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Remember that Incredible Voyage

May cruises to kick off
Steamboat history celebration

Educational, artistic, fun
festivities mark 200th anniversary

By Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

(April 2011) – 2011 marks the 200th anniversary of a journey that helped set the stage for the booming river towns of the 1800s and changed the way the American public would think about transportation.

Belle of Louisville

File photo

In 1811, a steamboat traveled down
the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for the
first time. In this photo, the Belle of
Louisville cruises down the Ohio River.

In 1811 a steamboat traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers from Pittsburgh to New Orleans in a trip that would open cultural and material trade within the young United States in a way that many of the time could never have imagined. Journeys that were once slow and harsh overland would become rapid and even luxurious thanks to the power of the steamboats.
To honor this historic voyage, the Rivers Institute at Hanover College has worked to coordinate a Bicentennial Steamboat Celebration that will run throughout much of the year. It will present a wide range of artistic, educational, and entertainment opportunities. Established in 2004 with a grant from the Lilly Foundation, the Rivers Institute at Hanover College is dedicated to promoting “an understanding of the natural and cultural history of river environments.” The first major event for the celebration will take place in early May with two steamboat cruises.
“This is the first big event that we’re doing,” explains Marissa Austin, Director of External Relations. “It’s been a lot of fun – so exciting – I’m learning so much!”
On May 1-2, the famed Belle of Cincinnati will offer two unique cruise experiences as the boat makes her journey to Louisville to take part in the Great Steamboat Race, a part of the Kentucky Derby Celebration. On Sunday, May 1, guests will be able to enjoy a variety of entertainment and educational activities as they travel from Newport, Ky., to Madison, Ind. During this lunch and dinner cruise, guests can learn about the history of river navigation and the 1937 flood. Art lovers can enjoy a presentation on painter Harlan Hubbard, whose work was heavily inspired by the Ohio River, and a discussion of river photographs from the late 18 and early 1900s.
A living look back on the past will be available when two performers from the Cincinnati Museum Center take on the personas of characters from the 1800s. These costumed actors will make guests feel they are in the presence of time travelers with their improvisations.
Those taking part in the Sunday cruise will also pass through the Markland Dam. Then on Monday, visitors can join the Belle on the final leg of her journey to Louisville, where once again the Belle of Cincinnati and the Bell of Louisville will vie for bragging rights in their yearly race. Last year, the Belle of Cincinnati emerged victorious, so guests on the cruise will have a chance to cheer her on to a possible repeat victory.
On each day of the cruise guests will also be able to view the traveling steamboat exhibit that was created in conjunction with the Indiana Historical Society and the Rivers Institute. This exhibit, titled, “Steamboat a Comin’: The Legacy of the New Orleans,” highlights different aspects of steamboat history from the economic impact of the boats to the dangers of the river to the romance of steam travel.
Ron Grimes, archivist for the Jefferson County Historical Society, describes the display as consisting of 19 banner panels, each seven feet tall. Grimes says he is looking forward to the exhibit’s stop at the Jefferson Historical Society saying, “From what I’ve seen of their exhibits before, they are usually very interesting.” After being shown during the May cruises, the exhibit will then be presented at the Jefferson Historical Society from June 1 to July 12. Grimes points out that the steamboat bicentennial ties in neatly with the Jefferson County bicentennial. The county bicentennial exhibit will be on display beginning in May and will showcase many original historic documents that have never before been shown in public.

• For more information, visit: http://rivers.hanover.edu/steamboat2011. The price of the May 1 cruise from Newpost to Madison is $95; the May 2 cruise from Madison to Louisville is $65.

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