepts the challenge everyday, feeling fortunate to have
had the chance to be part of a Louisville legacy.
The Belle of Louisville was built in Pittsburg in 1914 and went by the
name the Idlewild. Its well-built frame perched atop a steel hull that
only needed five feet of water in which to float.
of Louisville Facts
Built: James Rees & Sons Co., Pittsburgh, Pa., as Idlewild
Maximum Passenger Capacity: 750
Seasonal Passenger Capacities: May - October 750;
November - December 300
Amenities: Concession stand and bar, dance floor,
stage, full on-board sound system, indoor and outdoor seating,
Owned and operated: Louisville-Jefferson County
Information: 401 W. River Rd., Louisville, Ky. (502)
The Idlewild operated for a time as a passenger ferry
between Memphis, Tenn., and West Memphis, Ark. It also carried cotton,
lumber and grain over the river passage.
In the 1920s, the Idlewild began Tramping. Tramping meant
the steamboat traveled from town to town doing excursions from various
points along the river. The Idlewild arrived in Louisville in 1931.
The steamboat was chartered by the Rose Island Co. and ran trips between
Fountain Ferry amusement park in downtown Louisville and Rose Island,
a resort located 14 miles upriver from Louisville.
Throughout World War II, the Idlewild operated on a regular excursion
schedule. To serve the war cause, the steamboat was rigged with special
equipment needed to push oil barges along the Ohio River. The Idlewild
was also used as a floating USO nightclub for troops stationed at military
bases along the Mississippi.
By 1947, the Idlewild had been sold to J. Herod Gorsage, who changed
the steamboats name to the Avalon. In 1949, the Avalon was purchased
by a group of Cincinnati-based investors. During the course of the next
13 years, the Avalon became the most widely traveled steamboat in the
country, traveling to ports in Nebraska, Minnesota, West Virginia and
by Don Ward
recently renovated Belle
of Louisville was designated the
2010 Historic Mechanical Engineers
Landmark during an April 23
ceremony organized by the
American Society of Mechanical
Engineers. Below, the Belle sails
past Madison, Ind., during a
rare summertime visit.
The daily grind of constantly working finally took its
toll on the steamer. By 1962, the worn-out steamboat was in need of
major repairs. The Avalon was put on the auction block where Jefferson
County Judge-Executive Marlow Cook bought the steamer with county funds
at a price of $34,000. She is currently owned and operated by Louisville
The steamer was christened the Belle of Louisville and underwent many
hours of restoration to regain her original 1914 appearance. On April
30, 1963, the Belle tested the waters of the Ohio River in a race against
another steamboat, the Delta Queen. This race quickly became a Kentucky
The Belle of Louisville was designated a National Historic Landmark
in 1989. Since that time, there has been no exterior change in
design to the Belle, said Belle of Louisville CEO Linda Harris.
Her marketing skills led Harris to come on board in the summer of 2005,
after having served many years in the hospitality and development field.
I learned a lot about the mechanical aspects of a riverboat,
said Harris. Although some modern amenities have been added to the Belle
of Louisville, its historic character has been preserved. A lot
of the boat is still as pure as it was in 1914.
Passengers who experience the steamboat seem to enjoy the history of
the Belle the best, said Harris. Its a laid-back environment
of slowly cruising down the Ohio River.
Harris said the Belle is very unique. The steamboat has
endeared herself to Louisvillians and visitors alike. The Belle exemplifies
the significance of the river community and how Louisville has
developed over the years.
Plans are being made to celebrate the Belles 100th birthday in
2014. We just formed a Centennial Committee, Harris said.
Comprised of community professionals and knowledgeable individuals,
the committee will focus on a varying agenda, which includes events
and fundraising. The 100th birthday celebration will be huge,
according to Harris.
courtesy of the Louisville CVB
Belles paddlewheel is one
of its most impressive features.
And fittingly so. By todays monetary standards,
the Belle is priceless, Harris said. She is such an icon for the
city, especially in terms of marketing. When shes
gone, there will be no other like her.
The Belle has been in need of a new air conditioning system for
a very long time, she said. A loan was worked out with the Louisville
Convention and Visitors Bureau for funding. A new heating system has
also been installed.
Hampton-Hilton Hotels provided a $10,000 grant to upgrade fans and lighting,
and renovate the Captains Suite. The later amenity is available
for private bookings. The ballroom ceiling was insulated, as well.
An additional improvement was a glass and mahogany enclosure around
the staircases to keep cool and warm air from escaping. The upgrades
make her look tremendous, said Harris. She looks more beautiful
than shes ever been.
On Friday, April 23, the Belle received an award from a national engineering
group, The New York-based American Society of Mechanial Engineers, for
its recent renovation. During a special ceremony, the group designated
the Belle a 2010 Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.
day is different; Im not stuck behind a desk every day."
Belle of Louisville Capt. Mark Doty
A future upgrade project that will be considered over
the next five years involves the Belles steamboilers. Various
grants will have to be applied for to help with the upkeep.
The Belle offers many different two-hour public excursion options from
Memorial Day through the end of October, which includes family oriented
cruises, dances, dinners and sunset cruises. A special cruise opportunity
will take place on Oct. 8-9.
The Rivers Institute at Hanover College and the Belle of Louisville
have partnered for a unique event that will celebrate the bicentennial
of the first successful steamboat voyage, said Marissa Austen, Director
of External Relations for The Rivers Institute. Austin said both Hanover
and the Belle are trying to get the word out now. The steamboat
era had such a huge impact on our history and our lives today,
On Friday, Oct. 8, 200 passengers will be able to take a trip from Louisville
to Madison, Ind. A same-day dinner cruise is sold out, but evening sight-seeing
tour spots are still available. All cruises will have music by local
artists, said Austen.
The trip from Louisville to Madison will feature the Rob House Quartet
and Sounds of Dixieland. Friday night the Doctors Band will be performing.
On Saturday during the re-turn trip from Madison to Louisville, musicians
Greg Ziesemer, Kriss Luckett and Rusty Bladen will entertain passengers.
Austen said an educational cruise is in the planning stages for Saturday,
Oct. 9, for area children. The Belle is the last steamboat of
its era still functioning. Most steamboats did not last more than four
or five years because of dangerous traveling conditions. Theres
not much opportunity anymore for children to see such a boat and understand
the importance of the era, she said.
For more information, visit: www.BelleOfLouisville.org.
For more information or to make reservations for the Rivers Institutes
Louisville to Madison cruises in October, call (812) 866-6846 or visit:
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